I recently saw some teaser images of an all-new, fully-redesigned Volvo XC90. You may have seen them too. If you did, your reaction was probably fairly mild. Maybe you yawned and drank some coffee. Maybe you resumed scratching yourself just out of view of your boss. But me? I was consumed with pure horror.
Before we cover the reasons behind this, let’s back up a bit.
First, we have to talk about the pictures themselves. What does the phrase “teaser image” mean to you? A couple of blurred photos of a car? A few images of some body panels? The kind of picture a slutty co-worker texts you late at night?
Not this time. In this case, Volvo released a photo of the XC90’s illuminated headlights, with the entire rest of the car shrouded in darkness. You can’t see anything. And yet every single major automotive news outlet picked up this story, proving once again that automaker PR is the easiest job on earth: release a photo of some headlights, create a major buzz. I often think Ferrari could tweet a picture of their latest model’s valve stem and end up on the front page of Automotive News.
Anyway: the reason for all the secrecy is because Volvo isn’t quite ready to show us the new XC90 yet. In fact, they won’t even bring it to the Frankfurt Auto Show, preferring instead to show off a bizarre concept car that looks like an Audi A5 with tailfins.
And to me, that’s just fine.
You see, I don’t want a new XC90. That’s because I like the current one just fine. In fact, it’s better than just fine: it’s perfect. And now, we must cover that statement with a little background.
The current XC90 came out for model year 2003. Think about that. In the fall of 2002 – some 11 years ago, just as President Bush was settling into office and all major airlines were rushing to declare bankruptcy – Volvo debuted the XC90. As I recall, it was met with virtually unanimous praise for its handsome styling, its crash safety engineering, and the fact that Connecticut soccer moms could finally ditch their station wagons.
And now, here we are, 11 years later. President Bush is settling into retirement. And the airlines were able to pull themselves out of bankruptcy, presumably by charging fees for checked baggage, carry-on baggage, and customers who think about baggage. But the Volvo XC90 is still here, just as it was then, soldiering on with only minor updates.
To give you an idea how unusual that is, some perspective. One: the XC90 is now the second-oldest car on the market. It loses out only to the Mercedes G-Class, which was the vehicle of choice for the smaller dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous Period. And two, here are some cars that came out after the XC90 made its debut:
But the interesting thing about the XC90 isn’t its longevity. It’s that, after ten years, it still looks great. Seriously: the XC90 looks like the kind of car that would look tremendous if it came out tomorrow. The lines are flowing and gorgeous. That Volvo shoulder crease is perfectly placed. And most rivals look far more ungainly, or at least have a D-pillar the size of a travel trailer.
For those of you doubting my love of the XC90, I’d like to point out that the market agrees with me. Last year, the XC90’s eleventh year on sale without a full redesign, Volvo sold nearly 10,000 units – a figure on par with the Audi Q7, the Lexus GX and the Infiniti FX, and well above the Land Rover LR4, the Range Rover, and the Infiniti EX.
And it’s not heavily incentivized, either. A quick check on Volvo’s website pulls up a lease offer that doesn’t seem tremendously enticing. They rarely offer low-interest financing, and they never provide cash back. That means people are spending big money to buy new XC90s, even though it’s basically the same car you can find used on Craigslist for six grand.
So my worry here is that Volvo will take this car – an icon of the private school dropoff lane – and ruin it. Admittedly, that hasn’t been happening lately in the world of Volvo design. The new S60, for instance, is a marked improvement over the last one, which was itself a beautiful car. And the latest S80 transitioned perfectly from a boring sedan driven by professors to a boring sedan driven by professors who have the option of specifying a refrigerator in the back.
But it’s hard to update an icon, even with the most talented designers in the world. And so I say: Be careful, Volvo. Connecticut soccer moms are watching.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.