With the premium SUV segment in full re-shuffle mode, Volvo’s latest XC90 looks beyond just trying to find its place among several top competitors.
I have a confession to make; I love large SUVs. They make me feel safe on long journeys and comfortable on short drives. Sometimes I’d rather drive a luxury SUV over a large luxury saloon such as a Mercedes S-Class or an Audi A8 specifically because I enjoy an excellent sitting position but from a higher angle, which increases overall visibility in traffic as well as on motorways. I feel like people in general can buy an SUV both for practical reasons as well as non-practical ones such as image, how prestigious the brand/model is, how imposing or dynamic it looks and so on.
And if you’ve got the right amount of money laying around, you’ll find that you’re definitely spoiled for choice. If you’re looking for a high quality model, the large European SUV segment (or mid-size, thanks to Mercedes‘ GL) is probably the best place to look, with cars such as the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5/X6, all-new Audi Q7, VW Touareg, Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLE/GLE Coupe & GLS (sure, why not?) and now this, the brand new and highly anticipated Volvo XC90 – a car that’s as fascinating to look at as it is to drive.
A little history on the XC90
Before I get into it, I just want to say that Volvo really nailed it with the first generation model as well. The first XC90 was a quality product when it first came out. It had the room, it had the build quality, it was priced competitively and it was incredibly safe. Unfortunately it got so old that we couldn’t even use it during comparison tests at one point. I wrote a review back in 2010 where we gathered up five large premium SUVs (ML, RRS, Cayenne, X5, Q7) and didn’t even think about giving Volvo a call.
Still, the XC90 was an overall success story that just happened to over-stay its 12-year welcome. So yes, it’s safe to say that a new model was long overdue.
As you would expect, having such a tight connection with this segment, I was really excited to try on the all-new Volvo XC90. As soon as I drove up to the dealership to pick up the car and caught a glimpse of two different versions sitting in the press parking spaces, I realized they were the same two cars (spec & color wise) that Volvo brought to the Paris Motor Show last year: a Momentum version and an Inscription version.
I drove off in the diesel-powered D5 AWD with a 2.0-liter four-pot in Momentum trim, loaded with optional extras that bumped the price up to €80,133 from its original €60,581 across the pond. We’ll get to all the tech a bit later in the article since I’m going to start with the car’s exterior – it’s the very first thing you notice.
My two cents on the exterior
The all-new XC90 has a very strong personality. It exudes both power as well as prestige thanks to its strong shoulders and upright grille, both of which are classic Volvo styling cues, now made to look more contemporary. Perhaps, what I love most about it is that it looks confident, without any awkward angles or design elements. During my time with it, people would go out of their way to pass me on the motorway or in traffic just to check out the car, they would walk up and ask questions – which is very common when you’re reviewing a car that people aren’t familiar with, but this much attention? Trust me, it was almost on level with how people reacted when seeing the first generation BMW X6 in traffic. And that was somewhat of a surprise to be honest. It reassured me that I wasn’t the only one loving the way this new XC90 looks.
I’m curious to know what you guys think, but in my mind, the XC90 is way more elegant than the all-new Audi Q7 (exterior-wise), and I also find it more stylish than any Mercedes-Benz ML/GLE, VW Touareg and even the Range Rover Sport. I still haven’t decided if I like it better than the BMW X5 or the Porsche Cayenne, but it kind of feels like a toss-up at this point. By the way, the next SUV in line that’s set to draw this much attention (probably more) in traffic will be the GLE Coupe. Take that one to the bank.
About those confident looks I mentioned earlier, they’re mostly because of that imposing front end, which is brilliant to look at. The headlight design is beautiful and the shape of the LED running lights is, I think, a lot more special than what anybody else has come up with in this segment. The rear of the car is a bit more conservative – which is something Volvo really wanted to pull off by using their typical vertical lines instead of what most of their rivals do, which is to use horizontal lines to make their SUVs look more dynamic. It works, it’s gorgeous, but I prefer the X5’s rear end more.
By the way, this car had on a set of 21″ Polished wheels that looked chromed out of their minds. It’s not something you see everyday on an European SUV, but I enjoyed the look. Nothing distasteful here.
As for the exterior color, it’s called Luminous Sand metallic and looking at a brochure, I think it’s one of the best.
But what about the inside?
