Published on January 6th, 2016 | by Subhash Nair


Volvo XC90 Review: The Shape of Things to Come

The Volvo XC90 is an SUV that will have the German competition running scared. While the big three certainly have distinct design philosophies, put their SUV offerings next to this Volvo, and suddenly they all seem to look like variations of the same vehicle. That’s what the XC90 offers – the power to stand out in a crowd without having to pay a price premium. Yes, even with everything that it offers, the XC90 is still quite a bit cheaper than its competitors. The ML from Mercedes, X5 from BMW and the recently launched Q7 facelift from Audi are all over RM500,000. The XC90 starts at just RM453,880.

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It’s not cheap, but it’s extremely well priced for what you get. And what you get is nothing short of a glimpse into the future of motoring.

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The original XC90 was a handsome thing. It made Volvo’s transition from passenger cars to SUVs one of the most graceful in history. Clarkson owned 3 XC90s and sang praises of its practicality, which the world agreed on. It quickly became Volvo’s best selling vehicle and became the benchmark for all luxury SUVs from the continent for more than a decade. The car was so successful that it’s still being made alongside this second-gen model as the ‘XC Classic’, but only for certain markets.

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This new XC90 takes a very different approach to design. It’s definitely Scandinavian on the inside, but if it wasn’t wearing Volvo badges, there’s very little to indicate where the car’s from. Perhaps this is because the XC90 is the first of many new Volvos to sport the company’s new design language. It’s still not shouty, but it gives up clean lines for strong curves. At the front though, that thick, chrome grille feels more North American than Swedish.

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The ‘Thor’s Hammer’ Daytime Running Light (DRL) shape makes up for the lacklustre metalwork. Not only are the DRLs extremely eye-catching, but they also turn orange when acting as signal lights. It’s an extremely cool transition. Yes, some other cars do this – and many do it better (the Ford Mondeo and Lexus RX are good examples), but we fully expect that the XC90 will be the one to set the trend. It’s just that important. Oh, and the headlights bend, pointing where the tyres are facing – which is a great safety feature but mostly very cool in practice.

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There’s also something to be said about the paint quality and material choices on the XC90. Just like on most cars in this price bracket, they’re excellent. But Volvo isn’t keen on settling on ‘excellence’. They’ve gone the extra mile to bring us something special. The car shines, no matter what time of day it is, which makes it extremely photogenic. The interior, well that deserves a paragraph of its own.

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The XC90 we tested came with the Inscription package. Blonde Perforated Leather upholstery covers all 7 seats and large sections of the doors. We were also treated to matte-finished walnut wood inlays, which looked absolutely stunning against the charcoal interior and metal trim pieces. It was definitely a breath of fresh air to see a company use unique, real-feeling materials and alternate mould patterns for plastic surfaces. Sitting in the cabin feels like walking into a CEO’s office – everything within an arms reach looks and feels expensive. Instead of a ‘Push-to-Start’ button, on the centre console is a diamond-cut engine start-stop selector, with a similarly patterned Drive Mode selector wheel just a few inches south.

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The centrepiece of this elegant cabin is the gear selector. It’s not wrapped in leather or made to masquerade as a wiper stalk.

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Instead Volvo have commissioned Orrefors of Sweden to craft a crystal piece to be used as a gear selector. It’s pretty ingenious, and looks fantastic when illuminated by the ambient lighting at night. One downside though is that Volvo have made it impossible to tell what gear you’re in by looking at the selector itself. That information is displayed on the instrument cluster itself (which incidentally, is fully digital). The selector controls a new but familiar 8-speed automatic gearbox – one that has all the efficiency benefits of a dual-clutch transmission without the low-speed harshness.

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The 8-speed is a perfect fit for this powertrain. Volvo have added a ‘B’ mode in place of a ‘Sports’ mode. The ‘B’ pertains to engine braking. Since the XC90 carries both a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, everytime the vehicle decelerates, energy is harvested and stored. By shifting the car into ‘B’, the XC90 begins decelerating as soon as the accelerator pedal is disengaged. It’s a slightly odd feel, but for those who want to quickly charge the electric motor, this can be useful.

