It’s a lazy copy and paste from the Big Journalist Book Of Feature-Starting Clichés to suggest that the XC90 is Volvo’s most important car since 2000, possibly ever. But it doesn’t make that thing any less true.
That’s mostly because it’s the first motor since the company was acquired from Ford by Chinese conglomerate Geely Automobile in 2007 and is therefore its first totally autonomously designed and manufactured Volvo for 15 years.
To keep development and manufacture costs down, all future Volvos will be built on a single, scalable architecture platform and power train, and all will bolt in various, tweaked versions of a single engine: a two-litre, four cylinder lump.
So if this is car rubbish, well, they’re in big trouble. Luckily… (You'll find our verdict on page 14)
1. All-new T8 hybrid engine
Until batteries are good enough for us to go all-electric, hybrid cars are currently the perfect balance between planet-friendly and practical. We've driven the XC90 with the brand new 2016 T8 engine, which uses a 320bhp 2.0-litre turbocharge petrol engine and an 87bhp electric motor. Combined, you get a total of 395bhp with the ability to reach 62mph in 5.3 seconds. And it only produces 49g/km! If you've got the money, the T8 would definitely be our choice of the range.
Of course, we've also tested out the less techy motors:
As part of their cost-crunching future, Volvo have gone from cherry picking from an option list of eight different engines to manufacturing just one – a two-litre, four cylinder block. There will be “versions”, obviously: a twin-turbo charged diesel, a super- and turbocharged petrol and a hybrid will all be options. And to be honest, although plucky and capable, it isn’t an engine to love.
This being an SUV, engine tone is further down the pecking order than shopping bag holders (levers pop out of the rear wheel arches to hang your plastic bags on, it’s both ingenious and enormously handy) and when you plant your right foot you get the sweet noise of, well, an engine doing something. To the best of its ability.
We drove both the petrol and diesel version, and although the 320hp petrol definitely packs more poke, the diesel does a fine job. Just as well, as the twin-turbocharged, 225hp diesel unit will be by far the most-bought option.
You can overtake with ease. You can cruise motorways with aplomb. You can get your kids to school. These are SUV things. And these are fine.
Volvo claims the diesel will deliver 48mpg, we found it to be just over 28mpg. But this is a car with all the aerodynamics of a block of cheddar and we were spending diesel like it’s never going to run out. So those figures are to be expected.
2. Bristles with splendid Swedish design
From the actually pretty swish “Thor hammer” double LED headlamps to the “3D” rear light cluster; clever, standard seven-seat arrangement, wood and stainless steel abounding, even the Levi jeans tag-style Swedish flag stitched into the driver’s seat, this car literally gobs Swedish design flair at you.
Also great is the haughty, “king of the road”, elevated driving position. Mainly due to issues with proportion, height and road clearance, SUVs are very difficult cars to make look nice. But boy, Volvo have succeeded.
3. The best infotainment system in the biz
All new for the XC90 is Volvo’s terrific “HMI” – silly named Human Interface – with a 9 or 12-inch screen depending on which package you opt for. And it’s positively aces.
Four horizontal sections top to bottom control satnav, media, phone and “sound experience”, with aircon a separate button at the bottom, which expand out for full screen maps and whatnot and swipe simply left and right for settings and option tweaks like sticking the HUD on, or fine tuning the stereo experience. A familiar home button on the bottom does that thing. And it works intuitively and beautifully.
The designers have worked hard to track down and eliminate superfluous buttons, dials and knobs, resulting in just eight buttons in total to control everything. Eight! Cray!
The best in class was Tesla’s actually slightly intimidating, over complex system. Not anymore.
4. Single-screen dash!
Like Tesla and Audi, Volvo have gone for a single screen, TFT dash which fine tunes depending on what information you require. But to the left is your speedo, in the middle, mostly, satnav instructions and to the right, revs.
A pop-up menu you can thumb into play from a steering wheel button cycles through journey stats, satnav options, media selection and phone contacts. It’s a great UI: clean, clear and uncluttered. Indeed, in general operating this car is a class experience.
The start/stop knob twists like a watch dial and is made from stainless steel and crystal glass, and leather, Scandinavian wood and stainless steel is lavished throughout.
Just sitting in this thing makes you feel like a CEO. CFO at least. Okay, head of marketing. Definitely.
5. Helps you reverse like a god
With cameras ferreted away everywhere – in the logo on the grille, under the wing mirrors, over the rear number plate – when you stick the XC90 into reverse, the infotainment screen throws up a composite image stitched together of the entire car from above, as if you’re looking down from on high. Like God might. So, inexplicably and magically, you can see around the entire vehicle.