Now let’s move on to the interior of this Momentum version because there are a lot of interesting things you can find once you’re aboard the all-new XC90. I’m going to start off with what I didn’t like that much, which was the overall design of the steering wheel. I was unimpressed at first, but after a few days it grew on me and so I’m going to upgrade it from ugly to just boring. Design aside, the feel of the steering wheel was great, having just the right thickness to it – which believe it or not is something some car manufacturers do better than others.
I really tried to think of something else I wasn’t that impressed with but nothing really came to mind. The entire cabin is absolutely fabulous. Everything I touched, pressed, pulled, opened and so on felt impeccably well made. The materials are amazing (Moritz Blonde/Charcoal/Linear Walnut), the craftsmanship superb and you get an overall sense of luxury that trust me, doesn’t take a backseat to anyone else from this segment.
The seats were perfect, as was every surface i touched, pretty much. It also feels very airy in there, with excellent visibility. Surprisingly, this really doesn’t feel like a large SUV when you’re on the road. In fact, it feels like you’re riding in a slightly taller XC60. It’s only when you look back towards the rear that you realize that this is no compact SUV.
As for passenger and luggage space, I found the XC90 to be more roomy than rivals from Mercedes, BMW, Porsche or VW. The amount of knee room in the back is simply ridiculous (in the best way possible), and you can even fit two normal-size adults in the final row of seats if you so choose. By the way, if you fold the 2nd and 3rd row seats, you’ll end up with 1,868 liters worth of cargo space, or 65.9 cubic ft.
Other things I liked include the engine start/stop switch, the absolutely perfect armrest to gear lever distance, allowing you to rest both your elbow as well as your palm on the shifter comfortably. There are a few SUVs where you can’t do this, either because they placed the shifter somewhere else, or because it doesn’t have a comfortable shape for you to rest on palm on. It seems like a strange thing to notice, but when you’re driving long distances, you really start to appreciate it.
The dashboard’s digital instruments were also great, whereas the rear-view mirror had this really elegant look to it that many of you probably noticed as soon as the first press images came out.
About the XC90’s new infotainment system and features
Now onto the “real MVP” here, which was the Volvo Sensus system with its gorgeous tablet-like portrait-format touchscreen display. Trust me when I say, it will blow you away. The resolution, the speed, the feel, it’s just better than anything the Germans have come up with so far. It’s so fast, with almost no lag at all regardless of what you have it doing. It really feels like you’re on your tablet or mobile phone whenever you’re browsing through your playlist, or going through the car’s settings, the sat-nav, temperature controls and so on. It even has a drop down menu just like any Android or iOS device. I really wasn’t expecting their user interface to be this good, but damn it, it is. It kind of reminds me of the Tesla Model S’ display, only smaller, obviously.
Underneath you have the “flying wings” controls which incorporate the warning signal, defogging buttons, a few audio functions as well as the button that pops open the glove compartment.
Oh, good, I just remembered something else I didn’t particularly like – the warning signal button. It’s very small and if you need to hit it quickly while still keeping your eyes on the road, you’ll struggle a bit. You definitely need to take your eyes off the road for a split second and push it properly. This matters when you’re on a motorway at high speed and there’s a sudden traffic jam in front, a whole bunch of cars are hitting their brakes and you need to let the car behind you know immediately. I had to do this a lot on Sunday night unfortunately.
Let’s go through some of the car’s features and optional extras: ESC, EBD, EBL, Road Sign Information, CITY SAFETY, TPMS, a gazillion airbags, Keyless Drive, two-zone climate controls, power-seats, Start-Stop function, cruise control and a few others which are all standard on an XC90 Momentum. During our review, I also enjoyed things like the rear parking camera, the panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate controls, the IntelliSafe Pro package (adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, queue assist, IntelliSafe Surround, adaptive LED headlights and the lateral parking pilot – plus a whole bunch of other goodies.
The Lane Keep Assist function is awesome while you’re on the motorway. It actually makes the car feel even more stable since the steering wheel will subtly pull back if you’re trying to change lanes without using your turn signals, or if you’re just drifting out of your own lane for some reason. You can, of course, force your way past this system, but you’ll definitely feel it fighting you as say you’d feel the control column of an airplane fight you if you’re trying to stray off course and the autopilot is in control. I always found the old lane departure warning systems to be annoying. The lane keep system is something else entirely and it’s pretty freaking cool.
By the way, this model wasn’t equipped with the optional HUD or the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkens audio system, which was unfortunate seen as how I always appreciate a high-power/high-fidelity sound system, while a Head-Up Display is, in my opinion, the best way for a driver to receive information without taking his eyes off the road.
