“Let me put it this way…when Thor lands in the middle of a battle, summons his hammer, you know that things are going to interesting. The XC90 is Volvo’s Mjölnir and the battle for the best premium 7-seat SUV is about to get very interesting.”
Volvo is making quite a fuss about their new XC90, and rightly so, it is their new flagship brand ambassador and it’s the first new XC90 in a very long time.
Indeed, the previous generation XC90 did duty for 12 years, which is unbelievably long time in the motoring years. It also indicates just how good the previous version was to keep up with the far newer competition, such as the BMW X5, Audi Q7, and Mercedes-Benz GL amongst others.
Considering the gap between the original and this all-new model, the weight of expectation is rather large, and essentially, this new Volvo flagship needs to showcase every technological advancement Volvo has made in the last 12 years.
So, the new model has big boots to fill and my-oh-my, does it fill them.
It looks almighty! And very very big?!
Indeed, the new XC90 is a full-size SUV, and by comparison, in length, it is closer to an Audi Q7 than it is to an X5. It is, of course, a full 7 seater, but more on that later.
It’s also all-new, not just a pretty cosmetic upgrade. New looks, new architecture, new engines, and new technology. Yep, did I mention it’s all-new.
Considering its size Volvo has employed some clever weight saving measures which have managed to keep the XC90’s overall weight to roughly 2.7 tonnes, which is about the same as the 5 seater X5. Broadly speaking this forms one part of Volvo’s DRIVE-E initiative, which is part of the companies drive to reduce emissions and environmental impact, by reducing weight and thus vehicle emissions.
If we compare the XC90 to the Q7 on the other hand, the Q7 tips the scales well over 3 tonnes. The new-fangled (and very trim) Range Rover Sport is also no match for the Volvo and is some 250kg heavier.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room
The other aspect of Volvo’s DRIVE-E effort will see all Volvo’s in the future powered by the same 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engines. In either petrol or diesel guise and in some cases electrically assisted, these new engines, in various states of tune, will do duty across the entire range, from entry level V40 hatchbacks to top-of-the-range XC90’s. The new XC90 is one of the first to receive these new engines and, honestly what better way to showcase their new technology than in their flagship SUV.
So, this seven-seat behemoth you see here is powered by a 4-cylinder petrol engine. No doubt this reduction in both the number of cylinders and the capacity of those cylinders is sure to raise an eyebrow by traditional SUV buyers who favour 6 and 8-cylinder engines. And, let’s face it SUV buyers are probably not the most environmentally aware buyers in the world.
With that in mind, Volvo hopes to change that mindset going forward in a similar way that Volkswagen shifted the mindset amongst the double-cab bakkie fraternity. Public opinion was initially worrisome when the Amarok with launched with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, even though the industry standard was at least 3.0-litres. Safe to say that VW had confidence in their product, it worked for them and it will work for Volvo no doubt.
The 2.0-litre petrol unit in the XC90 is both supercharged and turbocharged and develops an almost unbelievable 235kW and 400Nm. To put that into perspective, the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six in the X5 xDrive35i develops 225kW and 400Nm and the supercharged V6 in the Range Rover Sport manages 250kW and 450Nm.
To put it in Rand values, the emissions tax on the Range Rover Sport is R8 000 more than the new XC90 underlining just how clean this new model is, and in comparison to some of the competition.
Does the interior match that superb exterior?
The interior of the XC90 is perhaps even more impressive than the bold new exterior styling. With a range of fine materials, such as the real aluminium trim on the doors and centre console, and plush leather upholstery, the XC90 can now match and in some cases even exceed the competition. Those concerned with cheap plastics will be happy to find that none of that kind will be found inside this new model.
Taking centre stage in the centre of the dashboard is a touchscreen roughly the same size as an iPad, and which functions the same as one too. To be honest you get the feeling that while competitors were furiously rushing their new touchscreen systems to market – because they are the next big thing, and, as a result, theirs are not intuitive or easy to use – Volvo’s engineers and programmers have been quietly testing, and tweaking and retesting their system until they were happy that it is the best it could be. The result is a system that simply is the best on the market.
It’s responsive to your touch and is high-resolution and in portrait orientation means everything is easily displayed and easy to read. With a simple swipe or pull down like you would do on your tablet or smartphone you can quickly access core features, meaning you spend less time looking at the screen and more time looking at the road. This is not easily said of competition systems which are as hard to read as they are difficult to use.
The display incorporates all functions which would normally be accompanied by a button or knob, such as your multimedia and audio options, satellite navigation, cell phone integration and ventilation controls.
It works, very well and, as a result, the interior is wonderfully minimalistic and uncluttered, adding to the sense of refined, simplified luxury.
