Size matters and the size of the SUV market in the UK still goes on growing, over 290,000 sales last year and sales of what the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders classify as Dual Purpose are up again so far this year.
Such is their popularity the Dual Purpose sector is the third largest in the UK’s new car market with B-segment Superminis such as the Ford Fiesta being top followed by C-segment Lower Medium models such as the Ford Focus.
Volvo expects their all-new XC90 large seven seater all wheel drive XC90 range flagship to continue its UK sales success with around 4,000 registrations sales in a full year and already it is reported that close to that figure has already been reached by early customers placing their orders for a new one.
Having seven seats the XC90’s main large sized SUV competitors are the equally new Audi Q7, the older Land Rover Discovery, the new Discovery Sport, the BMW X5, Range Rover Sport and the new-ish Kia Sorrento/Hyundai Santa Fe.
The original XC90 launched 13 years ago served the Swedish Volvo company well through its troubled times especially the plunging global economy period and the brand’s departure from Ford six years ago. This was followed by a life-saving purchase by the Chinese automotive operation of Geely who have been content to let the Swedes get on with developing new model ranges such as the XC90.
Larger, lighter, safer and less costly to run are core features of the latest XC90. It uses Volvo’s new modular platform with a greater proportion of it manufactured of hot-formed boron steel. The new platform uses shorter overhangs and a longer wheelbase so legroom is plentiful. The shorter front overhang is due to the more compact engine compartment which now only houses four cylinder engines.
Gone are the previous five cylinder units and now on offer are three choices – the T6 2.0-litre, four cylinder supercharged and turbocharged 320hp petrol, the best selling D5 2.0-litre, four cylinder 225hp turbodiesel and a very low CO2 emissionT8 Hybrid variant which has the same petrol engine has the T5 but it is boosted by an 87hp electric motor and both together produce 640Nm of torque. Whilst the petrol unit has CO2 emissions of 179g/km, the turbodiesel reduces these to 149 or 152g/km and the petrol/electric hybrid to just 49g/km.
Each of these power units is available with a choice of three equipment levels – Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. All have eight-speed automatic transmissions, on demand all wheel drive and hill descent control as standard plus driving mode selector for Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Off-Road settings. Prices range from £45,750 to £63,705.
I have just had my first test drive with the D5 turbodiesel AWD but with the top level Inscription specification and this version is priced at £50,185. Opting for the most popular Momentum spec with the same engine will cost £4,435 less and it is still well equipped. The standard XC90 equipment includes a 9.0-inch centre console touch screen, three rows of seats making seven seats in total, navigation system with full European mapping, Volvo On-Call, LED active bending headlights with automatic high beam, air conditioning, power operated tailgate, keyless entry and start, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, Volvo City Safe system which includes pedestrian and cycle detection, front end collision warning, full automatic emergency braking and off-road underbody protection.
In true premium brand style the XC90 has a number of extra cost option packs and other accessories. These include a £1,175 Winter Pack which consists of heated front seats, electrically heated front windscreen and heated front washers. A £1,500 Intellisafe Pro Pack includes adaptive cruise control with distance alert, queue assist, lane keeping aid, blind spot alert and cross traffic warning and rear collision mitigation. The Xenium Pack costing £2,000 adds a power operated tilt and slide panoramic glass sunroof, 360-degree parking camera and park assist for parallel and kerb parking. There is also a £275 Family Pack for greater creature comforts and a Seven Seat comfort Pack which include 4-Zone air-con at £900. The all important spare wheel and jack will add another £150. My test car also had a £3,000 Sensus Connect and Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system which is nice but not necessary. That pushed the final price of my test vehicle up to £60,580 – a heavyweight price for a heavyweight SUV.
One option I would take is the £2,150 electrically controlled air suspension which apparently refines and smoothes out the ride, reduces the road roar noise intrusion and you don’t feel the bumps and suspension clunks on potholed and patched-up road surfaces. It also raises the body height when Off-Road driving mode is selected. The ride quality and noise intrusion over poorer roads surfaces is the least impressive feature of the new XC90.The steering is precise and well weighted and the brakes strong to safely pull up this two-tonne monster SUV.
The exterior of the new XC90 is big, bold and muscular and it has a new smarter and larger front grille but still with the distinctive diagonal chrome bar. Flanking this are sleek all-LED active lights and distinctive daytime running lights that bisect them. At the rear is a huge tailgate flanked by vertical tail-lights that extend upwards towards the roof. Linking the front and rear is the Volvo signature ‘Catwalk’ shoulder line and the Inscription model runs on 20-inch alloy wheels.
