The self-driving Uber Volvo XC90 was our Car of the Year for 2015 -- here's what we thought

When Geely took control of Volvo in 2010, critics of the $1.5 billion deal were curious whether it would end in tears. After all, Chinese companies have had a relatively poor track record integrating their foreign acquisitions. Many were concerned Geely would meddle with the special Swedish sauce that made Volvo such a special brand for its fans.

Instead, Geely took a hands-off management approach, retained Volvo’s existing engineering and manufacturing setup, and even sought to accentuate the brand’s Swedishness. At the same time, the Chinese firm gave Volvo the $11 billion it needed to develop its next generation of cars, engines, and technology.

So many things could have gone wrong. None did. And last year, Volvo refuted any notions that it was undergoing some kind of identity crisis under Chinese ownership — with one car. It was the XC90 crossover SUV, and it was Business Insider’s Car of the Year in 2015.

Now Uber has announced that it will use the XC90 as a platform for a rollout of self-driving technology in Pittsburgh.

Several weeks were spent sampling the car — in top-level “Inscription” trim, tipping the cost scales at almost $67,000 — in its natural environment, suburban New Jersey, and in the San Francisco area.

The XC90 is the first all-new car to emerge from a cash injection provided by Geely, which bought the brand from Ford after the financial crisis. The crossover features both Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture platform that will underpin all of the company’s next generation of cars as well as the Drive-E engines that will power its complete lineup.

The XC90 had so much going for it that it was ultimately a challenge to not choose it. While the Volvo might not be as luxurious as a Mercedes G Class or as robust under the hood as a BMW X Series — and we’re unsure of whether its reliability can challenge Acura or Lexus — there’s no doubt that it’s feature- and technology-packed, a joy to drive, comfortable, and exceptionally versatile.

We certainly enjoyed driving it. Now we’re wondering what it will be like for Uber customers to ride in it — with nobody driving it.

Volvo's XC90 is a handsomely styled crossover. Although it's a large, three-row SUV, it's far from intimidating. You might even call it sporty.

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But that's part of the XC90's charm. It combines the spacious cabin and commanding view of a large off-roader with the friendly, familiar driving experience of ... well, a Volvo. It adds a bit of pep with a turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine, plus the zippy driving dynamics of a smaller vehicle.

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In addition to the new platform and engines, the XC90 is the first model to feature Volvo's new design theme, highlighted by ...

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... the 'Thor's Hammer' headlights and ...

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... a prominent Volvo grille -- hiding a forward-looking camera.

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From the rear, the XC's styling is highlighted by a pair of dual exhausts and a subtle rear spoiler.

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The vertical taillights are a throwback to the first generation XC90.

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Overall, the XC90's lines are clean, understated, and pleasing. The XC is a refreshing break from the hyperaggressive, in-your-face styling we've seen recently from its Japanese and European competitors.

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Inside, the Volvo is warm and inviting.

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An absolutely massive panoramic roof gives the cabin an open and airy feel -- ensuring no one will ever feel short of space.

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Toggle the switch mounted near the rearview mirror and ...

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... open the roof to let in the fresh air and abundant sunshine from the outside world.

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Although there's plenty of chrome, lashings of fine leather, and half a Scandinavian forest mounted throughout the cabin, the XC90 doesn't feel gaudy.

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The leather, wood, and metallic accents work in unison to create a feeling of understated luxury.

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Volvo has a reputation for making some of the most comfortable seats in the business, and that continues with the XC90. The highly adjustable seats make long road trips a joy and slogging through traffic much less of an ordeal. Plus, they're heated and (in the front) cooled.

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Up front, the driver is treated to a sleek digital-instrument cluster. The layout of the LCD screen is customisable, and the readout is beautifully rendered.

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The center of the gauge cluster shows a rendering of the navigation map, as well as the status of any driver-assistance technology in operation.

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The center console is dominated by a massive, Tesla-style vertical touchscreen. To toggle between the various menus on the infotainment system, you can swipe left and right, as on an iPad.

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The Bowers & Wilkins stereo sounds terrific -- it's among the best listening experiences we enjoyed in 2015. Everything from smooth jazz to classic rock to thrashy pop-punk sounds dandy flowing through the 19 speakers.

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To bring the Volvo to life, turn the machined-metal, start-engine knob to the right. This is a sly reference, we think, to the old Saab center-mounted ignition switches. Very Swedish! Drive modes include comfort, sport, eco setting, and an off-road option.

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The rear-passenger compartment is roomy and comfortable, with privacy screens. Since this is a Volvo, it comes with a built-in booster seat that can be collapsed to accommodate a fully grown third passenger.

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The third row, however, is best reserved for those who don't require a lot of legroom. Both the second and third row can be quickly and easily folded down to create a vast cargo compartment. And the rear of the vehicle can actually be lowered when loading and unloading stuff.

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Passengers in the back can control the XC90's climate with a simple, compact touchscreen.

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In the coming months, the T6 Inscription -- our test car -- will be joined by a T8 plug-in hybrid version, boosting horsepower to 400.

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All in all, the XC90 is a solidly built, well-designed luxury crossover, outfitted with all the technology almost anyone could want. As a car, the overall package is compelling. We look forward to seeing what Volvo will do next! And what Uber's experience with the SUV will be.

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