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2020 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design: How Does it Stack Up to the Competition?

Outpaced in sales for the past 15 years by Acura, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz, the XC90 faces a tough crowd.

Eleonor SeguraWriter, PhotographerManufacturerPhotographer

Elegant, gorgeous, safe, and luxurious—Volvo's current lineup of cars is one of the most impressive in the industry. From the S60 to the all-electric XC40 Recharge, Volvo has come a long way in producing cars that are more appealing to more people. In the past five years at Automobile, Volvo has earned a total of four awards, including the 2017 Design of the Year (the S90) and our All-Star award, which it won three years in a row from 2016 to 2018, with the XC90, S90, and V90.

The XC90 is Volvo's best-selling model in the U.S., but its competitors sell in much greater volumes. This posed a single question for me: What's holding the XC90 back?

I recently tested a 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design for a whopping two weeks, and while the XC90 R-Design is a standup luxury SUV, it failed to leave a lasting impression after its departure. That's not to say that the XC90 is a disappointment; it checked every box, it just lacked the excitement factor.

2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design: The Equipment

Mildly refreshed for the 2020 model year, including new exterior color options and a six-seat configuration, our XC90 tester in Thunder Grey Metallic came fitted with 22-inch double-spoke wheels and the Blond Perforated Leather upholstery. For the sum of $73,685 as tested, added equipment was the Bowers & Wilkins audio system ($3,200), Four-C Adaptive Air Suspension ($1,800), and Advance Package ($2,450). Depending on what matters the most to you as the driver, we'd say that the standard Harmon Kardon sound system with adjustable tone settings would suffice and save a pretty penny.

High up on the list of standard features were the R-Design steering wheel and exterior gloss black treatment, panoramic roof with power sunshade, Park Assist Camera, and the multi-purpose center console. Starting at $62,995 destination and handling included, the XC90 T6 R-Design's price can quickly climb to the $70,000-$80,000 range when fully loaded with options and outdoor accessories.

2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design: Driving Volvo's Best-Selling SUV

Given two full weeks with the XC90, an epic road trip into the wilderness could have been on the docket, but regrettably, it was not. Optimized with the $1,295 Polestar Engineered option that enhances the powertrain for improved performance, the XC90 spent most of its time with me in city and highway driving between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

The XC90 defaults to Comfort mode on startup, which I always switched to the Polestar Engineered mode for better throttle response from the 316-horsepower twin-charged (turbo and supercharged) engine and eight-speed automatic transmission during long hauls. Throughout my two weeks with it, the XC90 was pleasantly quiet inside, responsive to my inputs (in particular braking and steering), and smooth on the road, but with the ability to be aggressive when necessary.

Graceful and modest, the XC90 T6 R-Design, although equipped with Polestar performance tuning, isn't meant to be driven like you are preparing for a race; it's best enjoyed at speeds between 45 and 55 mph. Normally you'd expect a bumpy ride from the massive 22-inch wheels (a $1,100 option) however, the adaptive air suspension add-on provided a firm but supple ride.

As noted by Automobile social media editor Billy Rehbock, the biggest annoyance I had while driving the XC90 was the frenetic collision-avoidance system. This safety feature put me into a state of paranoia every time it flashed the warning symbol and tightly retracted the seatbelts in non-hazardous scenarios, such as poking the front end out for visibility at shopping mall exits or turning right near curbside-parked vehicles.

2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design: Facing the Competition by the Numbers

Given my experience with the XC90, it was becoming clearer why the Volvo lags its competitors. But just how far back is the XC90?

U.S. sales figures in the first seven months of this year for Volvo have reached 52,952 cars, of which the XC90 tallied 16,685 units. But the competition in this segment is cutthroat: The top five mid-size luxury SUV contenders (except the Audi Q7) have exceeded XC90 sales in the same period. Dominating the mid-size luxury SUV category even amid the pandemic downturn—and blowing all of the competition out of the water in terms of sales numbers—the Lexus RX has sold 45,613 units, followed by the Acura MDX (22,468), the Mercedes-Benz GLE Class (21,302), and the BMW X5 (19,154).

Of its top competitors, the Volvo XC90 has managed to surpass only the Audi Q7 in sales, cumulatively, since the Q7's introduction in 2006. In comparing the numbers across the board and taking the reigning champ (the Lexus RX) out of the picture, it seems highly improbable that the XC90 will ever beat the Acura MDX, BMW X5, or Mercedes-Benz GLE Class, but this is 2020, so anything is possible. In terms of price, the Acura MDX and Lexus RX are arguably the best values in the mid-size luxury SUV field. Equipped with a standard third-row seat for practical use, the MDX, XC90, and Q7 provide the most room for passengers.

It may not be the most popular, or even the best all-around luxury SUV, but even so, the 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design continues to be one of the best-looking SUVs around, with a first-class interior.

2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design: Likes and Dislikes

The Dislikes

  • Sensitive collision-warning system
  • Fairly dated infotainment system
  • Bluetooth dropped connection
  • Seats are a bit on the stiff side

The Likes

  • Premium interior materials
  • Bowers & Wilkins audio system
  • Polestar Engineered option
  • Complimentary factory scheduled maintenance
XC90 Plug-In Hybrid R-Design T8 in Thunder Grey

2020 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $62,995/$73,685 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 18/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 195 x 84.3 x 69.9
WHEELBASE 117.5 in
WEIGHT 4,263 lb
0-60 MPH 6.1 (est)
TOP SPEED 130 mph