Ahead of the driver is another large high-resolution colour display incorporating all driving information such speed, engine revs, fuel, safety information such as doors open and seatbelt latched or unlatched. The entire central display is one large digital display and is well-lit and easy to read.
Between the speedometer and tachometer, you can customise the default display – from media information or satellite navigation, the latter displaying a large map directly in front of you. Nice! You can also toggle, via the multi-function steering wheel, between multimedia and car information such as fuel range and average fuel consumption.
Being a full 7-seater means a real world advantage over other SUVs for those buyers looking for ultimate family practicality. The problem with most is that access to the third row is usually hampered for adults. Not so in the XC90, even I who weighs 100kg and is over 6 feet tall managed to get into the back without much effort. Helped in part by second row’s ability to tilt and slight all the forward towards the drivers seat, revealing a large access point to the rear.
Speaking of, second row passengers are well catered for with three individual seats which slide fore and aft and feature adjustable backrests, as well as individual climate control functions and air outlets, being a passenger, has never been so good. Third-row occupants also have air vents, armrests and storage compartments.
How does it drive?
Those initial concerns that 2.0-litres might not cut the mustard in terms of out-and-out oomph were immediately allayed because the engine in T6 guise is more than up for the job of hauling the XC90’s bulk around. And at a fairly rapid pace.
Fire up the 4-cylinder and you’re no more aware that what lurks beneath the bonnet is in any way smaller than what you might normally find. It’s eerily quiet at idle, but, as you set off and the 4-pot moves higher in the rev range, it takes on an almost audible diesel quality, which is slightly out of keeping with the luxurious package.
There are massive amounts of both power and torque and mated to Volvo’s eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission amplifies this further. It’s silky smooth in almost all of its day-to-day requirements, and never felt anything but adept at predicting the required ratio at the right time. You can if you want select ratios yourself via the stubby gear lever, but I never had reason too.
For me, a Volvo should always primarily be supremely comfortable, and the XC90 is. Whereas other large SUVs seem compromised – trying to juggle passenger comfort with dynamic ability which doesn’t always work – the Volvo is focused on providing a quiet and relaxed environment.
It’s not perfect, though, and I suspect the particular test unit I drove which was fitted with 21-inch rims is to blame as some rough sections of road did crash through into the cabin. Air suspension is offered as an option and if you’re after the most comfortable SUV possible, spec the air option, but having sampled the standard steel spring setup, I don’t think it’s a necessity.
Is it safe?
Considering Volvo almost invented the word in the motoring industry, the XC90 features the latest that Volvo has to offer from collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian and cyclist detection, city safety collision avoidance technology, lane departure warning and driver alert control you can be assured the XC90 is safe. Of course there are optional extras sure to make you even safer, or poorer, depending on your definition. Safe to say, for space reasons I could never list and even begin to explain them all here. (Be sure to check out Volvo’s website for a full rundown.)
Okay, let’s wrap this up
Is the new XC90 the ultimate new-age Volvo ambassador? Yes, without a doubt. The advancements made in every single department mean that the difference between it and the model it replaces is chasm-like.
It’s a bold new step by Volvo, especially the small capacity engines. However bearing in mind that Volvo can’t keep up with the orders, the answer to whether people are willing to drive a full-size SUV with only a 2.0-litre engine, seems to have already been answered considering the positive reaction.
Is it a game changer? Let me put it this way…You know when Thor lands in the middle of a battle, summons his hammer, that things are going to interesting. The XC90 is Volvo’s Mjölnir and the battle for the best premium 7-seat SUV is about to get very interesting.
XC90 D4 Geartronic FWD Momentum – R 804,000.00
XC90 T5 Geartronic AWD Momentum – R 827,400.00
XC90 D4 Geartronic FWD Inscription – R 844,600.00
XC90 D5 Geartronic AWD Momentum – R 853,200.00
XC90 T6 Geartronic AWD Momentum – R 867,000.00
XC90 T5 Geartronic AWD Inscription – R 868,000.00
XC90 T5 Geartronic AWD R-Design – R 888,700.00
XC90 D5 Geartronic AWD Inscription – R 893,900.00
XC90 T6 Geartronic AWD Inscription – R 907,600.00 (Driven)
XC90 D5 Geartronic AWD R-Design – R 914,600.00
XC90 T6 Geartronic AWD R-Design – R 928,300.00
XC90 T8 Twin Engine Geartronic AWD Momentum – R 1,005,100.00
XC90 T8 Twin Engine Geartronic AWD Inscription – R 1,042,000.00
XC90 T8 Twin Engine Geartronic AWD R-Design – R 1,066,400.00