My first encounter with a Volvo came in the form of a friend’s mother’s 245, sitting outside her modest home like a trusted family friend. The Volvo 200 series ran from 1974 to 1993, selling over 2.8 million units and becoming ubiquitous with British life in the process. It was overtly safety-conscious; the equivalent of fitting your child with lifelong orange armbands. But the idea that a car represents a certain set of society is becoming rarer as the automotive industry rushes to build as many vehicles with international appeal, using as few distinctive parts as possible.
Despite being regarded as decidedly Swedish, fast forward to 2017 and we’ve seen the Americans take a decade’s turn in the driving seat, and even the Chinese manufacturer Geely take the wheel. Rather than run into fire with an immediate new model aimed at the European market to revitalise profits, Volvo have transformed back into a Swedish car company with a remit to develop a global perspective, and an $11 billion research and development budget. The Swedish car brand synonymous with security was being given a big reboot.
The new Volvo XC90 is the brand’s second-generation edition, the former was launched at the 2002 North American International Auto Show and went on to be Volvo’s bestselling model worldwide in 2005. Such was the appetite for the XC90 that 3,500 UK customers didn’t even need to smell its nappa leather or hear the Bowers and Wilkins stereo before transferring the funds to purchase one.
The first 1927 of the individually-numbered cars sold out in just 47 hours. The initial production run represents the date the Swedish brand was launched. The first was given to Carl XVI Gustav the King of Sweden, whilst number ten was offered to Swedish football pro Zlatan Ibrahimović.
It has been a long time since a press vehicle arrived at my door in black – onyx black to be precise. It cut a rather handsome figure and was taller than I had expected. That isn’t to say that Volvo hasn’t stayed somewhat true to its boxy architecture to incorporate 5-foot 9-inches of human in its third row of seats. The last time I drove something that could comfortably carry seven-plus luggage was likely a long wheel base Defender 110. That said, ‘comfortably’ is the entirely wrong word to use; it was more like being shouted at through an impeller blade whilst watching the road through a blender. The XC90 is a far more civilised affair.
Our flavour of the XC90 was the T6 petrol-engined AWD inscription with charcoal interior. It was so understated I could visualise the Swedish PM in full convoy across the Øresund. The inscription sits at the top of the tree with the R-Design and Momentum packages picking up the rear and throws a rather hefty list of options at the XC90’s polished exterior and interior.
Now I have spent some years testing out the performance-car world’s great and good – mostly so I can speak with confidence at various motoring dinners – and the XC90 is the first SUV I have climbed into. My first impressions were how ergonomic the dash and driving position were. With less than ten buttons, the main control of the vehicle’s bells-and-whistles comes in the form of a 9 inch dashboard screen. In a world occupied with the user interface, we do appear to approach new layouts with a certain amount of trepidation. We’ve all become accustomed to the layout stylings of the late Steve Jobs, and generally balk at the prospect of being presented with a new daily drive interface. However, with the XC90 paired to my iPhone, the tablet-style screen organised the usual clutter found in the modern cockpit with stern efficiency. Cue Luciano Pavarotti singing Vesti la Giubba from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. My music taste can often be described as eclectic, so this should not be a surprise to anyone. As I scrolled through the XC90 console in search of the equaliser controls for the 19 Bowers and Wilkins speakers, I found myself switching to the Gothenburg Concert Hall. The sound is tremendous, although when hauling the family, I was gaslighted into keeping it in the lower end of the sound spectrum.
My first outing was to Lower Slaughter Manor with obsessive petrolhead Alexander Jaskowski, who is occasionally capable of non-car based conversation – though rarely. I first had to explain that this was not a diesel or a hybrid; it was actually the T6 petrol model which is arguably a thirsty inclination of the marque. The D5 is a rather relaxed performer, whereas the T8 Hybrid is the quickest (so I’m told). We circled the XC90 for 15 minutes, muttering to ourselves and proclaiming how handsome it was before trying to work out what this model conveys to passers-by, let alone other Volvo drivers.
I remember driving around Cheltenham on my travels and becoming aware of just how many Range Rovers there are on the roads today. With the disappearance of the Defender, I am inclined to agree with my peers that the brand is becoming more than a little homogenised. You only have to look at the Evoque and Discovery Sport to see what I’m talking about. Seeing identical marques of your beloved car on the road is nothing surprising, but for me, it can make the experience feel a little less special. I didn’t spot another new model XC90 the entire time I had the vehicle, which could also be a testament to just how rural our testing area was, as the old model was prevalent on each and every A-road.
