I can picture Thomas Ingenlath, Robin Page and the rest of Volvo’s design team buried under an avalanche of trophies, the new XC90 having been crowned Car of the Year 2015 by Auto Express, the safest car of 2016 by What Car?, Scottish Car of the Year’s Best SUV, Stuff magazine’s Car of the Year, and Luxury SUV of the Year at the Professional Driver QSI Awards, to name but a few accolades in the UK’s media alone. From the USA and France to Russia and India, a veritable peppering of international awards has come the new XC90’s way, too.
Volvo never expected the original XC90 to become the firm’s best-seller, the swathe of fans it won along the way including none other than Jeremy Clarkson, who has owned four of Sweden’s family-focussed answer to the SUV. Debuting in 2003, the original XC90 wasn’t unattractive by any means, but it wasn’t exactly breath-taking. The all-new one is, though. Its forerunner’s spirit lives on through the unashamedly boxy silhouette and strong beltline, but there’s a newfound, subtle muscularity. The grille is imposing but far from tacky, the ‘tattoo’ lights incorporated into the minimalist rear work nicely and those menacing ‘Thor’s hammer’ daytime running lights are the cherry on top of what is an aesthetically very successful cake. The new XC90’s potentially stark boxiness has been tastefully chamfered away, somewhat hiding the fact that it’s a ginormous SUV offering genuine family practicality, space and refinement by the bucket load.
I’m not one who feels that the all-new XC90’s interior steals the show, but rather, that the gorgeous exterior is aptly complemented by the cabin’s refreshing theme of Swedish minimalism. Like in the Tesla Model S, nearly all of the Volvo’s controls have been migrated to the strapping tablet-esque touchscreen that dominates the dashboard. Anyone au fait with using touchscreen phones, phablets or tablets will take to the XC90 like a duck to water and the menus are by and large a doddle to use. I can’t help but feel, though, that requiring a driver to tap, swipe and slide on-screen menus on the move in order to adjust the climate control temperature, for example, runs somewhat contrary to Volvo’s fixation with safety. The screen quickly attracts smeary fingerprints and it’s easy to tap the wrong menu option whilst driving. Volvo cars have long been renowned for their superbly comfortable seats and the XC90 is predictably no exception, the butter-soft leather easy to get comfortable in. Save for a few cheapish ones, most of the controls, materials and surfaces are ergonomically excellent, feel tactile and of high quality, and possess an air of sophistication about them. The novelty of the unique, diamond-cut start/stop switch that is turned instead of pressed and the Orrefurs crystal glass gear shifter may soon wear off, but the button-free cabin is refreshing, tranquil and typically Volvo. Swedish flag labels stitched into the front seats’ seams are a lovely finishing touch, and the Bowers & Wilkins sound system sounds just as splendid as the Dynaudio systems of old.
Championing families as proudly as ever, the all-new XC90 is of course a true 7-seater SUV and the two rearmost seats will accommodate modestly-sized adults adequately on medium-length journeys, but I was surprised that range-topping Inscription trim doesn’t mean they are electrically-operated. With an impressive 451 litres available when all seven seats are in use, which expands to 1,102 litres with the rearmost seats folded, the all-new XC90’s boot is more spacious than the latest Audi Q7’s – until the second row of seats is also flattened, that is, at which point they are even Stevens, the Swede offering 1,951 litres and the German 1,955 litres. Incredibly, the Land Rover Discovery still beats them both hands down, though, providing a whopping 2,558 litres. Oh well.
With its rivals predominantly propelled by 3-litre diesel engines, it might flabbergast some folk to learn that the all-new Volvo XC90 has a 2-litre, four cylinder unit at its heart. Don’t fret, though – it’s not as useless as a motorised pencil sharpener installed in the QE2’s engine room, Volvo’s twin-turbo 225bhp D5 proving torquey enough to pull the new SUV along adequately. Only coarse when flogged, it’s an impressively hushed engine at low speeds and although it’s never going to win any straight-line races, it does a decent job at A-road and motorways speeds, too. After 350 miles’ restrained driving, mainly in Eco mode, 34.5mpg registered on the fully digital display, which falls well shy of the published 48.7mpg figure. Real-life fuel economy seldom matches official numbers and in freezing January temperatures, the disparity was to be expected. CO2 emissions of 152g/km from the Swede may seem impressive but actually make it a mere 1g less emitting than the Q7 3.0 TDI 272PS I tested a few months ago. The BMW X5 xDrive25d M Sport emits the lowest CO2 at 148g/km, but the Volvo betters the 3-litre Land Rover Discovery’s 203g/km. Those enticed by 49g/km will have to take the XC90 T8 hybrid route.
Like the QE2, zealous changes in direction aren’t really the XC90’s forte, body roll manifest if it’s chucked hard around a bend. Comfort or Eco mode suits it better than Dynamic, which sharpens the throttle and stiffens the chassis but doesn’t particularly make the big Volvo SUV feel any faster, resulting in some rather more traditional diesel noises that will induce nothing but frowns.
Riding on optional air suspension, the ride is wonderfully cushioned, occupants feeling cocooned in the knowledge that the all-new XC90 is the safest car on sale today, having scored 100% in EURO NCAP’s ‘safety assist’ category, 97% in ‘occupant safety’ and 72% when it comes to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, which are cleverly detected by the on-board braking technology. Despite its sheer size, manoeuvring the XC90 is a doddle and Lane Keeping Aid works like cushions down a bowling lane, actively steering the car to keep it between the white lines.
Weighing in at £61,880 as tested in Inscription trim, the all-new XC90 from Volvo is priced similarly to its primary rivals. Elegant outside and in, the Swede is as unlikely as other comparable SUVs to be taken too far off the beaten track, although an off-road driving mode is there for the taking if anyone fancies a bash.
Compare the all-new XC90 to a crime drama and it may be as sporty and potent as Robbie Coltrane in Cracker, but it oozes honest everyday practicality, is packed with enchanting details and its minimalist, chic ethos is rather alluring. People who enjoy watching The Bridge or Arne Dahl are likely to be smitten by the big Volvo, and if anyone tries to raid the XC90’s trophy cabinet, they’ll have Thor, the Norse god of thunder, to answer to – or at least his running lights.
Photography: Isabel Carter