Good: build quality, interior.
Not so good: bigger wheels reduce ride comfort.
The Volvo XC90 SUV is, alongside the Range Rover, one of the most imposing SUVs on the road today. But if the regular XC90's styling is still a touch too conservative for your liking, there's the R-Design model. This sportier specification sees the Swedish seven-seater gain 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, a more aggressively styled front bumper, flared sills and signature aluminium-look door mirrors.
Inside, the sporty theme continues with carbon fibre inserts in the doors and dashboards. Volvo's cabin materials remain some of the very best on the market today, and the layout is top notch. That large tablet-style infotainment system is a joy to use thanks to its crystal clear display and no lag in use.
The D5 engine's 2.0-litre capacity may seem a little small to some prospective buyers when larger options are available in the likes of the Audi Q7 and BMW X5, but with 235hp the Volvo is never underpowered. Its 480Nm of torque does help to give it some shove, though it does fall behind when compared to its larger engined rivals, especially given that the Volvo's 152g/km of CO2 emissions puts it in the same tax band as the 3.0-litre TDI from Audi.
It is possible to mildly enhance the D5's performance with an optional Polestar tuning kit. The overall horsepower figures increase marginally, but there is a better midrange power boost of around 10hp and an additional 30Nm of torque. Small differences in the grand scheme of things, but it is a step in the right direction for Polestar, which is now fully owned by Volvo.
At speed, the XC90 feels surefooted thanks to its permanent all-wheel drive transmission though you're always aware of the car's bulk. It doesn't feel quite as planted as a Q7 for example as if there is a touch less mechanical grip. The difference is small, but it's there. Even so, you always feel safe in the Volvo; catch a bad bump in the road big enough to kick one of the wheels and the seatbelts instantly tighten while the traction control systems disarm the situation in far less than the blink of an eye before gradually easing the belt tension.
When not pushing on, the massive 20-inch wheels compromise the XC90's ride comfort in the R-Design specification. As beautiful as they may look, the reduced tyre sidewall adds to road noise and on Irish roads at least don't provide as comfortable a ride. This remains the only real blot on the XC90's copybook. The steering is well weighted to suit most tastes, even if it lacks in feedback, and the eight-speed automatic transmission slips between gear changes with real quality.
And it's quality that is the one attribute that rises to the top in the Volvo XC90. Virtually every aspect of the car just seems to ooze class. From the spacious third row full-sized seats, to the cabin design and finish (you'll struggle to find any cheap black plastic here), the Volvo certainly goes a long way towards justifying its price tag. Dropping the sporty image in favour of the more conservative exterior options is worth considering if you don't want to sacrifice comfort, though.