Also, the car didn’t have the optional active suspension, which I’ll make sure to try out on a 320 PS T6 version as soon as possible.
On the road
I drove the facelifted Cayenne a few months ago over a long distance and since it’s a good a comparison as any, I have to say that the XC90 is a much more relaxing drive, without any compromises as far as high speed stability or interior build quality. Yes, the Volvo is on the same level with the Porsche. Who would have thought?
I think it’s time we talk about the XC90’s technical aspects, mainly the way it handles, the way the D5 engine pulls, the transmission and all that sort of stuff that we need to know before making our minds up about any car.
First thing I noticed as I left the Volvo dealership was how light the steering was. I felt instantly disappointed thinking that this was going to be an overly soft SUV, lacking any type of agility and steering feel. Boy was I wrong. The steering feels light only at very low speeds, which is perfect for such a large vehicle. Once you pull past 70km/h (43 mph) it gradually firms up until you feel like you’ve never had this much control in an SUV before. It’s definitely the best steering feel of any Volvo vehicle, SUV or otherwise (not because of agility). I remember thinking how amazing this car was to cruise in at highway speeds, and even while cornering…it felt like hmm, it actually felt a lot like driving a more agile Audi Q7 (previous generation) in terms of balance. In a straight line, the width and size of the car made it feel as stable as pretty much any other luxury SUV I’ve ever reviewed – except for the BMW X6. I was going to say the Porsche Cayenne too, but for some reason, you feel like you’re sitting lower in the XC90, despite the fact that it’s slightly taller than the Cayenne.
The XC90 also happens to be incredibly refined, with very little engine noise inside the cabin. Wind and tire noise is also very well kept in check.
As for the 2.0 liter 224PS (221hp)D5 turbodiesel engine, all I can say is that it’s extremely punchy. It pulls really well, almost across the entire rev range, and even at high speed – though the throttle response isn’t as good as what you get in a Porsche Cayenne.
I loved the engine and I loved the 8-speed automatic transmission despite wishing it was a bit quicker early on. The level of comfort and effortlessness is just incredible. I mean, I knew that the XC90 would be good, I just had no idea that it would be this good. The 470 Nm (346 lb-ft) of torque can definitely feel like more once you really get on the gas. Low speed, high speed, it’s a great engine and an overall great package for a mid-range diesel version (there’s also a less powerful entry-level D4 model).
From a stand still, the car can hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 7.8 seconds (manufacturer estimate), with a top speed of 220 km/h (136 mph) – same as the Cayenne Diesel.
The fuel consumption isn’t as great as the specs would have you believe, but the computer was showing me a consistent 6.8 liters/100 km (34.5 mpg US/42.0 mpg UK) at precisely 130 km/h (80 mph), and I think any large SUV owner would be more than thrilled with that. I didn’t subject the XC90 to a lot of busy traffic within the city, but when I did, the computer read 11 liters/100 km (22 mpg US/26 mpg UK) – which is still pretty good for real-world conditions, and I’m sure the D5 engine could have managed a lot better if my right foot would have been less heavy.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance test any of the car’s off-road abilities, nor did I put its 23.7 cm (9.3 inches) ground clearance to good use. But then again, neither do most premium SUV owners. The XC90’s ground clearance is tied with the all-new Q7’s for best-in-class by the way – and no, let’s not mention the Range Rover Sport’s off road mode setting which pretty much takes the crown, because that would kind of screw up the point I was trying to make. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it myself then. Oh well…
So…to sum up
In conclusion, Volvo’s all-new XC90 is a very good car. It’s beautiful to look at, beautiful to sit in and it’s great to drive. Before I took the car back, I talked to a former colleague of mine that also reviews cars for a living, because he had the chance to drive the new Q7 and I was curious about what he had to say. He went on and on about how amazing the Audi’s ride is, regardless of speed. And of course how great that interior is. Maybe it is better than the XC90, I don’t know as I haven’t driven the new Q7 yet. What I do know though is that right now, I wouldn’t buy any of the following SUVs over the all-new XC90: Mercedes GLE, BMW X6, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, VW Touareg, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus RX and I’ll even add the Q7 (though it might end up being best-in-class) because I don’t think it looks all that great.
At the end of the day, for me it would come down to either the XC90, the BMW X5 or the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe (just because I think it’s going to stir a lot of people up with its awesome looks). But if we leave out the “Coupe”, I’d have to choose between the XC90 and the X5 and I seriously can’t decide.