Inside the XC90 is cavernous. The bodyshell is a shade under 5.0-metres in length but it is the near 2.0-metres width that makes it so roomy. The downside of this width is that the vehicle fills most side-by side car parking spaces even before the doors are opened. The close to 1.8-metres of height gives excellent headroom throughout the vehicles, especially important for adult passengers in the third (rear) row of seats. Being so long and tall with wide opening side rear doors makes access to the second and thirds row of seats relatively easy. Whilst on figures the new lighter-weight XC90 still weighs just over 2.0-tonnes and it has a braked towing capacity of 2,700kg.
The fascia panel and indeed the front cockpit are typically understated as we expect from Swedish brands from cars to furniture to TVs. Most things are well positioned and in particular the centre console located start switch which you turn left or right for on and off. The revolving bar control which selects the driving modes is positioned in the same area. Right in the centre of the fascia is a vertical large 9.0-inch touchscreen which operate the multimedia functions plus heating and ventilation controls. It is relatively intuitive to use but it has drawbacks such as the driver having to be too involved in selecting the right menu whist driving which goes against Volvo’s DNA of safety. The screen soon becomes smeared with fingerprints and an on-going concern is the reliability of these computer based functions. This is not just a Volvo issue, but what happens if he screen unit/commuter fails, how do you operate the functions then and if it outside the warranty period – what cost to replace it? On the subject of faults, the new XC90 is already subject to a recall due to a potential problem with the curtain airbags for the third row of seats but the vehicle has just been awarded a Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating.
At the heart of the XC90 is the new D5 2.0-litre four cylinder, 225hp twin-scroll turbodiesel engine. Having two boost modes the powerband is broad with an impressive 470Nm of torque from 1,750rpm and the slick action and seamless change eight-speed auto gearbox keeps the engine speed low except when a burst of acceleration speed is needed. There is also a mode to operate manual gearchanges. A potential downside for use by some enthusiastic drivers is the lack of steering column mounted gearshift paddles. The new engine however is a much improved unit over the old five cylinder unit. There is some initial engine roar under acceleration but that diminishes quickly and the engine goes on pulling really strongly and it is really punchy for acceleration. Of the new generation of 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines on the market today it is probably the most impressive for response, smoothness and performance. Top speed for this two-tonner SUV is 137mph and zero to 62mph takes an impressively low 7.8-seconds. Officially this unit will return 48.7mpg in the Combined Cycle but even with me driving mainly in the Eco mode my week long test driving which include all types of roads and conditions only returned 35.6mpg. Compared to the official figure this was disappointing so its size and weight ultimately has the final say as far as fuel economy is concerned. The CO2 emissions are 152g/km for this top-spec version so VED road tax is £180 every year and company car executives will be in the 28% Benefit-in-Kind Tax rate. Insurance is rated as Group 34.
Of its main contenders the BMW X5 is the sharpest handling on tarmac but not that capable off-road, the Range Rover Sport is good on and off road but not that roomy, the Land Rover Discovery is best for off-road work but cumbersome on-road and the XC90 is very roomy and good enough both on and off-road to be the best overall option. The new Audi Q7 has yet to be put through its paces by me but it might be a contender because of the brand’s desirability but I do not expect it to excel in any particular area.
The previous generation Volvo XC90 served the public well for a long time whether they were town or country folk using it for family bus transport or in a business working environment – whether that was a farm or as motorway wagon. The new and improved one will do the same.
MILESTONES: New Volvo XC90, D5 AWD, Inscription 7-seat SUV. Price: £50,185 (£60,580 as tested). Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre diesel, 4-cylinder, twin-scroll turbocharger, 225hp, 470Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 8-speed auto with manual mode, on demand AWD. Performance: 137mph 0-62mph 7.8-seconds, 48.7mpg Combined Cycle (35.6mpg on test), CO2 152g/km, VED road tax £180, BIK company car tax 28%. Insurance group: 34. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,950mm, W 1,923mm, H 1,776mm, boot/load space 451 to 1,868-litres, braked towing weight 2,700kg. For: Huge and very roomy, user-friendly for multiple passenger carrying, strong engine, tax friendly running costs, slick auto gearbox, well equipped, safe and sound family transport. Against: Recent re-call because of a potential curtain airbag issue for the third row of seats, unsettled and noisy ride unless the air suspension option is taken, too many functions are operated via the large touchscreen and the screen soon gets smeary with fingerprints, real-life fuel economy was well short of the official figure. Miles Better News agency