Charleston, South Carolina’s motto, “She guards her buildings, customs and laws,” makes a lot of sense upon entering the pristine town, especially given the fact that the buildings and community so deeply embody the city’s history. But first-time visitors might be surprised to find it also brimming with creative energy. Charlestonians foster the avant-garde—in ideas, food and culture—as much as they protect and reflect their city’s storied past.
It’s little wonder, then, that Volvo—the Swedish automaker that’s beloved by loyal enthusiasts as much for its reliability and classicism as it is for its next-level technology and performance—has found its perfect match in Charleston. After all, the company didn’t treat lightly the recent decision to build its first U.S. factory, at a cost of some $500 million, in the Palmetto City. The facility will begin assembling around 100,000 cars annually when it’s completed in 2018.
The perfect physical embodiment of this symbiosis is Volvo’s 2016 XC90, a luxury SUV that delivers the safety, drivability and refinement for which the brand is famous, but with the volume turned way up. The cornerstone of an $11 billion investment program to develop Volvo’s “Scalable Product Architecture” (SPA) modular chassis technology, the new XC90 boasts groundbreaking electrical architecture. These advancements include cutting-edge microprocessor, sensor and camera mechanization in addition to a revolutionary Pilot Assist semi-autonomous-driving system, all of which render the vehicle among the world’s safest and most exciting to drive.
Like its future U.S. manufacturing hub, the latest XC90 masters the interplay of contemporary and traditional sensibilities. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged engine, packing 316 horsepower and an all-new automatic eight-speed Geartronic transmission, is a beast to drive, but it’s also visually unmistakable, with its trademark brawny shoulders, gorgeous grille and sleek lower-body moldings. Equally thrilling are the XC90’s five adjustable, hyper-reactive drive mode settings: comfort, eco, dynamic, off-road and individual.
The vehicle’s interior, too, occupies a class of its own. The most luxurious ever created by Volvo, the inside of the XC90—with four climate zones, 9-inch center touch screen display, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system and 10-way power front seats—is generously proportioned without being excessive, offering class-leading 31.9 inches of legroom in the foldable third row of seats.
All this in mind, there may be no better car on the market in which to drive around the leafy lanes south of Broad Street, or to hit the highway and race to nearby Kiawah Island.