I have never understood nationalism, a sub-conscious belief system in king and country or state that is often seen as being the very essence of who we are, what we believe, where we come from and where we are going. Nationalism though designed to seek a common purpose for all people is in fact dangerous. Innocent intentions of freedom can sow the seeds of discontent and malcontent. However, there are times when it makes perfect sense to be swept up in the fervour of the underlying arc of nationalism. The new Volvo XC90 SUV makes me proud to be Swedish… even though I am British.
And by new I really do mean new, for the XC90 has been some time in the making. The 1st generation XC90 had a production run of 12 years. Apart from the usual facelifts, it was stuck in a time vortex, was a bit of a dog to drive and wasn’t as premium as the marketing suggested.
The new XC90 sweeps all of the latter away. The new exterior design language is more handsome, it’s slightly bigger and wider now but the new look is better proportioned from one end to the other and this allows the designers to hide the bulk and make it appear visually smaller than the size belies.
But it’s the interior that has seen the biggest improvement, it’s full of flair with additional touches of elegant Swedish cool. The choice of materials from the leather, soft touch surfaces, real metal inserts and build quality all blend together to scream quality. This isn’t a premium experience, it’s delving into the realms of luxury car interiors.
Indeed the new XC90’s interior feels almost as refined as a Bentley, you can’t say that about, for example, the Mercedes S Class interior. I don’t think Volvo even realise just how good the XC90’s interior is, it’s the type of driving environment where you actually look forward to a huge traffic jam. It’s better than first class. Bring it on M25.
OK so this review started off the other way around, usually, it begins with the specs, prices and range of engines. Its quite simple, three models to choose from with three engines, one 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel, a 2.0-litre supercharged-turbocharged petrol engine and a 2.0-litre petrol hybrid.
Prices start at £46k for the entry-level Momentum and rise up to £65k for the range-topping hybrid model. The R-Design model variants are retained if you want to add an extra dose of sporting ability and the high-performance Polestar will be available later in the year.
All model variants are fully loaded with kit, indeed too much to rabble on about. The XC90 Inscription on test was almost to the point of being fully overloaded with the latest driver assist features such as the radar-guided cruise control which is like semi-automated driving. The Lane Departure system drops the annoying beep sound of old.
Now if you stray over the white lines, say during a motorway journey, the steering will gently guide you back into the middle of the lane. At first it feels odd until you realise the computer does a better job of driving straight than you ever could. But it isn’t foolproof and can get confusing at times. So it’s always best too keep two hands on the steering wheel.
The XC90 Inscription also had optional extras like the Winter Pack which includes heated seats with comfort settings. Other options included a heated steering wheel indeed you can even opt to have a heads-up display with Sat-Nav functionality, something BMW 7 Series owners are familiar with.
The XC90 gets a vertically mounted 9.1-inch touchscreen interface which dominates the central instrument console and contains around 95 percent of the primary vehicle controls . There are no fancy graphics, indeed the touchscreen User Interface is white against black the exception being the Sat-Nav. And there are elegant graphical transitions which again highlight the attention to detail Volvo have paid to every single aspect of the XC90 experience.
The usability of the touchscreen is as simple as using an iPad, there is a lot of discoverability when first using the system but you quickly learn the menu category and how to access say the heating controls, radio and sat-nav.
The XC90 on test was fitted with the 2.0-litre, 4 Cylinder twin-turbo diesel. It’s got the same capacity as the bigger 2.5-litre diesel engine of old but offers less weight and more power. With 270bhp and 400Nm of torque on you won’t be short on power.
However, from a standing start you do experience a bit of turbo lag, overall the XC90 is lighter than the previous generation it replaces but it still has to shift up to 2,5 tonnes of weight. At first, you think a small-capacity engine, even decked out with twin turbos, won’t be up to the job, but it is.
The engine needs up to 3,000-3,500 revs to really get access to all that power if you want to pull off the line quickly or perform an overtake on the motorway. Mid-range torque delivers plenty of power and although the engine at idle is a little bit nosier than other similar capacity engines the diesel clatter does retreat when up to cruising speed.
Having said that, compared to the previous gen, the new 2.0-litre twin-turbo offers better driveability, more performance, power and better refinement. Perhaps I am trying to find a fault where none lies. For most people, the performance and power of the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel will be much more than they will ever require.
There are also four drive modes to select, Dynamic, Eco and off-road. These modes are really quite self-explanatory. To be honest the differences between each mode weren’t significantly noticeable so I left the Volvo in Eco mode for most of the time. This isn’t an anomaly specific to the XC90, most cars offering these driving modes offer pretty much the same experience.
The ride was a little bit stiffer than I expected, but the XC90 still offers plenty of comfort whatever the condition of the road. AWD comes as standard, these systems are really designed to offer better traction than all-out off-roading capability. For the most part, you won’t notice the extra day-to-day driving security such a system brings.
All in all the handling is another universe away from the previous gen model, the new XC90 utilises an integral rear axle these type of suspensions offer compactness and space-saving qualities. As a result, the boot space is huge whether second and third seats are in the upright position or folded flat.
However, the XC90 also uses a rear transverse leaf spring that runs through the subframe of the car with conventional springs at the front. Choosing such a suspension setup can cause a handling imbalance. When you think of leaf springs you think of the horse and cart era however they are effective for modern-day transport usage because such a setup copes better with heavy rear loads.
Without going into geek territory here, Volo’s use of the leaf spring is much more contemporary and advanced. Through the corners, the XC90 was actually quite good and relatively responsive, for a big SUV, with a predictable front-to-rear balance that felt secure and offered plenty of grip. You couldn’t ever award such an accolade to the 1st gen XC90.
Another area the XC90 has improved in is fuel economy. It’s between 32mpg-34mpg that’s all I need to say. In part, it’s due to the 8-speed auto which allows you can travel at 80mph and sit at around 2,500 rpm all day long. Using fewer revs means you use less fuel. Simples.
The new XC90 is so far removed from its first-generation origins that its seems to have skipped evolution in favour of the radical revolution. This is no bourgeois grammar school-run SUV its a first-class proposition, from its elegantly designed exterior to its luscious and beautifully crafted interior. The ride and handling is also vastly improved and so is the performance of the new engine which offers better drive-ability and improved economy.
Yet the XC90 faces stiff competition, the Audi Q7, and Range Rover to name but a few. We never tell you what car to buy but if you are in for a new SUV you won’t be disappointed with the XC90. The hardest part of any review comes when you have to hand back the car to the press department. I really wanted to flee the country, just me and the XC90, probably head to the Eastern block, disappear on an epic road trip and then smuggle my way to Rio de Janeiro a wanted fugitive but I could live with that… Maybe next time.