Almost a year ago to this day, I found out I was expecting our third child. Like most big life transitions, this discovery sparked a whole host of emotions, and even more questions.
How would we afford three sets of school or daycare fees? Would Charlie cope with a baby in the house? Would my pelvic floor survive another childbirth? Could my heart stretch even further for this third child? And uh oh … How on earth would they all fit into the car?
As my frantic Google and Facebook Group searching very quickly revealed, I wasn’t the first mother to have a slight mental breakdown over the question of whether three children relegated you directly to the land of the minivan.
But as I’ve since realised with each one of those aforementioned questions (with the exception of the school fees), I need not have worried. The heart, body and car situation all sorted themselves out in the end.
It turns out that your heart does expand, your body is remarkably elastic, your children adapt, and as well as there being a (very expensive) professional service dedicated to squeezing three car seats into your vehicle, there are actually cars (lovely ones at that) designed specifically for big families.
I had the pleasure and privilege of test driving the Volvo XC90 for a one-month period (including this trip to the gorgeous Palm Beach), and can confirm that this is the exact vehicle my stressed-out pregnant self would have designed.
The first thing I’ll say about this car is this: it has an in-built booster seat. Perhaps I’d been oblivious to Volvo’s innovations for years, but it had somehow slipped under my radar that Volvo’s larger cars come equipped with booster seats for slightly older children. How this is not a prerequisite in every SUV, I have no idea. Because it completely changes the game.
In the XC90, this booster is in the second row’s middle seat, and it transformed the experience my children have in the car. Rather than squeezing into a bulky booster sandwiched between two full-sized car seats, my eldest son had space and comfort in his spot, with a booster that activates with – literally – the push of a button.
The screams of, “He’s TOUCHING ME!” and “I HAVE NO SPACE!” and “I AM NOT GETTING INTO THE CAR!” quietened to silence, and I can’t begin to explain the positive impact this had on our journeys (and my mental health).
For families who regularly carpool or cart other children around to activities, this is also a lifesaver.
Speaking of space, the Volvo XC90 unsurprisingly delivers it in spades.
The car is a seven-seater, but unlike our current family car (which could barely squeeze two infants into the third row), the XC90 can actually accommodate seven adults. My 6″4′ husband sat in the third row for an entire part of our journey (much to the delight of our baby who could stare straight at him from his rear-facing car seat), and didn’t once complain about the space.
What’s more, even with the third-row seats, there is still significant boot space available to fit a pram or the outrageous amount of groceries that are required for a large family. Without the third row up (they fold down to be completely flat), the boot space is unsurpassed. For a weekend away with our family of five, we fit in a full Bugaboo Donkey (not a small pram), a port-a-cot, two full suitcases, toys, and food (plus perhaps a few bottles of wine) for three days. After asking my husband, “Do you think we’ll need to take up another car?” while packing, the fact that there was still space to see out of the back window (and to even pack in some Avalon shopping purchases) blew my mind.
Even with its ample size, driving the car doesn't feel like manoeuvring a beast.
It’s easy (a delight, in fact) to drive, even up the terrifying winding roads of Palm Beach, where we visited for this long weekend getaway. If you’ve ever made the drive through the streets of Palm Beach, you’ll be familiar with the 180 degree turns and ski-run-steep driveways. The XC90 handled them all with complete ease, and the turning circle is remarkably wide for a car of this size.
As someone who is ever-so-slightly terrified of driving on tricky roads, I felt as safe and secure as you’d expect from Volvo’s impeccable reputation.
The vehicle is also undoubtedly elegant and refined, with Volvo's distinctive Scandinavian design.
While family cars are so often a capsule of all things chaotic, the XC90 exudes a remarkable sense of calm. The interiors ooze modern Swedish luxury, and there are really beautiful details that elevate the driving experience. I was also really pleased to read that one of my favourite features – the gorgeous wood finishes – are made from carefully selected materials that are authentic and sustainable.
