Much to admire
PUBLISHED: 09:53 30 June 2015 | UPDATED: 09:53 30 June 2015
Volvo's XC90 has been the SUV of choice for a generation. Now the new XC90 takes things to a new level, explains Carlton Boyce
The Volvo XC90 has always been the default middle-class SUV for those who don’t want a Land Rover Discovery. Reeking of Scandinavian cool, it shuttled an entire generation to ballet classes and football games and even the odd gymkhana while loudly proclaiming that you cared enough about your family to drive a Volvo.
But not just any old Volvo, because the XC90 was, perhaps, the first of its cars that made it cool to care; this was a Swedish barge that was solid, not stolid. But, like all good things, the XC90 grew old. In the autumn of its life it was still good fun and still enormously safe and practical, but it was rapidly being left behind by its younger, cuter and lighter rivals.
So Volvo did what every car manufacturer strives for — but only a few achieve — and made it even better.
Using cars like the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne as benchmarks, Volvo has created what it claims is one of the fastest and cleanest SUVs in the world. It also proudly boasts its safety record, aiming to have zero fatalities and serious injuries in its new cars by 2020, which sounds ambitious but might well be achievable if it carries on at this rate. As an example, the XC90 showcases Volvo’s city braking system — standard across the XC90 range — that will automatically brake the car to a halt at speeds of up to 31mph if the driver fails to act in time, even in the dark.
The exterior is recognisably Volvo, but it’s as sleek, as modern, as minimalist and as lovely as any SUV is ever likely to be, a story that continues inside. Premium materials and an emphasis on practicality are, however, offset by a touchscreen that does take a bit of getting used to.
There are seats for seven adults and a cavernous boot — it might not look like it in photographs but this is still a very big car. Three trim levels are offered: Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. Momentum is the base model yet even this is very well equipped. R-Design is the sporty sibling and Inscription is the luxury option. Both up the number of goodies on offer, but I can’t help thinking the sweet spot in the range is the entry level, which is unlikely to leave anyone feeling cheated.
Whereas the old XC90 was a pretty accomplished off-roader, the new one is firmly biased towards road use. That means it handles much better than the old one, possessing a poise and agility that’s at odds with its size, even if the emphasis is still (rightly) on comfort rather than outright handling.
Three engines are offered. The D5 diesel engine offers a fine blend of pace and frugality with up to 48.7mpg available, a balance that the T6 petrol-engined version struggles with; it’s quicker, of course, but significantly more thirsty. The hybrid is wonderfully fast and potentially incredibly frugal (over 100mpg is claimed) but it is expensive to buy. While the diesel starts at £45,750 and the petrol at £50,340, the T8 petrol/electric hybrid opens at almost £60,000.
That the Volvo XC90 retains its place as the SUV of choice for people who don’t need or want a Land Rover Discovery is an accomplishment that can’t be over-stated. Its road-biased chassis is sure-footed and capable and its practicality and safety is even greater than that of the car it replaces. That the pick of the range is the cheapest model on offer, is the icing on an already very attractive cake.