When one thinks of Volvo, the ubiquitous boxy estate favoured by antique dealers of the 1990s might spring to mind, or images of cars being crash tested and escaping with a level of damage that extends to a mere crooked numberplate so dedicated are the company to the noble pursuit of driving safety.
However, these were not images that sprung to mind when I first clocked my new XC90 press car. Rolling on 20″ rims and significantly larger than its predecessor, the dazzling white XC90 was more Jay-Z than David Dickenson. This new Volvo has attitude and judging by the reaction of camera- phone wielding passers by, serious street cred.
The new XC90 is the first model to sport the company’s new design language, showcased by the stunning Volvo Coupe Concept unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2013.
Gone are the slightly frumpy proportions of its predecessor, a car that had a remarkable 12-year life span and itself represented somewhat of a turning point for Volvo, replaced by sharp yet distinctively Swedish lines and contours, and nicely detailed styling cues such as the quite frankly astonishingly effective adaptive LED headlights featuring the company’s new DRL signature.
It’s a similar story on the inside too, where Volvo has successfully executed a very luxurious cabin to rival its German adversaries while simultaneously endowing it with an unmistakably Swedish flair…and by that I don’t mean it comes in a flat-pack box to be assembled at home!
There are three trim levels, namely Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. Like the very best of its competitors, the Inscription spec XC90 I tested had acres of optional almost Bentley-grade super soft nappa leather, heated and ventilated seats, tasteful ambient lighting glowing from behind the leading edge of the dash and door trim, all in a cosseting and tranquil environment akin to that of a Mercedes S-Class.
One slight criticism of the XC90’s minimalistic interior is that some of the trim is plastic as opposed to brushed aluminium or polished stainless steel, as is the case in the Audi Q7 for example. The XC90 is however more than a match for its rivals in terms of its in-car technology.
A 12.3″ TFT display as opposed to conventional dials lies behind the steering wheel in the instrument binnacle, featuring crisp and customisable graphics. The optional heads-up display, a feature often dismissed as a gimmick, proved surprisingly useful, particularly at night.
The car’s many functions are controlled by an iPad style display mounted in the centre of the dash, negating the need for a minefield of cluttered buttons on the console, itself featuring a nice sliding/rolling cover reminiscent of a metal watch strap.
The infotainment display and intuitive operating system will be familiar to those who have used an iPad, each function selected as you would open an app, a swipe of the main screen leading to another page of seemingly endless customisable functions.
Like all press cars, my XC90 was fully loaded, but its driving aids were nonetheless very impressive. With the ‘Intellisafe Pro’ package’s lane keeping assist, blind spot information system, and adaptive cruise control with distance alert which mimics the acceleration and deceleration of three car in front, all the driver really has to do is steer, and even at that, the Volvo uses its ‘Driver Alert Control’ system to keep an eye on you, dropping subtle hints in the form of coffee cup symbols that you may need a break.
Automatic 90 degree and parallel parking is included in the ‘Xenium Pack,’ and the 360 degree camera surround view is particularly useful in fooling onlookers that you possess superhuman parking skills.
The XC90 is also an accomplished four-wheel drive SUV, fitted with features such as hill descent control that were previously the preserve of ‘proper’ SUVs such as Range Rovers. No doubt this feature will be used as frequently as it is in Range Rovers too, so steep is that descent into the Red Carpark in Dundrum Shopping Centre!
The XC90 I tested in Inscription spec was the 225 bhp D5 four-cylinder 2.0 TDI Geartronic starting at €76,950. A T8 Twin petrol hybrid is also available but unlikely to be a volume seller in Ireland.
The most surprising thing about the 2.0 TDI was that it was a 2.0 TDI all, given the scale and two-tonne plus weight of this SUV, and while one would not describe is as super quick per se (0-60 mph: 7.4 seconds), it certainly didn’t struggle in hurtling the XC90 down the road.
In fact, so insulated and cosseting is the XC90 that I often got quite a shock upon glancing at the speed I had accumulated according to the TFT display…always below the speed limit of course!
Although in certain departments the XC90 is eclipsed by its rivals, it is arguably the most attractive SUV on the road at present. Something also to be admired about the car is that it remains uniquely Swedish in feel and appearance, and in the right spec, has gone further to achieving that most coveted of statuses than any mainstream Volvo to date…whisper it…is the new XC90 cool?