Richard Aucock | February 2015
The new Volvo XC90 has been a long time coming. Volvo has been busy though, reinventing pretty much everything from design to engines to construction architecture. Even the badge is new (notice how the arrow now aligns with the bar on the grille). The firm wants to double its sales in the next few years and the new XC90 is the first product in the Volvo revolution that will deliver this.
It’s an important car with a loyal following, so the new Volvo look – all about upright attitude, designer Thomas Ingenlath told us – blends with original XC90 themes neatly. It’s a grower, nicely proportioned with simple, elegant detailing. It’s bigger than before. Almost five metres long, but doesn’t look it.
The new Volvo approach is all about Swedish luxury, as an alternative to the familiar stark Germanic premium approach. Think posh furniture stores: if IKEA went upmarket this would be it. Immediately logical, immediately appealing – and extremely well executed throughout.
In the UK, there will be three engines and three trims. Three in four will be the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, one in two will be the base-spec Momentum – but ‘base’ is misleading here: prices start at £45k and the kit count reflects this. There are two petrols, a regular turbo and a turbo-electric plug-in hybrid called T8 Twin Engine; the hybrid arrives later in the year, but the other two are due in showrooms from May.
12 years after the original, then, Volvo wants the new XC90 to be similarly groundbreaking. Is it?
What’s the 2015 Volvo XC90 like to drive?
Drivers of the old xC90, listen up: you’re going to be amazed by just how good the new one is. It isn’t just an improvement, it’s a transformation, that elevates Volvo into competing square-on with the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Volvo normally eyes the huge-selling Land Rover Discovery as a rival; the new XC90 is good enough to worry the Range Rover.
Why? Through being very accomplished in every way. Refinement strikes you first, both rolling quietness and overall ride quality. It’s thoroughly premium and significantly more luxurious than the original. The T8 is near-silent at slow speed, due to hybrid’s EV running; the D5 diesel is the real surprise, proving smooth, well isolated and far less rumbly than the throbby old five-cylinder. That low-frequency throb is no more.
Despite being so large, performance is ample, aided by a good eight-speed auto and, in the T8, real high-Rev spirit. Charge the batteries for four hours and you’ll get up to 25 miles’ pure electric running; the bigger benefit is the low-speed drive of the rear-mounted electric motor.
Dimensions have grown a lot but Volvo has ensured it’s easier to handle with precise steering and a strong front end. It’s easy to place and, while its not a sports car (choose the BMW X5 for such shenanigans), it corners neatly and doesn’t wallow alarmingly.
The depth of engineering is another surprise; as road conditions worsen, the XC90 stays unroofed, soaking it up with solid integrity. Another premium trait that owners will really appreciate the more they drive it (and it even carries 20-inch wheels without crash or bang). The quality of the controls, from steering feel to brake action to power delivery, will also frequently please.
Is the 2015 Volvo XC90 really a Range Rover rival?
Can a Volvo jump from being Land Rover grade up to Range Rover rival? In the XC90’s case, an almost unqualified yes. It’s the exceptional interior that really nails it. Almost everything is new here, even down to the column stalks and rear-view mirror, a huge, rare undertaking that means surprise and delight details are never-ending.
The centrepiece is the touchscreen, which slickly swipes and scrolls as ably as an Apple iPad. Clarity is high, the interface is intuitive and the minimalist button count it facilitates doesn’t come at the expense of user confusion. If you can use a table computer, you can use this.
The modern luxuriousness of it satisfies too. Uniquely Scandinavian, details such as the bourgeois wood, rich leader and even the jewel-like stamping on the rotary controls all ooze quality. It’s very special , very tactile, and will not jar those stepping into it from a Range Rover.
Based on Volvo’s in-house new Scalable Platform Architecture, there’s a leap in roominess over the original, as you’d expect from the bigger exterior dimensions. Vast headroom and big side windows mean it’s very airy (further enhanced by a must-have panoramic roof) and the sheer amount of room throughout almost bears comparison with the bigger Rangie. The middle row is palatial; adults can viably use the surprisingly supportive third row of seats.
Verdict: Volvo XC90
The new Volvo XC90 is superb. An enormous step on from the original, it genuinely will surprise many by how good it is. Yes, there’s a big jump in price over the current model, but it’s thoroughly worth it – and is still cheaper than the premium rivals it now squares up to.
You almost sense even Volvo doesn’t realise quite how good the new XC90 is; refinement, ability and that exceptional interior do all bear comparison with the Range Rover, which shows the scale of its achievement. Sales sound modest, around 5,000 a year: do not be surprised if the five-star new XC90 has Volvo UK chasing for more…
Rivals: Volvo XC90 (2015)
- BMW X5
- Audi Q7
- Land Rover Discovery
- Mercedes-Benz ML
- Range Rover
Specification: Volvo XC90 (2015)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Price from: £45,550
Torque: 347lb ft
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 137 mph