Review – Volvo XC90 Inscription

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The first generation Volvo XC90 appeared on our roads in 2002 after being launched at that year’s North American International Auto Show. Since then it’s gone on to form a significant part of this century’s automotive landscape. The XC90 nameplate has done phenomenally well, selling in vast quantities and frequently being Volvo’s best selling model in various markets, and topping its worldwide sales charts in 2005.

Such is the esteem that the first generation XC90 is held in, it still continues to be built and sold in China as the XC Classic. And remember, it’s not like they’ve been turning out mud pluggers for generations like Land Rover or Jeep, this was Volvo’s first ever SUV model. So the second generation was always going to have big shoes to fill, both literally and figuratively. The new XC90 is also the first model to built on Volvo’s new global SPA platform (Scaleable Product Architecture), developed at significant cost but designed to improve vehicle strength yet reduce weight, therefore improving both safety and efficiency.

Although the XC90 has now jumped the fence between sheer practicality and luxury, this is not just a lifestyle soft-reader with a blingy grille or ostentatious alloys. Thanks to its sheer size it’s never going to be a cute wallflower, yet its stature is not over-enhanced purely to give it a presence. Although it is still designed with practicality at its heart, it may even be called understated.

When we tested the first generation XC90 it was the middle of summer, so it never put a foot wrong, whether it was commuting on a dual carriageway or traversing a field in Dorset. So this time I really wanted to see how it coped when the going got a bit tougher. Even in the depths of winter, it’s rare to get snow on the south coast, so we went off in search of some and weren’t disappointed, as you’ll see from the photos. And what better car to find yourself exploring a snowy English countryside in than this.

Cabin

The interior standards of Volvos have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and this is especially evident in the latest iteration of the XC90. Even looking back at photos of the last of the first generation XC90s you realise just how far it’s come. The cabin is luxurious yet unfussy, however you wouldn’t describe it as cosseting – it’s light, bright and spacious (especially with optional panoramic glass sunroof) and a generally a nice place to be.

Opt for the Inscription trim level we’ve got on test and the seats are clad in soft Nappa leather and there’s some nicely grained wood highlighting the dash and running down the transmission tunnel. There’s only one place in the whole cabin that doesn’t seem to fit the Swedish simplicity. By the gearstick you’ll find the engine on/off switch, a rotary driving mode selector and the volume control dial, all three of which are in a hammered metal finish, much like an 80s cocktail shaker, which stands out from the rest of the cabin’s minimalist brilliance.

The dashboard has been decluttered of buttons and a lot of functions are now taken care of through the 9-inch iPad style touchscreen inset in the centre of the dashboard. This operates Volvo’s new Sensus control system and deals with a whole host of onboard settings, as well as entertainment, navigation, climate and comfort settings, plus Apple CarPlay is now available.

For those particularly interested in the quality of their tunes, an optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system (a three grand option, cough) is available. It’s a highly sophisticated bit of kit – a 19 speaker setup that can literally make you feel like you’re commuting inside the Gothenburg Concert Hall.

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Behind the Wheel

The XC90 loves to stretch its legs on a motorway marathon, and driver and passengers alike will arrive refreshed and relaxed even after an arduous schlep.

Whilst not that noticeable on the open road, with a length of 4.95 metres, width just a smidge over 2 metres and tipping the scales at two and three-quarter tonnes, parking and manoeuvring can make you feel a little twitchy at first, especially when you get a crescendo of warning blips from the multitude of proximity sensors.

Although town centre parking may seem daunting, the optional auto park in and out feature fitted to our test car makes parallel and 90-degree parking a doddle. Once you’ve put your faith in the system it will swiftly slot you into spaces you otherwise thought were impossible to conquer under your own steam.

Even if you opt to take control yourself, the steering wheel operation is light yet still responsive at low speeds, with an acceptable turning circle given its proportions. One of my favourite optional extras is the 360-degree camera system. This clever but of kit provides a birds-eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings on the centre screen. The imagery is provided by four hidden external cameras in the car’s bodywork, the feeds from which are digitally stitched together to form a complete view.

In ‘normal’ driving mode the XC90 tackles the urban landscape with aplomb, riding over potholes and speed bumps with barely a flicker filtering through into the cabin. There are also economy, off road and dynamic driving modes selectable.

Engine, Gearbox and Performance

The latest range of Volvos are fitted with their range of new ultra efficient engines. There are currently three engine options in the range, one diesel (the D5, on test), one petrol (the T6) and a petrol/electric plug-in hybrid (the T8). Although the hybrid is a fair bit more expensive, the returns in terms of fuel economy are impressive, with an official score of 134.5 mpg with just 49 g/km of CO2.