Also new is assisted parking: choose parallel or bay parking and the odd toot on the accelerator will see you in, the car takes care of the rest. This never gets old.
6. Air suspension lets you ride your way
An option box you can tick is full, four corner air suspension, with options selected via a delightful, crosscut dial under the start/stop switch. These include tree hugger, bone-shaking racecar and bum-pleasingly forgiving. We’re paraphrasing, obviously, but you get the picture.
Select the more responsive option and the XC90 tightens up, rolls less and generally feels less like your piloting a barge. Our test drive was purposefully on The Dales’ country roads and it tackled them with verve and confidence, like a terrier might.
It does not feel like a seven seater, Transit-sized bloater. The ride is pleasant enough without the air suspension, but if you can afford to tick that box, do that thing, eh?
7. The stereo's only a bloody Bowers and Wilkins!
The entry level “Momentum” model packs a great, 10-speaker B&W stereo system, but the five grand higher, “Inscription” package trades up to a 13-speaker system, and it’s nothing short of blistering.
Usually scratchy-sounding MP3 sound superb and you can select three levels of personalisation options including studio, stage and, inexplicably, an echoey concert hall, with sound optimised for the driver, all occupants, or rear passengers.
Should you drop an extra five grand just for a stereo? Of course not, you get all sorts of other goodies in the more luxurious mix. But put it this way: yes. Sod it. You probably should spend five grand on this stereo.
8. It's got a heads-up display
Another option box is a heads up display that feels more Mercedes than Volvo, but hovers, like Tinkerbell apparently on the nose end of the bonnet, throwing up current speed, satnav directions, cruise control status and speed limit tracked by a camera behind the rear view mirror.
If you don’t think a HUD is cool, you have no business reading this site.
9. The boot opens by booting it
Yes, yes. This isn’t revolutionary. But bowling up to a car with arms full of Tesco’s finest and opening the boot with a sly punt under the tailgate is still cool. Sue us.
10. It's that much harder to kill yourself in it
With every model release, Volvo makes it incrementally harder for idiots to invoke social Darwinism. This one, then, features two, new safety features: run off-road protection and auto brake at junctions.
Run off road protection realises your car and the road are strangers and the car tightens front safety belts, reduces vertical forces by a third (to help avoid spinal injuries) and fires all the air bags. Interestingly, take a humpback bridge too fast and the car will sense it’s in the air and the first stage of the system will apply, with seatbelts will apply tension, hugging you to your seat like a jealous lover. That was a strange sensation on our test drive, but welcome, as it proves the system works.
Secondly, auto brake at junctions stops your car dead if you’ve inadvertently turned into the path of an oncoming car at a junction. You distracted plum.
Other safety options include: lane keeping aid, driver alert control, blind spot information system, cross traffic alert and rear collision mitigation. This car does not want you to die.
11. The voice recognition isn't terrible…
Kidding! Of course it is. But it’s demonstrably less terrible than other, more tragic, voice recognition systems, handling phone calls, satnav instructions and audio instructions if not with aplomb, then certainly with a lower fail factor than most comparable systems.
12. Other stuff that didn't warrant a whole bit!
These include keyless entry, a powered, locking glovebox, rear climate control, a pretty damn clever middle rear seat which pushes back for a child’s booster seat or flips down to deliver a drinks tray, a button which pops all the headrests down for easier view out the rear window, powered panoramic roof covering/uncovering and the fact that it’s Apple Play and Google Android Auto ready if they don’t actually turn out to be total vapourware.
The big verdict
There is a lot riding on this car for Volvo. Everything, really, if you think about it. And there’s not an inch of luck that the cheerfully anally retentive, detail obsessed Swedes have delivered a pleasing and surefooted vehicle.
It looks mint, drives well and surrounds you with incredible materials, build quality and the confidence that it’s one of the safest cars in Christendom.
And with entry level prices lower than the BMW X5, Audi Q7, Mercedes M-Class and Land Rover Discovery, a cheaper insurance group than all those buggers and almost certainly superior MPG, it’s a pretty compelling package, which also bodes well for all future Volvos. Every single one of which will be refreshed in the next, two years. Exciting times indeed.
The Volvo XC90 D5 AWD Momentum diesel starts at £45,750, with the T6 AWD Momentum petrol at £49,200. The D5 diesel Inscription package starts at £50,185 and £53,740 for the petrol T6.
The hybrid T8 variant, our pick of the bunch, priced at £59,955 for the Momentum and £63,705 for the T8 Inscription. The sports-themed R-Design variant will also be available anon, to confuse even more.
T3 Rating: 5/5