Volvo XC90

Never mind the dynamics, stylish Swede a design of the times

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THIS is a new era for Volvo. Car companies often wax lyrical about new dawns, but the XC90 is off a slate that’s as clean as they come. It’s Volvo’s first completely new post-Ford product, ushering in a new platform, a new generation of engines and fresh design language under former VW designer Thomas Ingenlath.

With a starting price of $89,950, the new XC90 is $20K more expensive than its predecessor.

The most popular model is expected to be the $96,950 Inscription D5 (about 60 percent of sales), which is the mid-spec model, rides on 20-inch alloys, has a leather interior and can be identified by its chrome grille.

D is for diesel, with a 2.0- litre twin-turbo four-cylinder delivering 165kW and 470Nm, an increase of 18kW and 50Nm on its predecessor. It develops maximum torque at 200rpm fewer revs (1700rpm) while using a whopping 2.6L/100km less fuel (now 6.2L/100km), helped by being up to 125kg lighter.

This sole diesel variant features an Aisin eight-speed automatic developed specifically to match Volvo’s new engine family, and fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel drive. But it struggles to match the equally new Audi Q7 3.0 TDI for grunt or economy.

Like the Q7, though, the XC90’s cabin reeks of expense, with stunning attention to detail. Allround vision is excellent, as are the crisp digital instruments.

Volvo designed the dashboard around a superb 9.0-inch centre touchscreen, which helped the designers de-clutter down to eight physical buttons. The stalks are solid and feel premium, and the steering wheel has the rest of the menu at your fingertips. Add the optional head-up display and it’s tough to beat.

To start the car, you turn a nicely textured knob in the centre console next to the gear lever.

At idle the engine is smooth and quiet, and on the road you wouldn’t know it’s a diesel from its grunty sounds, but you do from the strong torque.

The eight-speed auto shifts seamlessly and response is good, though kickdown is far too slow to be called sporty.

Our test car rides on standard 20-inch Michelin-shod alloys and is equipped with the optional ($3600) air suspension. Don’t bother ticking this box; while it gives the XC90 a cloud-like primary ride, it’s sharped-edged over bumps and robs the vehicle of any composure.

Volvo talks up the compliance offered by the double-wishbone front end and the integral-axle rear end – which provides a larger boot (2427 litres in total) and genuine space for adults in the third row – but there’s far too much head-toss and constant input required of the steering, even in a straight line, with the soggy air set-up. It’s far better on the standard ‘Touring’ springs, yet still lacks composure. And that head-toss, while lessened, remains. There’s also too much nose-lift under throttle, and too much dive under brakes.

Change of direction is also a moot point, with plenty of bodyroll, even for a large SUV.

The steering weights-up oddly and its lack of consistency is a menace on winding roads. At least around town the previous model’s stadium-sized turning circle has shrunk to 11.8m, which is reasonable for a 4950mm-long SUV.

Loaded with nine airbags, the plush XC90 cocoons families in cotton wool and, while there’s too much road noise to achieve classleading refinement, the overall execution is pleasant. So it’s a hit, but not quite a knockout.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TTD 165kW @ 4250rpm 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm 8-speed automatic 1970kg 7.8sec (claimed) 6.2L/100km $96,950 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Average dynamics with below-par handling; German-level price Faster and more frugal; great driveline; seven seats standard; style

01 NO LAPSE OF LUXURY

Interior surfaces, fit and finish are all top-shelf, making for a truly premium-feeling cabin.

Perforated leather seats are six-way adjustable (with electronically adjustable bolsters). Cool design touches include a rimless centre mirror.

02 TACTILE STYLE

Nine-inch touchscreen performs like a tablet. You swipe its menus, which are simple and intuitive, and the ‘haptic touch’ means it still functions if it’s tapped with only a fingernail or if you’re wearing gloves.

03 HOLY ROLLERS

Wheel sizes begin at 19 inches on the Momentum (which can be downsized to 18s for no cost) and move up to 20s on the Inscription pictured here.

There are upgrades available if you must; the R-Design offers whopping 22s for a hefty $3825.

Note to self

“PILOT Assist is the first step towards autonomous driving,” Volvo senior product manager Lars Lagstrom tells Wheels.

“The car will accelerate, brake and steer – as long as you have a lead vehicle in front of you, and you are between the white lines, the car will drive … you only have to have a hand on the steering wheel.” Lagstrom explains that, by law, the driver must have a hand on the wheel, as you are ultimately responsible.

The system, part of the $4000 optional Driver Support Package, works at up to 50km/h.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi Q7 3.0 TDI $103,900 $103,900 NEW platform, new look, stunning cabin; the Q7 is mighty impressive.

The 3.0 TDI is more powerful (200kW), quicker (0-100km/h in 6.5sec) and uses less fuel (5.9L/100km), with sharp dynamics and stunning quality. It does cost more than the Swede, though.

BMW X5 xDrive 25d $89,200

STILL arguably the dynamic benchmark of the class. It has similar power and uses slightly less fuel than the Volvo, but it’s not quite as fast and comes with only five seats. You’ll also pay for items the XC90 has standard, such as LED headlights and 20-inch alloys.