When I was 12 a lot of things were different; a litre of petrol cost just 75p, Simon Cowell was a little known music producer and a few people were starting to rave about Apple’s newest gadget, the iPod. Yes back in 2002 life was very different and it was in this post-millenium period when Volvo debuted their latest vehicle, the XC90, and 11 years later the car is still on sale today pretty much unchanged. Although it is the last car I am choosing to go into detail about, it is by no means bringing up the rear in terms of my affections-in fact as of this current moment an XC90 is the front runner to be my next car.
It takes a special kind of car to have a shelf life of over a decade; of the cars that are currently on sale in the UK very few have reached this milestone, in fact apart from a few small companies like Bristol and Morgan the only company/model that springs to mind is Land Rover’s Defender. The recently departed generation of Range Rover also managed 11 years on sale but did so with a few major facelifts, as did the previous generation Ka-a charming car but one which ultimately grew outdated if not out-charmed. So where does this leave the XC90? Well fortunately when Volvo launched the car in 2002 they gave it the best possible start in life they could; built on a car platform with a strong focus on practicality and safety meant that it carved out its own niche in the market place as a luxury SUV with 7 seats and a car like driving experience. Since then there have been a plethora of similar cars, many with more luxurious cabins and sportier handling, yet the XC90 has remained a strong seller on both sides of the Atlantic and remains worth considering even as it approaches a replacement.
Part of this is because of the styling; Volvo’s are rarely stylish cars yet they tend to possess a solid and secure image. The XC90 was a modern design when launched and had these traditional styling cues, subtle updates such as colour-coded bumpers and a larger badge make some distinction between model years, but to be honest even the oldest cars still look classy and sophisticated although admittedly not as aggressive as some of the other cars I am considering. This all means that if I were to choose an XC90 it would still look pretty current, especially if I get the personalized numberplate that I have been promised (X90 JDW is the front runner regardless of what car I get).
Inside the car it has also aged well, a light and airy cabin with easy to use controls means that getting used to the Volvo would be no trouble at all. Admittedly the entertainment system is a little dated; the monochrome audio screen is a little small and iPod connectivity is only available on newer cars. A reasonable number of examples for sale have the sat-nav system which rises out of the dashboard and is controlled with a joystick on the back of the dash-the fussiness of this means I would not necessarily seek a car with navigation out, I would however want the heated memory seats and possibly the xenon headlamps. One of the major reasons why lots of people buy the XC90 is the fantastic practicality on offer; being a large car one would expect a large boot but Volvo installed some very clever features, such as an integrated childrens’ booster seat, sliding rear bench and importantly 2 seats extra rear seats which hide away when not in use. I’ll admit that none of these will be of particular use to me, but I will enjoy the benefits of a large cabin and the split tailgate is a nice touch too.
So far the XC90 seems pretty flawless, and for somebody who has not yet driven the car it pretty much is. However my main worry about the car is something that can only be sorted with a decent test drive. To be base, the XC90 is a heavy car with a high centre of gravity, and whilst I do not expect it to out handle a hot hatch or even an X5, the driving experience is something of concern. Soft steering and a comfortable ride are pretty much a given but the acceleration from the original 163 bhp D5 engine appears to be painfully slow from a stop. On the motorway or even pulling away from traffic lights I am not overly concerned about, but getting onto a busy roundabout is not something I relish attempting. In late 2005 a 185 bhp model was launched (and in 2011 this got bumped to 200 bhp), but the vast majority of these more powerful models were registered after March 2006 and so command a road tax of £450 (opposed to £260 for earlier models). Reliability as with all of these cars is also a worry, and unlike BMW’s there are not that many specialist independents for Volvo models.
Practical, high quality, attractive, well equipped and even relatively economical (40mpg is attainable on a run), for the most part it is not hard to see why the XC90 might be the car for me. But compared to the RX400h and X5 the car is slow and could be expensive if it goes wrong and this is something I will need to weigh up, a test drive will reveal all and hopefully I should be able to take one within the next few weeks!