Until very recently, Volvo wasn’t what you would call a major player when it came to big luxury SUVs. Sure, the Scandinavian brand offered the XC90, but it became something of a dinosaur, having only been lightly modified since its launch in 2002. It was high time for this vehicle to be re-imagined from top to bottom, and after a week driving the new XC90, take my word for it: Volvo pulled out all the stops!
The XC90 was the first production model to feature Volvo’s new styling direction. In addition to a surprisingly graceful stocky body, it boasts daytime running lights with hammer-shaped LEDs; considering the brand’s Scandinavian origins, this seems inspired by the Norse mythology. Attractive taillights run the entire height of the body, from two thin upright lines to bracket-shaped blocks near the bottom of the liftgate. Chrome strips decorate the sides and add an extra touch of luxury to the overall package.
The interior is very different from what the competition offers. The cabin colour struck me first: most of the surfaces in my test model were dressed in beige leather, which gave the impression of size and space, emphasized by expansive side windows and a gigantic sunroof that allows natural light in. Wood and aluminum accents complete the look, and everything is of very good quality and tasteful.
One of the advantages of creating a new vehicle from scratch is that you can develop technologies for future use in other models. For example, the XC90’s infotainment system is totally new. The Inscription trim level comes with a nine-inch touchscreen that is vaguely reminiscent of the one in the Tesla Model S. The software is a lot like that of a tablet or a smartphone, with sliding menus, pinching and zooming capabilities for the map, and menus organized as applications.
You can control almost all of the XC90’s settings via this screen, but you have to understand the system. While I had no trouble figuring it out, some of my colleagues are still railing against its lack of user-friendliness, even six months after driving the truck. Personally, I appreciated being able to send text messages directly from the screen (via Bluetooth, as long as the vehicle is stopped) and use the efficient and detailed navigation.
I’ll also take a moment to talk about the Bowers & Wilkins sound system. This 19-speaker marvel will do justice to the most diverse playlist. The settings can also be modified to recreate the acoustics of an amphitheatre – or even the Göteborg Opera House, the seat of the Swedish Symphony Orchestra. In my opinion, this system is the leader not only in its class, but in the entire industry.
The future is now
While its competitors are offering – with varying degrees of success – big SUVs with dynamic driving capabilities, Volvo has understood that no one brings the XC90 to a race track. The automaker chose to power the vehicle with a small two-litre four-cylinder engine. Thanks to more than one miracle of engineering (namely the addition of a supercharger and a turbocharger), this mill generates 316 horsepower.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox paired with all-wheel drive makes it remarkably efficient: my average was 10.8 litres per 100 kilometres of combined city/highway driving without really paying attention to fuel consumption. Not too shabby, considering its rivals come in around 12-13 litres per 100 km! Acceleration is just adequate, but you’ll have no problem speeding up to change lanes.
Driving the XC90 is a relaxing experience. Comfortably seated in well-padded seats and a cocoon of silence in the middle of traffic, you can simply enjoy the road (or the fantastic sound system!). What’s more, my Volvo came with the City Driving system, which can take control of the vehicle at low speed in traffic. It keeps the vehicle in its lane and slows it down according to the vehicle ahead of it. While Tesla is snatching up all the headlines for autonomous driving, it’s far from the first to introduce this feature. Volvo warns that you shouldn’t rely exclusively on City Driving, but after a few minutes, I trusted the array of sensors and programs.
Reasons to buy – finally!
For the first time in a long time, people who swear by big European SUVs have something new available to them. Taking a different perspective than other automakers, Volvo is putting less emphasis on performance numbers. Now the focus is on the overall experience.
The XC90 isn’t perfect and reliability is always a question mark with so many new systems. On my test model, I noticed a clinking noise coming from the steering column and the sunroof mechanism emitted a cracking sound when we went over bumps. That said, I strongly recommend that buyers go to a Volvo dealership to give the XC90 a test drive. The experience could convince you to turn your back on the luxury SUVs from Stuttgart, Ingolstadt and Munich.