Moose-Rated: Volvo’s refreshed XC90 R-Design

Avoiding Bullwinkle on a drive through the Canadian Rockies.

There’s a moose on the loose. Or so the signs tell us.

We’re here in stunning Banff, Alberta in the soaring Canadian Rockies to take a spin in Volvo’s flagship, the new and improved 2020 XC90 sport-ute. And to be on the look-out for Bullwinkle.

This is a big deal. Mooses – or maybe that’s meese – are huge; between 700 and 1,300 pounds. And Poppa Moose can stand over seven feet tall.

If one of these walking Mack trucks trots in front of your car – as they do with monotonous regularity here in the Rockies –  you hit the gangly legs first. Then a lot of momentum sees it rolling on to your hood, crushing the windshield and typically ending up in the passenger seat.

I know, way too much information.

We take comfort in the knowledge that Volvo, being the safety obsessors they are, test for moose collisions when developing a new model.

Over at the Volvo safety center in Sweden, they have a Bullwinkle look-alike – we’re presuming it’s called Sven, or Lars – that weighs 790 pounds and is made up of 114 rubber discs to mimic the density and flexibility of Mr. Moose.

The test involves driving every new Volvo prototype into it at between 43 and 56 mph and seeing what happens.

Designing a roof structure and I-beam-stiff windshield pillars out of super-high-strength steel reduces the severity of the crash. But know that whatever happens, it’s still going to be ugly.

Thankfully, our drive towards Lake Louise, and on to Golden along Highway 1, the old Trans-Canada Highway, is during the daytime while Bullwinkle and his buddies are sawing Zzzzs after a night gorging on way too many berries.

The XC90 has always been a key model for Volvo. When it landed in 2015, it marked the dawn of ‘New Volvo’. This is when Volvos stopped looking like the box they came in, and buyers were no longer tweed-suited educators from Vermont.

Since 2015, the XC90 has also rightly been the best-selling Volvo model here in the States.

Right now I’m carving curves – trying to avoid gazing up at another jaw-descending, snow-covered mountain peak – in the latest XC90 T6 R-Design. Base price $62,000, or $74,700 very, very nicely loaded.

For our XC90, the T6 bit denotes the fact that there’s a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood cranking out 313 Swedish horseys along with 295 lb-ft of torque.

Want more oomph, you can step up to the XC90 T8 with the same engine assisted by an electric motor. That amps up the power to an impressive 400hp and max torque up to a whopping 472 lb-ft.

As for the R-Design bit, it’s a $5,700 styling package that adds some sporty body parts, a new-for-2020 re-designed black mesh grille, cool 20-inch wheels, body-hugging sports seats, and an ear-bleeding 600-watt Harman Kardon stereo.

Yet in a confusing piece of XC90 product planning, the new-for-2020 six-seat layout – with two center-row captain’s chairs rather than a three-across bench – is only available on Momentum and Inscription models. Not the R-Design.

But I’m loving these R-Design nappa leather sports seats, which hold you in place as securely as a Hulk Hogan body-lock.

The XC90 has always boasted a benchmark cabin design and for 2020 it gets even better, with new colors for the wood veneers and upholstery. There’s even the option of wool-cloth trim for those who prefer not to have hide in their ride.

Along Highway 1, with its ups and downs and curves-a-plenty, the new 90 is a joy to drive. The 2.0-liter motor packs plenty of punch and has no shortage of mid-range muscle for safe, speedy passing, and it works superbly with the quick-shifting 8-speed automatic.

The variable-assist electric steering is as precise as McDreamy’s scalpel, while standard all-wheel drive adds to the athletic feel of this tall-riding people mover.

Yes, the mid-size SUV sector is more crowded than I-75 North with a hurricane on the way. But this versatile, beautifully-designed Volvo is still up there right at the top of its class.

And if Bullwinkle ever migrates south to Florida, you know the XC90 will have your back. Or front.

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