The real test, of course, came when hauling a family of five plus myself and ample luggage. With the boot open you can lower the rear suspension with the push of a button to allow for easier loading and unloading. Not entirely necessary for three suitcases and a rucksack, but it certainly made all the difference when the XC90 was filled with production gear. With the rear cover removed, the third-row seats popped up with ease, so the shortest amongst us settled in for his two-hour journey to Upper Swell. The family were quick to point out their favourite fixtures in the Volvo. Built-in sun-blinds, thick pile floors, and the range of simple yet effective audio options were all highlighted as exemplary features.
On the road, the XC90 certainly had some grunt, the T6 8-speed automatic delivered pulling power in Eco, Comfort and Performance without me ever needing more. If you buy an SUV for the purpose of hauling the family for the occasional holiday across country, you shouldn’t really need more than a 6.1 second 0-60 time. That’s what you buy the additional two-seater sports car for. The one area that gave me most joy was the XC90’s pilot assist. With limited time to fully research and evaluate the cars autonomous functions, the only option I had was to trial her south bound on the M5. My research program was somewhat unconventional, how much of a beautiful baked artisan sausage roll from the Gloucester Farm services could I dip into a tiny pot of ketchup in Pilot Assist mode. It turns out the whole thing, with only minimal flaky pastry being lost to the ether. It transpires that the function is best deployed during traffic, keeping in lane, starting, stopping, and generally allows you to sit back and relax with the massaging seats in full effect. It does work up to 80mph and will allow you to accurately dip your sausage roll into some form of sauced based confectionary with ‘no hands’.
With a family in the car and some of the Cotswolds finest winding roads ahead of us, I thought it best to take the family off the beaten track, so they could see the hills of the British countryside. At around 60mph, there were some concerns from the rear that should I want to avoid redecorating the rear seats with a child’s inflight meal, I should hasten our progress a little. I did explain that driving at less than 40 mph on a national speed limited road was criminal for all but a few octogenarians that may have fought in a war, but I did eventually relent. Not before explaining that a vehicle with less than 2000 miles on the clock and a kerb weight of 2 tons couldn’t possibly create motion so vigorous as to cause a regurgitation. It transpired however that upon my first ride in the back seat I can confirm that the ride is a little less wafting than I had expected. The adaptive air suspension was clearly doing its best but with six people in tow and a less than happy child on board, I did relent to a slower pace. I honestly don’t know how parents do it without fitting some form of ejector seat to their children.
One element I was keen to evaluate was the auto-parking feature. As someone who feels that reverse parking a sports car doesn’t need much effort these days, I was eager to see how hands-off the seven-seater experience would be. I tried briefly to reverse park the car using the auto-park function in Broadway into an entirely feasible space, but clearly hadn’t set the system up correctly. So, after 30 seconds of panicked-looking tourists in unsuitable countryside cars flying past, I decided to go manual.
The true test of the cars prowess came during an outing to Stow on the Wold a few days later when we watched the Volvo reverse park itself in a show of engineering excellence rivalled only by the first test flight of concord. The idea of a vehicle manoeuvring itself unaided was more than a little inspiring for the group. Zero temperatures were braved and the inevitable stroll to the pub was temporarily postponed to test the XC90 in a variety of tight spots. All of which were dispensed with ease, making it the bad parker’s family car of choice. If you’ve never come across the 360 bird’s-eye view cameras, now becoming a standard install on larger vehicles, you’ll swear they are witchcraft. If you’ve opted for the 21-inch alloy wheels that come with the Inscription Pro, you will need it.
All things considered, the Volvo XC90 took a much firmer grip on my senses than I had expected. It feels much less like an SUV and more like a large passenger car on the road. With enough storage space to satisfy even the largest of trips to Ikea, it’s a formidable marque. It might have cost the brand a pretty penny to bring the XC90 to life, but it’s money well spent.
The XC90 is available from £49,905. Our model as tested comes in at £69,880 with a three-year 60,000 mile warranty, and its resale values are amongst the best in the class.