– Decent power from little engine
– Cabin space, style and features
– Ride and handling
– Pricey with options
– Tight third-row access
– Fiddly touchscreen
Quick, name every luxury SUV you can think of that can seat seven people. Chances are, Volvo somehow skipped your mind. The Swedish brand has always occupied an awkward niche, being neither a mainstream brand nor a full-blown luxury brand. Nowadays, they are doing much better with a little cash injection from their new owners Geely. New products such as the all-new XC90 are firmly in the premium class now, and people are actually starting to take notice.
The latest XC90 is an all-new design, having previously soldiered on for more than a decade with minimal changes. The 2016 version incorporates Volvo’s clean new styling philosophy, looking conservative in many ways, yet stunning in its details. The “Thor’s Hammer” headlights and extra-tall taillights are a particularly nice touch in their unique shaping, but beyond that, the profile is somewhat generic, the latter being exactly what target customers want.
The clean lines continue into the cabin. In fact, the IKEA-esque interior design is amazing, with generous use of firm soft-touch surfaces, leather and metal trim. The uncluttered look can be attributed to the iPad-style “portrait” touchscreen on the centre console that integrates controls for everything from the stereo to the climate control. Heck, you have to depend on the 9-inch screen even for certain seat-adjustment controls. The graphics are sharp and pretty, but it can be a bit slow to react sometimes.
Our car was a fully-loaded “Inscription Plus” example, so it came with integrated rear-door sunshades, illuminated front and rear treadplates, Bowers & Wilkins Premium 19-speaker audio system with USB/AUX inputs and CD player, Bluetooth, heads-up display, navigation, in-car wifi, 4-zone auto a/c with numerous rear vents, power-adjustable front seats, panoramic glass roof, power tailgate with foot-waving opening operation, front and rear parking sensors with top-view cameras, smart keyless entry and start, turning LED headlights and foglights, and auto-dimming mirrors.
Volvo pretty much invented the concept of safe cars, and continue to be leaders in the field. Safety features include City Safety which brakes automatically if a pedestrian runs across the road, driver-alertness detection, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, road-sign detection that displays speed limits on the graphical LCD gauge cluster, whiplash protection, front and side/curtain airbags, and adaptive cruise control that can come to a complete stop and crawl in traffic automatically. There’s even a hideaway booster seat for children in the back.
Speaking of seats, there’s great space in both the first and second rows, while the third row can be made to fit average-sized adults decently if the second row is slid forward. That’s actually better than, say, the larger Cadillac Escalade even, let alone the BMW X5 which offers a cramped third-row option. However, more direct rivals such as the Audi Q7 and the Infiniti formerly-known-as-JX offer roughly the same amount of space. Assuming you’re limber enough to slip through the tight access to take your seat in the third row, there’s still sufficient space left in the boot for a month’s worth of groceries. With the third row folded flat, the carpeted cargo room is immense. There’s also four covered cup-holders and pockets in all doors, aside from the usual cubbies, although Volvo has done away with the cool “floating console” design found in older models that used to have a storage area underneath.
Volvo has also ditched all their 6-cylinder engines, so the “T6” now has a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder that’s both supercharged and turbocharged in its mission to make a whopping 320 hp at 5700 rpm and 400 Nm of torque from 2200 to 5400 rpm. That engine has to move 2166 kg of curb weight, aided by a smooth 8-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive. We clocked it at 7.2 seconds in our 0-100 kph run during pleasant November weather. Acceleration is good, with linear build-up of power from the small engine, although we can’t help but feel that a bigger-displacement motor would’ve made the low-end kick more lively. However, the smaller motor pays dividends in fuel economy, as we burned petrol at a rate of 13 litres/100 km, pretty low for something with more than 300 horses.
The XC90 rides quietly and smoothly, with only a hint of firmness on harsher surfaces. Riding on 20-inch alloys, there’s enough meat on the 275/45 tyres to make it more comfortable than the BMW X5, aided by an adaptive air suspension system. The suspension can vary firmness and height depending on what “drive mode” is selected, but with the lack of low-range gearing, offroad abilities are limited to traversing gravel trails and flat sand areas.
Cruising is easy, with occasional warnings from the aforementioned safety systems keeping you in lane and out of trouble, although the biggest issue we had was dealing with the touchscreen while driving. While the stereo can be controlled via the steering wheel, there are no direct buttons for the a/c, so simply changing the temperature requires finding a gap in traffic so you can take your eyes off the road to swipe your fingers over some pretty graphics. It’s a good thing the car has auto-braking safety features for tech-averse drivers like us, but there is a voice-control system to control the a/c, stereo and nav hands-free, once you figure out the commands.
When not fiddling with the touchscreen, we actually enjoyed driving this car. The handling is pretty good, with tons of grip and no obvious body roll in moderate-speed driving. The steering wheel is well-weighted, but there is no real feedback. However, the brakes are good, with linear pedal feel.
With the all-new XC90, Volvo is firmly placing their bets in the luxury segment, moving away from being the almost-premium niche they used to simmer in. With its stunning interior and respectable drive, it is hard to find fault with this crossover, although consumers should expect to pay the premium if they want the top model. With all the options, our test car is about as expensive as the Audi Q7, but to be honest, the Volvo is just as good if not better.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: