Volvo XC90 – the thinking man's SUV

With a smaller engine and super efficient boosting, the Volvo XC90 sets a new standard for premium SUVs

Volvo_XC90_2Our fond image of the XC90 was one that was laid out a decade ago when Volvo entered the segment of a reasonably large SUV, with seven seats and a powerful engine on offer. true to its gloabl footprint in the day, there were a range of engines on offer, but it was for this model that Volvo had debuted their narrow 60-degree angle V8 engine sourced from Yamaha Marine origins. For almost its entire lifetime, if anyone in the middle east ever bought an XC90, that V8 engine partnered it on the road.

Now, the XC90 has been reborn into a world were the V8 engine itself is part of a dying breed. Admittedly, the lower fuel prices of the past year may have added some type of longevity to the format, but it faces a tough battle, even in fullsize SUVs. And then technology in general has zoomed way ahead, both in terms of the reliability and efficiency of turbocharged engines, as well as in hybridised drivetrains, so that most manufacturers are using small turbocharged engines with inline motor assists to offer the performance of the older V8 engines.

This generation of the XC90 pays homage to the V8 with its T8 designation but the engine is no longer the larger displacement unit of before. Modern Volvos have changed a lot as has the company itself. Now the petrol engines carry a T5, T6 and T8 designation but they are all based on the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine which is only turbocharged in the T5 variant, turbo and supercharged in the T6 and adds on an inline motor assist powered by a battery in the T8 configuration. The change is tangible in the power outputs.

Volvo_XC90_1Our test car was the T6 version in a deep blue colour and this car has all the power you need. The engine output is 320hp with a max torque output of 400Nm. This is mated with an eight-speed automatic gearbox with a straight pass through in sixth and overdrive in both the gears above that.

Volvo has set itself a rather large goal. It has to reinvent its presence in the premium SUV space while reinventing its whole line-up. And in the process it is also taking the XC90 higher up the value chain.

The external styling has been worked on so that you really wouldn’t mistake the car for anything but an XC90, without looking like the older car in the least (except perhaps around the tailgate).

There is generous use of LED lighting in the new “Thor’s Hammer” arrangement that the company will be using on all new Volvos. What this does is move the LED headlights to the forefront.

The rest of the fascia has hints of other European marques’ design but the bold grille makes the car stand out from the crowd. The body sits on a 2984mm wheelbase and comes in a couple of inches short of the 5 metre mark but it’s the width of the car that really communicates.

The roominess is carried over into the interior with a scooped out cabin that follows the minimalistic feel of the new Volvo interior. Almost all the activity is centered around the large central display although there are the minimum of other controls at hand just below that – with the audio basics and drive mode control sitting just north and south of the gearshift lever.

The car’s HMI is based on a system called Sensus that can handle voice recognition as well as touch. In our day out with the car we paired it with our phone and for a change this unit can even keep track of messages and events that happened before the pairing. Ask the system to call up the phone list and all you actually need to do is voice the item number of the dialled, missed or rejected call as it shows up on the list. The system just works.

The seats are comfortable, and seem like they are made with just a little bit extra of wiggle room around them. The driver’s seat is slightly on the firm side, but comes with an extendable thigh support as well as lumbar adjustment.

The Volvo XC90 also gets the whole gamut of safety technology that Volvo is putting in its cars to hit its goal of having no fatalities in Volvo cars by 2020. This includes the latest generation of City Safe and this model year the company also will offer a form of self-piloting in the car’s ability to stay in its lane and stay in its position in traffic courtesy of Pilot Assist.

The system takes care of steering, braking and accelerator for the driver. And its safety package also brakes the car automatically if the driver is likely to drive out in a crossroads ahead of an approaching car. Even the reverse camera has a unique way of plotting out the car’s track in relation to the steering wheel input, which seems closer to the reality that we experience, rather than seeing straight lines or generic curves with coloured bands.

Driving Impressions

Volvo_XC90_8The car lives up to the reputation of Volvo’s T6 rating taken from its older V6 turbo engines. In the T6 rating both a supercharger and the turbos are present so even when you choose to step on the accelerator you don’t really register any turbo lag. The cylindrical drive mode controller is rather unique as is the knob used to start and stop the engine. Scroll to the drive mode you want and you instantly get a whole different beast under you. In dynamic mode, the gearshift is much faster and more prone to switch to lower ratios at the drop of a hat. Also the engine tries to stay revved above the 2000 mark in order to keep the turbocharger in its sweet spot. In comfort the aim is to shift as smoothly as possible while in Eco mode the shift pattern is linked to the best fuel efficiency for any given driving pattern. Of course the system allows you to tune in various parameters to give yourself an individual setting – so you can actually dial in stiffer steering response while leaving gearshift patterns running at regular levels or vice versa.

The car is provided with paddleshifters and allows you to move into manual mode whenever you choose. The car is available with air suspension with five modes and that partners well with the off-road mode available in the drive modes. But even without the air suspension, the car’s double wishbone front suspension and new integral link arrangement for the rear (complete with a transverse leaf spring) make for a supple ride with the perfect combination of load carrying characteristics.

Verdict

Volvo_XC90_3The XC90 always stood apart from the general SUV crowd because it represented an ideal for Volvo. With the new generation nothing seems to have changed. You won’t be mistaking this car for any other European SUV, despite its dimensions. The brand has set out a path that really requires an exceptional product to carry through. That’s the load of the expectations that the Xc90 has to carry as it takes the competition into the upper segments of the Premium zone.

The engine technology on offer is a great advantage and so is the move to a consolidated central screen, however much of a learning experience that can be. But Sensus is what really makes the cabin environment stand out 9other than the trappings of leather clad luxury and scandinavian minimalism.

Would we recommend the SUV? Yes we would, especially if you like a car that is so very different from anything else you could have chosen from the increasingly crowded marketplace.

About Raj Warrior
Raj Warrior is the managing editor of Automan Magazine and has been a part of the Middle East’s automotive landscape from the past 15 years. He has run top rung car magazines in India and Oman and is often referred to as the Automan of Oman. With a background in mechanics, mechanisms and software programming, he is able to visualise the intricate workings of the modern automobile and brings a mix of technical and lifestyle based assessment to his writing. He is also an avid Photographer, often shooting the cars and motorcycles he tests for the magazine. As comfortable on a motorcycle as he is in cars, Raj is driven by his love affair with all things on wheels and brings his passion to all his automotive ventures. Raj has chosen Oman as his home base because he loves the country, its friendly people and its great driving and riding roads.

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