The new Volvo XC90

The new Volvo XC90

Crossovers are called crossovers because they … well … cross over. (Hey, where else are you gonna get this kind of nuanced automotive analysis?)

That is to say, crossovers cross over from their car-platform origins to the sport-utility realm – a segment originally limited to truck-based vehicles – through beefed-up structures, raised-ride heights, four-corner tractive talent and, compared to their passenger-car source material, more robust hauling and towing capabilities.

Few make that crossing with more panache than the 2019 Volvo XC90.

As Volvo’s largest crossover, the XC90 comes as the 250-horsepower T5, the 400-horsepower T8 plug-in hybrid and the model I drove: the 316-horsepower XC90 T6, with its standard all-wheel drive. In all guises, though, the XC90 constitutes a capable, elegant, unique example of its breed.

For starters, this vehicle, available in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims, sports roughly as stylish a look as a three-row, seven-passenger people-hauler can. Almost literally highlighting that look is a “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design (Avengers aficionados should love that marketing moniker), purposeful profile, south-to-north “running river” taillights and a macho front squared enough to star in a movie remake of Warren Beatty’s 1990 Dick Tracy.

Although I drove a 2019, I can report that the XC90’s look for 2020 will undergo a mild update, albeit one so modest you’d have to be XC90’s lead engineer to spot the changes – essentially a revised grille and new wheel designs.

Inside, the XC90 boasts a number of you-won’t-find-this-anywhere-else features. To wit:

The keyless start, instead of a button, involves a twist knob on the center console.

The three-section second row can be had with a deployable, factory-installed booster seat.

The center-stack touch screen, rather than horizontal, is vertical, like an Apple iPad.

The engine in this nearly 2.5-ton vehicle has just – gasp! – four cylinders.

But whoa! Wait! Hold on!

Before panic sets in, I should note that the T6’s 2.0-liter quartet generated – wait for it – 316 horsepower, magic wrought via two boosters: a turbocharger and a supercharger.

The supercharger kicks in at launch, using its belt-driven fan to deliver a blast of fresh air to the cylinders with immediacy, banishing turbo-lag while serving up 295 foot-pounds of torque at just 2,200 rpm. Once the engine’s going robustly, the turbo takes over to ensure the power party continues all the way to a 5,700-rpm peak.

Add a standard eight-speed automatic, engine stop/start and driver-selectable chassis modes of Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Off Road, and you get an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 26 highway/22 combined in an AWD vehicle that’ll tow 5,000 pounds, carry up to 86 cubit feet of cargo and hit 60 mph in the mid-6s.

Also worth noting, the cargo-bay lift gate in the Inscription was hands-free, opening with a swift kick under the bumper.

On the road, the T6’s Pirelli Scorpions, hugging handsome (and Ferris wheel-size) 21-inch V-Spoke alloy wheels, sent some road noise to the cabin, but otherwise, I enjoyed a marvelously quiet and composed highway ride. Also, in a 175-mile trip to and from Steelville, southwest of Ladue, the XC90 got 23 mpg.

Inside, the T6 provided great room in the first two rows of seats, with the third bordering, frankly, on kid stuff. That said, the décor in the Inscription – creamy nappa, real walnut inlays – looked gorgeous. Only the panoramic moonroof’s gauzy power shade, which failed to fully block sunlight – an issue on very hot days – struck me as a candidate for improvement.

Regarding safety, the XC90 sports not only all the usual features – stability control, an anti-lock braking system, air bags galore – but also Pedestrian & Cyclist Detection and, should the driver manage to defeat the XC90’s Lane Keep Assist, Run-off Road Protection that cinches safety belts tighter and beefs up seat cushions to better absorb undercarriage impacts.

For 2020, joining that XC90 “nanny” roster will be driver-assist features including steering assist for auto-emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert and lane-keep systems. Speaking of automotive nannies, I found the park-itself function in the T6 to be impressively effective and easy to use.

So, in the home stretch, all things considered, the XC90 struck me as a crossover unlikely to ever make its driver cross.

Email guest Test Drive writer Dan Wiese at drivingwithdan@gmail.com.