VOLVO XC90

IMPRESSIVE SUV TAKES SWEDES TO HIGHER GROUND

DAMION SMY

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage TWO

“THE BEST VOLVO CHASSIS IN YEARS” NATHAN PONCHARD

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage TWO

THERE are no excuses for the new XC90.

With a new platform, engines and complete in-house development from the ground up, this is Gothenburg’s chance to prove that it can produce a genuinely world-class car under its Chinese owner, Geely.

And yes, it really has delivered.

Formerly part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG) with another contender, Jaguar, both former PAG brands saw their latest vehicles soar into COTY’s second round.

Also worth noting is that Volvo’s XC90 was one of a pair of big SUVs to progress beyond stage one – the other being Audi’s Q7 – proving that this oncecompromised vehicle type is capable of competing against some of the best cars in the business.

Despite COTY’s clear brief that we focus on the five criteria, direct comparisons between the two SUVs were inevitable. The XC90’s exterior was designed by a German, its interior by a Brit, and the two shining black beauties supplied by Volvo were lauded for their style, both inside and out.

The D5 Inscription, XC90’s mid-spec starting at $96,950, is powered by an all-new 2.0-litre turbo-diesel – part of Volvo’s new modular fourcylinder engine family – making 165kW and a solid 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm. The petrol XC90 T6, here in entry-level Momentum trim producing 235kW/400Nm, shares the diesel’s 1969cc engine capacity and eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The XC90 immediately impressed with its interior, especially that third row. Not only did the easily accessible final row enjoy similarly sumptuous comfort to the other seats, its closer-tocentre positioning meant a clear view ahead, and it had voluminous air vents to add to its adult-friendly roominess. Thanks to the packaging benefits of the plastic transverse leaf spring rear suspension, the XC90 backed that up with an admirable amount of luggage space.

The front cabin initially dazzled with its excellent surfacing, tactile materials and crisp digital dash.

That ‘Tesla reaction’ 12.3-inch centre touchscreen, though, required familiarity to master its many layers for climate, audio and safety features.

Gradually, however, the cabin’s freshness began to wear off, thanks to the presence of the Q7. Despite the XC90’s overall effectiveness, and its supportive seats continuing a fine Volvo tradition, its detail design lacked the Audi’s aura of expense.

On its air suspension (a $3760 option) and 21-inch wheels, the D5 looked even better at a standstill than the steel-sprung T6 on 20s. The larger rim choices are worth noting, as Audi (cleverly) stuck with its standard 19-inch wheels for both Q7s.

Such ample rubber enabled the XC90’s playful chassis to shine at both Lang Lang and on road loops, but also contributed to its single biggest criticism – ride quality. The D5’s air suspension proved supple in a straight line, but could feel a little floaty around corners. That vagueness wasn’t evident in the steel-sprung T6, but its primary ride was deemed overly firm. Yet there’s no denying the XC90’s handling excellence, with its poise, balance and accuracy making it really shrink around you.

Laying on the talent is the characterful diesel – so refined you wouldn’t know which bowser to pull up to – and the gutsy, rev-happy petrol, underlining the competence of Volvo’s new engine family. Strong, long-legged and sweetly spirited, both variants offered enough performance to make anyone believe there was another litre of capacity under the bonnet. On-test economy saw the D5 achieve 9.5L/100km, and the T6 a not-disgraceful 13.6L/100km. Both were closer to their ADR81 fuel figures than the Q7 TDI (11.0L/100km-plus).

Refinement is good, too, despite the occasional interior rattle and vibration tainting the most dynamically talented Volvo we’ve driven in years.

The optional $4500 Bowers & Wilkins stereo is aural bliss, but its volume was often cranked to drown out the rhythmic squeaking of trim.

Yet there’s no doubting the XC90’s strength. It easily lives up to Volvo’s safety mantra with a 97 percent Euro NCAP occupant protection result.

That’s the highest score in the test’s history.

What prevented the Swede from making the podium, though, was the fact that some of its driver aids, including radar cruise, blind-spot and crosstraffic alert systems, aren’t standard. Prerequisite premium features, such as keyless entry and privacy glass, also cost more. And the XC90 can’t take baby seats in its third row (which the Q7 can).

Yet the XC90 is a clear win for the Swedes.

Its impressive fundamentals provide a rock-solid foundation for Volvos of the future. Plus, it has personality, and that’s a virtue you can’t measure.

BODY

Type 5-door wagon, 7 seats Boot capacity 692 litres Weight 1965 – 1970kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front-engine (north-south), AWD Engines 1969cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (165kW/470Nm); 1969cc 4cyl turbo (235kW/400Nm); Transmission 8-speed automatic

CHASSIS

Tyres 235/55R18 – 275/40R21 ADR81 fuel consumption 6.2 – 8.5L/100km CO2 emissions 162 – 199g/km Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (Euro NCAP) Prices $89,950 – $101,950

“THE THIRD ROW IS ONE OF THE BEST I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED” SALLY DOMINGUEZ

F I R S T B O R N

This is the first Volvo using its in-housedeveloped Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA) and new engines (Volvo Engine Architecture). It sets the mould for the next generation of Volvos – sedans, wagons, coupes and SUVs – and, thankfully, it’s fundamentally sound. Its engines are impressive for a relatively small company, with stunning efficiency and driveability, while its electrical architecture is future-proof, and includes autonomous capability. Volvos will only get better and better after this excellent start.