Volvo XC90

Sensible rather than sporty, and all the better for it

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

INSIDE, Volvo’s all-new XC90 is serene and special. Lovely to look at and easy to use, it exudes the calm confidence of Scandinavia’s special brand of design sophistication.

It’s simply superb, and superbly simple, the triumphant focus point of a car that signals Volvo’s ambition and ability.

After a long period of attempting to transform flat-pack Ford tech into premium-priced products, the era of Ikea-posingas- designer-brand-Swedese has come to a close at Volvo. The XC90 is the brand’s first clean-sheet design since it was bought by Geely in 2010, ending more than a decade of Ford ownership.

Unlike the V40 of 2012, there are no ‘legacy’ Ford parts in the new XC90. It’s the first model based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture, which boils down to a high-strength steel body housing transverse four-cylinder engines, front-drive and all-wheel-drive powertrains (including a plug-in hybrid), new front double A-arm and rear multi-link suspensions, and a future-proofed electrical system.

The XC90’s engines are all 2.0-litre aluminium fours from Volvo’s Drive-E family that was designed in-house, and all of them are headed our way.

The D5 is a 165kW/470Nm twin-turbo diesel, while the T6 is a 236kW/400Nm supercharged and turbocharged petrol. The T8 badge signifies plug-in hybrid, which pairs the T6 engine, driving only the front wheels, with a rear-mounted 60kW electric motor sucking from a lithium-ion battery pack in the centre tunnel.

The T8’s maximum outputs are a V8-rivalling 296kW and 640Nm.

Although Volvo admits it’s working on front-drive versions, initial production is all-wheel drive only, using an on-demand Haldex clutch system.

The new XC90 is up to 125kg lighter than the model it replaces, but this is still a hefty car. Yet the least powerful engine shifts the XC90 along nicely. The T5’s delivery is linear and refined; you’re aware it’s a four-cylinder diesel, but only vaguely.

The T6 brings a lift in performance, but isn’t as happy a match with the XC90’s laidback nature. The twin-charged petrol engine feels more obviously boosted than the diesel, and a little gruff when pushed hard.

Both the D5 and T6 have an eight-speed Aisin auto, which works well. In keeping with the XC90’s dynamic character, there are no steering-wheel shift paddles. This is a stick-it-in-‘D’- and-relax kind of car.

All the pre-production XC90s at the Barcelona preview drive were heavily optioned, including air suspension with adaptive damping. So there was no chance to drive the XC90 with its basic set-up of coil springs at the front and transverse plastic leaf springs in the rear. Volvo’s engineers say it delivers ride and handling somewhere between the air suspension’s Comfort and Dynamic modes.

The Swedes haven’t futilely shot for SUV pseudo-sportiness.

The electric steering delivers little feel, although the Volvo responds precisely to inputs, even in soft Comfort mode. There’s a fair amount of body roll in all modes, and the XC90 tends to understeer.

Still, it doesn’t become completely incoherent when hurried along a winding Spanish backroad.

Slow down a little and there’s a lot to appreciate. The interior is not only a feast for the eyes, the second-row seats are excellent and the third row is roomy enough for medium-size adults.

Add to this a palpable sense of safety and the new-generation XC90 is a very sensible choice.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TTD 165kW @ 4250rpm 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm 8-speed automatic 2130kg 7.8sec (claimed) 5.8L/100km $89,950 August

PLUS & MINUS

Air suspension’s low-speed ride; at nearly 5m long, it’s big!

Luscious interior; exterior style; drivetrains; safety technology

01 CRYSTAL METHOD

Crystal shifter of the T8, from famed Swedish glassmaker Orrefors, seems like a brilliantly original idea. In reality, it looks like it’s made of plastic.

02 SCREEN TIME

Big, portrait-oriented touchscreen is beautifully clear and intuitive to use. It’s easy for pre-digital-age oldies to do simple stuff, but the menus also make it easy to burrow deep into the vehicle set-up.

03 DIVIDING RANGE

The XC90 will start at $89,950 when it launches here in August, initially T5 and T6 in Momentum, Inscription and R-Design grades; the $101,950 R-Design-only T6 will be the most expensive until the $122,950 T8 R-Design arrives.

Safety Firsts

THE XC90 debuts two new technologies.

The first is a system that prevents driving across the path of an oncoming car. It only works for cars and trucks at the moment, but Volvo’s engineers are working to add two-wheeled vehicles to its ability.

The second is a system designed to reduce the risk of injury or death in a run-off-the-road crash. It run-off-the-road crash. It relies on seatbelt cinching and a spine-saving front seat design.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi Q7 3.0 TDI quattro $90,500

THIS bulky seven-seater (we call it the QE7) is soon to be replaced by an all-new model. Lardy 2300kg kerb weight negates power and torque advantages of its 3.0-litre TDI V6. Old, not pretty, and clearly outclassed by the XC90.

BMW X5 xDrive 25d $88,900

THIS made-in-the-USA X5 is styled to appeal to American tastes. Nice turbo-diesel four and eight-speed auto, but optional third-row seats are squeezy compared to those standard in Volvo’s newcomer. Anyone considering the X5 should wait to at least check out the new XC90.