The features of the XC90 are also unparalleled. In fact, with the exception of the parking assist, I'm convinced I barely did them justice.
Most of the functions in the car are controlled through a large central touch screen that works exactly like an iPhone. It’s sleek, responsive and clear (with a portrait format that was refreshingly simple to use) so reading information and selecting options is a breeze.
Speaking of options, the huge array of pre-programmed radio stations in the car were one of my children’s favourite features. Kinderling Radio and even Elf for Christmas music (yes, it was a little too early) were on regular rotation.
While I was certainly fond of the radio stations too, what impressed me most with the car’s functionality was the intuitive interaction. While all the information is available on the central touch screen, there is also a digital display that pops up behind the steering wheel with important information. It appears right in front of your face on the windscreen, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road. This features everything from navigational directions through to warnings of speed limits, and was incredibly handy and effective. There is also a voice-activated control that responds directly to your cues, which my whole family adored.
Suitcase by Away.
I also can't write about the XC90 without mentioning the incredible sensors for parking and alerts.
The car features “City Safety”, which helps to protect people inside and outside the car, day or night. This innovation – which is standard for every XC90 – identifies potential hazards like other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and animals ahead. Thankfully I didn’t need to use this feature, but it is such a welcomed relief to know that you will be warned if a collision is imminent. Even better, if you don’t react in time, the car can automatically apply its brakes to help avoid a crash.
The XC90 also features Steering Support, which helps you to steer away from danger as effectively and safely as possible. On top of that, there is Run-Off Road Mitigation, which detects if your car is going to leave the road unintentionally at high-speed limits, and will use steering (and brake support if necessary) to guide you back onto the right path. Then if your car does happen to leave the road, an energy-absorbing structure in the front seat cushions will reduce your chance of serious injury in the event of a hard landing.
And when it comes to keeping your family safe and secure inside the car, this is at the forefront of Volvo’s design. Ultra high-strength boron steel – one of the strongest types available – forms a rigid safety cell around you and your family, with safety belt pre-tensioners and load limiters keeping your seatbelts in just the right state of tension.
I’ve always known (as so many of us do) that Volvo is renowned for their safety features, but experiencing them first-hand offers such incredible peace of mind.
When we reached the freeway on our way up to our getaway, the other feature that made driving so much more enjoyable was the Pilot Assist.
The traffic wasn’t pleasant (as anyone who travels regularly to the northern beaches will know), so this feature allowed the car to be programmed to be a set distance behind the vehicle in front of us, which made the drive a little less stressful. The car also automatically steers you (gently) into the centre of the lane if you’re veering, with a slight vibration through the steering wheel that proved very helpful on the freeway.
The final item that sealed the deal when it came to my love of the Volvo XC90 was parking assistance.
This is no regular parking camera. Rather, you see your car from a 360 degree bird’s-eye view, where you can see all the surrounding elements – from people, to cars, to gutters. Let’s just say that I’m not known for my parking abilities, and this surrounding view made parking feel like a very achievable game of Tetris. Truly, a revolution when it comes to parking in small spaces.
One feature I didn’t use (I was too impressed by my own new parking abilities) was the Park Assist Pilot, which helps you park perfectly. It uses sensors to gauge the size of spaces as you drive by them, and lets you know if one is big enough. It can then steer the car into a parallel space just 1.2 times the length of the car, then all you need to do is operate the gears and brake according to the screen prompts. So, so impressive and exciting for anyone who struggles a little with navigating spaces. Big families in inner-city streets, I’m looking at you.
All in all, it can't be understated what a perfect family car the Volvo XC90 is. It is practical, it's spacious, it's beautiful and it's incredibly safe.
From the tiny touches (like the pull-up window shades in the back seat) through to the major safety elements of the vehicle (that show just how committed Volvo is to keeping our families secure), it really is the ideal car for large families.
So if you’re about to embark on a Google or Facebook Groups rabbit hole in a search of a vehicle for your expanding family, stop your search right here.
The vehicle reviewed in this article was the Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription in Osmium Grey.