2015 Volvo XC90 First Drive Review

Volvo's second-gen seven-seater steps up. It’s the company’s first shot at the luxury SUV big leagues and it’s a good one.

Volvo XC 90 Front On Mountain Road Jpg

So, what is it?

In launching its second generation XC90, Volvo isn’t skimping on big, sweeping statements. According to the Swedish chefs from Gothenburg , the seven-seat SUV represents “a new beginning” and “defines the company’s future direction.” Which is code for Ford sold us to Geely five years ago, and we’re free to do what we want without wading through masses of red tape in Detroit.

Why should I care?

In fact, Volvo claims it will turn over its entire line-up in the next four years, and believes all that fresh metal, marketed under a new ‘Made by Sweden’ positioning, will finally make it a credible contender in the upper-luxury ranks. It cost $11B over three years, and Volvo’s calling its ambition out loud and proud, saying the XC90 has been designed to “lead the market” in terms of comfort, luxury, and user interaction.

Volvo XC-90 Front grille Driving

What’s new about it?

Although overall proportions are similar to the car it replaces the second-gen XC90 sits on the brand’s new modular SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) chassis, which is likely to underpin many of its upcoming siblings due by 2019.

Initially there’s a choice of two engines in the Volvo XC90, a 165kW/470Nm twin-turbo diesel four (D5), and a 235kW/400Nm twin-charged petrol four (T6). The latter uses a supercharger to enhance torque at lower engine speeds, with a turbo taking over to boost the top end. Both are matched with an eight-speed auto, produced by Aisin-Warner to Volvo’s in-house design.

Six months down the track, Volvo will add a plug-in hybrid version of the petrol unit (T8) which tips in another 65kW/240Nm of electric grunt for a family fast 5.6 second 0-100km/h time.

There are three model grades – Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design, the latter available from the fourth quarter of this year.

Beside the platform and drivetrain there are several key tech features that stand the new XC90 apart.

First, the standard ‘Run-off road protection package’ combines seatbelt pre-tensioning with energy-absorbing seats to help prevent spinal injuries in a hard, off-highway landing.

Next, the ‘Auto brake at intersection’ system automatically brakes the car if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car.

Plus, the tablet-style ‘Sensus’ infotainment interface uses an infrared screen (so you can wear gloves and still tap or swipe) for everything from nav and audio, to phone and on-board vehicle functions. In certain sections icons can also be positioned on the ‘desktop’ in line with user preference.

Volvo Xc 90 Rear Side Driving Jpg

That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?

The XC90’s local launch in and around Canberra took in a mix of freeway, coarse-chip b-roads, as well as the odd dirt section, and the first few kays in a Momentum T6 had us double-checking we weren’t in a diesel, because at idle and slow speeds the twin-charged four sounds comparatively coarse. But get it up into the mid-range and the new engine is spirited and the eight-speed auto smooth. The transition from supercharger to turbo is imperceptible, and maximum torque is available from 2,200rpm all the way up to 5,400.

Suspension set-up is double-wishbone front and an integral axle rear, incorporating a lateral leaf spring, and ride comfort on the Momentum’s standard 19-inch alloys, shod with 235/55 Michelin Latitude Sport 3 rubber, is excellent, although more pronounced holes and cracks generated some over-the-odds noise and vibration.

Road feel from the electrically-assisted, variable power steering is OK, braking is strong, and the design and development effort that’s gone into the front seats has paid off with great long-distance comfort combined with excellent (adjustable) lateral support.

Swapping to a D5 Inscription, the twin-snail diesel chips in with an extra 70Nm of torque, delivered across a relatively narrow peak brand from 1,750-2,500rpm, which is perfect for towing, (max weight 2,250kg).

The step up to 20-inch rims, wearing 275/45 tyres, doesn’t harm the ride/handling balance, and highway cruising is relaxed, with plenty in reserve for rapid overtaking. Optional 21 and 22-inch wheels are available.

And driving home from the city?

The interior design is classic Scandinavian minimalism, with the Sensus system incorporating most of the functions normally handled by dash and console switchgear. The base Momentum we drove featured a dark colour (leather) upholstery and interior trim, and while the standard of fit and finish is high, the overall impression is flat; lacking a sense of occasion. Our advice would be to stump up an extra $700 for birch or walnut wood trim elements. They make a big difference, as did lighter Nappa leather upholstery in the Inscription.

The Sensus interface is super easy to use, the 12.3-inch digital driver instrument display is clear and easy to configure, the widely adjustable second row seats incorporate Volvo’s signature built-in child booster cushion in the centre position, and the third row is tailor-made for kids, with more than adequate space for grown-ups on short to medium trips. Plus folding seats for a multitude of load positions is stress-free.

Volvo XC-90 dashboard touchscreen and interior

Anything bad about it?

As mentioned, the petrol engine sounds un-prestige at low revs, the steering could be more feel-some, and the dark interiors feel a bit, well, dark.

How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?

Pricing starts at $89,950 for the Momentum D5, rising to $96,950 for the Inscription and $97,950 for the R-Design. Opt from Petrol power and you’ll need to add $4k to the equivalent model walk up ($93,950, $100,950, $101,950). When the R-Design T8 Hybrid hits later in the year, it will stretch to $122,950.

On the face of it, that’s a roughly $20k increase from the out-going model across the board, but Volvo’s confident the new drivetrains, innovative tech, and increased spec more than justifies its pricing strategy.

Standard equipment for the Momentum includes the Sensus system, 10-speaker ‘High Performance Audio' (19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins is a $4,500 option on all variants), Hill Descent Control (HDC), ‘Park Assist Pilot' with front and rear sensors, power tailgate, rear parking camera, electric front seats, leather, alloys, LED auto-bending headlights, four-zone climate-control, rain-sensor wipers, cruise, plus ‘Driver Alert’ and ‘Lane Departure Warning’ systems.

The Inscription picks up Nappa leather, high-level interior illumination, dual integrated exhausts, and the ‘IntelliSafe’ package, including the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with ‘Cross Traffic Alert’ and ‘Rear Collision Warning.’

Then the R-Design adds, ‘Drive Mode’ adjustable power steering, Charcoal headlining, sports seats, and interior carbon trim elements. And with the T8 drivetrain the R-Design cops an Orrefors crystal gear lever and panoramic sunroof (a $2,950 option on other models). Lots of cash, but lots of fruit.

Would you take the Volvo XC90 Momentum T6 or BMW X5 xDrive35i?

Similar outputs with identical 0-100km/h acceleration and claimed fuel consumption numbers. The Beamer is loaded, but $13.5k dearer. The new XC90’s a real contender.

Click here to find out more about the Volvo XC90.


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