Driven: Volvo XC90

Volvo’s difficult second album hits the right notes…

Following up the original XC90 is a tough task for Volvo. The first model, introduced way back in 2004, was a critical car for the Swedish firm, not only establishing them in the premium SUV market but also acting as a massive cash cow in its later years. It’s that cash flow that allowed Volvo to invest so heavily in the new XC90.

Developed at a cost of $11 billion, the new model promises to improve in every area. Only one single component makes the transfer across – that’s the innovative built-in child seat – but everything else is new, making it stiffer, stronger, more spacious and more driveable. It remains identifiably an XC90 though, while the seven-seats remain as standard.

The new chassis immediately proved its benefit; the XC90 is an exceptionally refined car on the road. The ride quality is sublime, isolating passengers from the rough parts of the road with a degree of finesse rarely seen, even on cars with six-figure price tags.

Buyers can opt to spend a few thousand on air-suspension for the four corners – this adds an extra level of comfort that shouldn’t be necessary, but once it’s been experienced most will think that the extra spend is worth it.

Ride quality isn’t at the expense of handling though, with the two-tonne XC90 able to be hauled round the bends with confidence – not that its buyers will be driving with too much enthusiasm.

Yes, there is a fair amount of body roll when trying to make ‘swift’ progress, but at slower speeds it’s light and surprisingly agile, with good all-round visibility making it as easy to drive through a busy city centre as it is on the motorway.

That’s refinement continues under the bonnet too. The 225PS 2.0-litre D5 engine is barely noticeable until the throttle is pressed down hard. At that point a diesel growl makes itself heard as it powers the behemoth to 62mph in 7.8 seconds, though it never feels that quick thanks to the isolation from the outside world. Only when the scenery starts getting blurry is it obvious just how quick the XC90 really is.

The cabin itself is quite special, with three years of work going in to getting it just right, and Volvo has got remarkably close. Soft flowing lines with light wood detailing look suitably Swedish on this test model, although there are options for dark woods, shiny metals and man-made textures.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox keeps itself hidden in the background, shifting ratios almost imperceptibly. However, it does let the side down when under pressure, leaving changes both up and down later than is ideal and momentarily spoiling the tranquil atmosphere in the cabin.

There’s a sense of quality throughout the whole interior too, not just on the dashboard. There are no noticeably cheap plastics anywhere in the cabin, even hidden low down by the floor, while every touch point has had special attention paid to it.

The dominant feature of the dashboard, a centrally positioned nine-inch touchscreen, works brilliantly. As well as detecting touch, there are banks of infrared sensors that pick up where fingers are pressing before they contact the screen, having the effect of making it feel not only incredibly quick and snappy but having the happy side effect that it’s usable with gloves on too. Big buttons make it easy to use, while a single swipe to either side will bring up myriad seldom-used but important controls.

Only the moving of the climate controls to the screen detracts, but for every driver like myself that changes settings on each journey there’ll be another that sets it to 19 degrees and then never touches it again.

Behind the front seats are another two rows of accommodation, with a centre row of seats that will quite happily take three adults in comfort. Move farther back and there are two extra jump seats, position slightly inwards so that passengers there can get a reasonable view of the world ahead of them. These are best suited to children, but adults can squeeze in if it’s absolutely necessary.

All five rear seats fold down with a single pull of a lever, leaving a huge and completely flat load area. Even with all seven seats in place, the boot is useable with more than enough capacity for a weekly shop, a couple of sets of golf clubs or some IKEA purchases.

It’s all indicative of a car that has had a huge amount of thought put in to it, from practical touches that make life easier for everybody and design details that leave you smiling to a serene driving experience and a perception of stereotypical Swedish strength.

The targets for the new car were set incredibly high, yet Volvo has absolutely nailed it with the XC90. Not only do Audi, BMW and Mercedes need to be concerned, but so does Land Rover with their Range Rover.

Model Tested: Volvo XC90 Momentum D5 AWD
Price: £46,250
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 137 mph
0-62 mph: 7.8 seconds
Power: 225 PS (222 bhp)
Torque: 470 Nm (347 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 48.7 mpg
Road Test economy: 39.2 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 149 g/km
VED Band: F / £145 per year
Car insurance group: 33E
Kerb weight: 2,078 kg

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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