Despite the bulk of the XC90, it’s not exactly a gas guzzler in any of its engine guises, unlike many of its contemporaries. The frugal diesel is economical to run with an average of 48.7 mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 152 g/km. The petrol engine in the range knocks out a thundering 320 bhp, but inevitably brings economy down quite a way to 35.3 mpg.

Both diesel and petrol engines are four cylinder 2.0-litre setups, which doesn’t sound that gutsy when compared to it’s rivals, yet Volvo are really making the most of every drop of power. The diesel D5 will chuck out 225 bhp and 470 Nm of torque, so off the line it’ll do a 0-60 mph sprint in a very respectable 7.4 seconds, and onto a top speed of 137 mph.

All variants come with the same eight speed automatic gearbox. It’s seamless in its changes, but those that want to take control can also slide the gear selector across to the left and flick up and down through the gears as the whim takes them.

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Boot

Standard boot capacity is 451 litres, even with all seven seats in place – fairly respectable when you consider this is all a lot of hatchbacks manage. Drop the rear row and this rises to 1,102 but drop middle and rear rows and this escalates to a cavernous 1,951 litres.

The two rear seats stow away flat into the floor and a tonneau cover pulls over to conceal the boot contents from prying eyes. The motorised boot opener and closer is a great feature that is a lot handier in day to day life than you might first imagine and comes as standard on all trim levels.

Safety and Security

This is where Volvos excel, not just in recent times but over the history of the marque it has firmly set itself as a beacon for safe motoring. Just sitting in a Volvo inspires confidence, as despite what Mother Nature may be chucking around on the outside, when you’re inside everything is rosy. It can even hold its own off road or in extreme weather and even has a 45cm wading depth.

As you would hope and expect, the XC90 has been awarded a five star Euro NCAP score. Safety has been inherent in the design right from the drawing board to final production vehicle, with all of the advancements taking Volvo a step closer to their aim of no-one being seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by 2020. The new XC90 comes with a whole range of advanced safety technology under its IntelliSafe umbrella.

Dr Peter Mertens, (Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo) says “This is further proof that with Volvo XC90 we have developed one of the safest cars in the world. In fact we scored one hundred per cent in the Safety Assist category. From an industry perspective Volvo Cars remains the leader in car safety innovation and miles ahead of the competition with our standard safety offer.”

Volvo’s laudable obsession with safety even extends to them working on kangaroo anti-collision technology for Australian models – seriously.

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Prices, Equipment and Options

On the road price for the standard D5 Inscription is £50,685. The Inscription trim level is the most luxurious and comes with plenty of features as standard but you will probably still feel it well worth splashing out on a couple of thousand pounds of extras. Volvo offers some good value packs for combinations of the most popular options, such as the £575 Winter Pack (heated seats, steering wheel, windscreen and washer nozzles), the £1,500 Intellisafe Pro Pack (adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist etc) and the one with all the cool stuff, the £2,000 Xenium Pack (panoramic glass roof, 360-degree camera system and automatic parking).

Also available are an entry level Momentum trim (D5 engine on the road price of £46,250) and a sportier R-Design trim (D5 engine on the road price of £49,785), all of which still come with impressive standard equipment levels. In each of the three trim levels, the T6 petrol engine attracts a premium of around £3,000 over the equivalent diesel, however the T8 plug-in hybrid is really where things start to rocket as they come out at around £14,000 more than the equivalent diesel. Though it should be said that plumping for the T8 engine means a lot of the extras are included as standard, plus of course you’ll benefit from all the money you’ll be saving in fuel and road tax.

Conclusion

The original XC90 was a force to be reckoned with and lasted an impressive 13 years before needing a major overhaul, quite an achievement in such a fiercely competitive industry where most models would be lucky to make half that time. It looks like this new version of the XC90 is going to keep on making an impact for some time to come and has already won a host of awards, including Auto Express car of the year 2015.

They’ve kept all the essential family DNA people liked from the old one – it’s practicality, capability, safety, and ability to lug a whole bunch of children, dogs and camping equipment hither and thither, but worked on making sure it’s looks and technology have grown better with age.

Rivals such as the Mercedes GLE, BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Range Rover may offer a bit more badge glamour (at a price) but the XC90 has a certain honesty and holds its own well, in it’s own unique Scandinavian style.

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