From its restyled grille logo and squinty “Thor’s hammer” running lights, to its squiggly sculpted taillights and twin chrome-tipped exhausts, the redesigned seven-passenger 2016 Volvo XC90 is much more than your typical model refresh: it’s a fully-rendered expression of Volvo’s new architecture and style. It’s the first vehicle in the Swedish automaker’s lineup to use the company’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), and the first to bring to market a host of new design details.

It’s also, quite clearly, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of the German and Japanese luxury brands (although Volvo might argue that Vikings had no time for such niceties as throwing down gauntlets, but instead simply stormed in and conquered). Volvo has set out to produce what it envisions as the perfect luxury family hauler, and the heavy hitters like BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Acura and Infiniti had better watch out.

Stylistically, Volvo’s new design language is decidedly modern and understated, in a manner that’s somewhat reminiscent of Audi’s current style. The XC90 displays Volvo’s newly tweaked “Ironmark” logo, with the logo’s arrow now rotated a little so it lines up with (and blends in with) the grille’s diagonal crossbar. It’s a subtle but significant change, reflecting the approach taken throughout. To my eye the XC90’s design as a whole works nicely. It looks pleasantly solid and suitably well-crafted, and I reckon it’ll withstand the test of time well.

If that sounds like faint praise, it’s only because I needed to reserve more potent adjectives for the XC90’s interior. The Swedes are renowned for their interior design, and the XC90 takes things up several notches. While the interior design remains as artfully minimalistic as the exterior, it is executed with such style and in such elegant materials as to render it downright sensual. The XC90 is available in three trim levels (Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription) with my test car’s Inscription trim representing the pinnacle of luxury. This means beautiful matte-finished woodwork, supple stitched leather, bright and brushed metal trims, soft-touch door lowers, cloth-wrapped pillars and a spectacular sounding Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system. Open the door and settle into the driver’s seat and the car welcomes you by automatically turning on the accessories, without the need to press any buttons – very civilized! To start the car, you then twist a diamond-cut knob on the centre console, giving the XC90 a touch of playful quirkiness.

The competition: Comparison Test: Luxury SUVs

In practical matters, the first two rows of seating are amply spacious (and visually they feel even more so thanks to the giant panoramic moonroof), and even the third row offers reasonable space for teenagers and medium-sized adults, although headroom is a bit tight. The middle-row seats feature separate climate controls, seat heaters, and room to stretch out. The front seats are superlatively comfortable, with near infinite adjustments, plenty of room, and both heated and cooled seats. Outward visibility is reasonably good, but by no means brilliant: Rather than trying to slim down XC90’s substantial A-pillars and chunky exterior mirrors, Volvo seems content to instead rely on its impressive suite of safety technology to keep you out of trouble (this includes automatic pedestrian and cyclist braking, and automatic intersection braking if you try to turn in front of an oncoming car). Other driving aids in my Inscription test car included blind-spot assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, road-sign information, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and more.

Connect with