Around 15 years ago Volvo hit the jackpot with its first full-size premium SUV, prompting a stampede of “active” families to dealerships seeking seven seats, upmarket looks and a lofty driving position.
The XC90 combined thoughtful detailing with the usual Volvo attributes of rock solid build and impeccable safety. It sold so well that the car-maker kept it the same year on year, save for the occasional tweak and the odd new engine to keep it current. It’s only now, after a decade and a half, that the company has finally done the decent thing and produced a new one.
Visually it’s a striking car. Fussy detailing has been eliminated, replaced by confident, clean lines and sheet-metal. Volvo’s signature grille combined with sleek, high-tech headlights makes for an unusually handsome SUV.
It’s the same story inside, with an interior resembling a high-end furniture store – gone are the clichéd Ikea-themed design cues. Premium materials abound and the cabin ambience is light and airy.
The iPad-sized touchscreen dominating the car’s dashboard allows you to swipe, tap and pitch-to-zoom to access a wealth of features from audio to navigation.
Some things never change, though. The new seats trump the opposition for comfort and support. The XC90 remains one of a handful of cars offering more than five seats in this market – UK buyers get seven. Although mainly aimed at children, small-ish adults will also fit in the third row. And when you don’t need them they disappear into the boot floor.
A Volvo wouldn’t be complete without a full suite of safety kit. This new model gains some useful active features – intelligent cruise control, smart stability systems, collision sensing and avoidance modes – plus a useful auto park function that can even reverse the XC90 into a car park bay.
What’s the XC90 like to drive? More than good enough. The Audis and BMWs of this world are more driver-focused, but that’s never been Volvo’s aim. That said, the XC90 is surprisingly agile for such a big car, even on country roads. Stick it on the motorway and it’s an accomplished high-rise cruiser.
This is partly down to Volvo’s new range of engines, which Volvo developed and built in-house. Keen to promote low fuel consumption and emissions, the focus is on small capacity turbo-powered motors, not the stereotypical large, thirsty units of old.
Despite the presence of a clever, complex and super-frugal plug-in hybrid model, as long as diesel reigns supreme in Europe, the XC90’s oil-burning motor proves the more rounded performer.
It might sound a little gruff compared to some of its more powerful rivals, but the upside is a sensible CO2 emissions rating and the prospect of infrequent refuelling stops. Not bad at all for a big car packing all-wheel drive.
The XC90 is a visually striking but not too aggressive-looking SUV packed with useful technology, a first rate cabin offering class-leading versatility and just enough talent to put a smile on the driver’s face. Here’s to the next 15 years.
THE FACTS: VOLVO XC90 2.0 D5 AWD
0-62MPH: 7.8 secs
TOP SPEED: 137mph
CO2 G/KM: 152g/km
MPG COMBINED: 48.7mpg
DESIGN: Four Stars
PERFORMANCE: Three Stars
PRACTICALITY: Four Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY: Four Stars