Twelves years is a long time in anyone’s books, but in the car industry it is several lifetimes thanks to manufacturer’s constant tinkering with models and the ever changing demands of consumers. It’s extremely rare then that any one design of vehicle lasts this long; I mean of course in years gone by it was not uncommon for platforms/models to last even decades, but in the line-ups of mainstream car manufacturers there is only one vehicle which springs to mind in the eyes of Western journalists, Volvo’s XC90.
Looking back at 2002 when the XC90 launched and the motoring landscape was very different. Admittedly there were several car-based SUV’s/crossovers which were being lavished with praise by critics, but those looking for anything with 7 seats were restricted to the archaic Land Rover Discovery II or agricultural various Toyota Land Cruisers (although those living Stateside had the option of Acura’s MDX). This was a world where sat-nav was only just beginning to take off in premium models and mobile phone integration tended to consist of a giant Motorola shoved somewhere in the arm-rest. The XC90 then was a bit of a breath of fresh air and as a result was a massive hit for Volvo over the following years across the globe, at one stage even becoming Sweden’s #1 export!
However in those subsequent years there has been a massive influx in rivals who are able to offer more spacious, better handling, faster, more economical and possibly most importantly more technologically advanced alternatives against the poor XC90, which was somewhat left to wilt on the vine. Admittedly there have been a couple of facelifts to the big Swede over the past dozen years but essentially it remains the same car which debuted way back in the early noughties…not that it’s really stopped it though as sales (at least in Europe) have continued to remain solid amongst those after a safe, practical and classy alternative to MPV’s, although massive discounting has helped too.
It says a lot that although now derided by those same auto journalists who once sang it’s praises the outgoing XC90 still has some very valid reasons for choosing it, but after years of rumours and spyshots Volvo have finally unveiled a new generation of their large SUV…and it seems that again they might have managed to knock the ball out of the park in offering a class-leading vehicle for those who appreciate a bit of erm class.
I’ll admit that I was very unsure of the proposed sketches and spyshots I’d seen of the new XC90 over the past 18 months or so; I saw lines much more in-keeping with boxier Volvos of the past, and it was clear that the ‘shoulder’ lines of newer Volvo’s had been toned down into an almost dowdier design. Various concept cars pointed to a redesigned snout with distinctive T-bar headlamps but again how these elements would all stitch together on what is supposed to be a rugged vehicle left me unsure, especially as though I have been a big fan of the outgoing car for years. However when seen in full production trim my worries were pretty much dismissed as Volvo designers have successfully managed to create a design that remains true to Volvo and XC90 design cues whilst at the same time appearing fresh and modern. By no means is it groundbreaking and neither is it as eyecatching as the original XC90 was at launch (or arguably it’s XC60 baby brother when launched in 2008), but that ensures that the design should age well and will continue to appeal to those buyers who view the likes of the Audi Q7 and Range Rover Sport as too gaudy and obvious…whether that includes me or not I wouldn’t like to say!
The interior of the old XC90 was probably it’s biggest letdown in later years, and without a doubt the new car goes above and beyond what was expected from the Swedes. Two massive LCD’s dominate the cabin up front; one displays all the drivers instruments a la Range Rover, but most focus will be made on the vertically positioned 9 inch touchscreen which controls most of the car’s functions. Similar to the Tesla Model S at least in terms of appearance, the XC90 is the first car from Volvo to benefit from their new SENSUS system and thankfully does away with the awkward knob-based controls of previous units. As the car hasn’t found it’s way into the hands of reviewers yet it is hard to judge whether it manages to ape the iPad-esque smoothness of the Tesla or if will meet the same criticisms as touchscreen-based systems like Cadillac’s CUE and Ford’s SYNC, but it sure as hell stands out against the Germans and their love of buttons and central controllers. Elsewhere the ageing plastics and chunky design of it’s predecessor have been vanquished, replaced with ubiquitous soft-touch plastics and a classy crystal gear lever to compliment a range of new material choices, and of course Volvo’s world-renowned seats.
Other things are a little harder to comment on from behind a keyboard, but a big departure compared to similar vehicles is the sole option of 4-cylinder engine options in the XC90, part of Volvo’s initiative to adhere to upcoming emission regulations in various markets. All of these engines, I believe, will be 2 litres in size and in-keeping with BMW/Mercedes’ confusing badging systems will be badged D5/T6/T8…although this is probably some sort of effort to appease American buyers who equate engine size with status. In the UK the D5 will be the staple engine at launch with 245bhp and I’d imagine an 8-second ish 0-60 time and 45mpg-ish (officially anyway), and in petrol-centric markets the T6 should offer around 300bhp and go a little faster/use a bit more fuel. But probably most intriguing for petrolheads is the V8-aping T8 which also has an electric motor to give a combined output of over 450bhp…from a 2 litre! As it’s a hybrid I would think that fuel consumption won’t be too far off the diesel and although expensive it may give rivals with V8’s a good run for their money on the track.
Being based on Volvo’s new SPA platform means that my guess is as good as anyone’s when it comes to how the thing drives, but Volvo’s past and present are known for their safe handling and general smoothness in terms of ride and refinement – although the optional 22 inch wheels may put pay to that somewhat! This architecture has had over $11 billion spent on it’s development and it’s scalable nature means it is intended to underpin a whole new generation of Volvo’s ranging from midsize S60 saloons up to a potential new S90 flagship. This is in contrast to a lot of recent rivals which have been launched on merely refreshed versions of their predacessors base (see Mercedes ML and BMW X5), and indeed even the much-vaulted Range Rover Sport has it’s roots back in the 2003 XJ platform.
Of course all of these improvements come at some sort of cost, and as you’d expect prices have risen pretty steeply with this new generation of XC90. What makes the difference really stark is that the outgoing car has been so heavily discounted that it is often cheaper to buy than it’s smaller XC60 brother; around £27k would get you into a brand new (base model) XC90 and nowadays that sort of money only just about buys you a well-specced Golf! Buyers of the new car will have to pony up around £45k to get their hands on a mid level version of the new car, and although that’s competitive when compared to German rivals it is still a considerable jump for more recent XC90 converts. It remains to be seen whether Volvo has left it too late to recapture the momentum which it gained way back in 2002, but all signs look pretty positive even if we have to wait till next year to see the new XC90 on UK roads