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Even in ‘D’, there are a number of drive modes to go with. ‘Save’ mode uses only the petrol engine, and allows the driver to recover energy for later use. ‘Pure’ maximises the use of the electric motor. Ideally, this is for those who plan to plug their vehicles in for charging. With the battery at 100%, ‘Pure’ mode allows reasonable performance – though perhaps not sustained highway speeds – for short distances using nothing but the electric motor. Of course, if the threshold is crossed, the petrol engine kicks in and does the work.

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In ‘Hybrid’ mode, both petrol and electric power are utilised to create a balanced, fuel-efficient ride. This is the XC90’s default setting, and definitely the least complicated to think about. The electric reserves will usually be replenished often enough during coasting and braking to serve throughout the journey, making plugged-in charging less of a necessity. There are also All-wheel drive and Individual modes which are self-explanatory.

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Sports mode is where the excitement is. Here, the energy meter changes into a regular old tachometer, and the air suspension lowers and stiffens for better control around the bends. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the 2.0-litre twin charged 4-pot had what it took to propel the 7-seater at very respectable speeds. We can’t help but feel that the electric motor’s assistance and immediate torque are crucial to how well the SUV performs. After all, this SUV puts out almost as much torque as the McLaren 650S we reviewed last week!

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Braking though, is a more complicated matter. The XC90 has a slightly artificial brake feel. It’s not at all progressive, which can make things feel a little out of hand when you’re anticipating smooth deceleration but end up misjudging the whole approach. After getting used to the elasticity and resistance of the pedal though, I found that it actually made sense. Instead of the driver feeling for brake pedal characteristics, the pedal was feeling for driver input. Soft input gives you mild braking and slamming the thing down brings the car to a full stop. Though mechanically detached, it’s still undoubtedly the safer approach for the majority of drivers.

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Safety is of course a primary concern of Volvos. IntelliSafe is the company’s suite of safety equipment that keeps the car from collision. It does this by alerting the driver to dangers or applying the brakes automatically to mitigate a collision. BLIS makes its appearance here also. If a vehicle is in your blind spot, an orange indicator lights up in the side mirror. If your turn signal is on while this happens, the orange indicator flashes wildly to get your attention. It’s simple, effective and gets the attention of the other guy as well. Driver aids are pretty much everywhere here. The car has limited self-parking capabilities, and a heads-up projection provides very useful information without distracting attention.

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Navigation and infotainment is second to none in the XC90. HERE maps comes preloaded, and since the car’s always connected, it always works without a hitch. A small map is automatically displayed between the instrument clusters for easy reference. The vertically-aligned touch screen has slightly cluttered menus, but it does give the driver full control of the vehicle through a single interface. You can even adjust the front passenger seat or drop the rear headrests with it.

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The Volvo XC90 is a family-oriented SUV at the end of the day though. It is exclusive and luxurious enough for those who prefer to be chauffeured around. There’s enough space for 5 beefy adults and 2 children, but if you’ve got 7 average sized adults the first two rows of seats can be pushed a little forward to make allowances. As you’d expect, seating is extremely comfortable, even at the rear. If cargo’s to be hauled, the 2nd and 3rd row of seats fold flat and the entire vehicle can be lowered with just a press of a button.

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All-in-all, we found the XC90 to be a worthy successor to the original. It shares the original’s spirit of practicality and subtle luxury, but really brings a whole lot more to the game in terms of technology, handling and efficiency. Nothing comes close, and it’s probably making a lot of German carmakers scratch their heads asking themselves, “Why didn’t we do that?”.

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Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Specifications

Engine: Plug-in Hybrid with 2-litre I4 Petrol Supercharged and Turbocharged + Electric Motor

Displacement:  1969cc

Transmission:  8-Speed Automatic

Max power: 407 HP

Max torque: 640 Nm

Top Speed: 230km/h

0-100km/h: 5.6 secs

Price: RM453,880.00



About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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