The second generation Volvo XC90 aims to make the most of its sleek Swedish design values. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Less is most definitely not more when it comes to the second generation Volvo XC90. Bigger, bolder and more technologically advanced than ever, it's a long way removed from its low-key predecessor. The interior's beautifully finished and the focus is on downsized, efficient engines.
The Volvo XC90 is just about the perfect example of a vehicle that created a niche for itself that no rival could seem to penetrate. If you wanted a 7-seat luxury 4x4 that was never really a sports utility vehicle, that was supremely comfortable and, above all, was neither shouty like a German nor trying too hard to fit in with the country set like a Land Rover, it was plum perfect. Nothing even got close.
Because of this, the first generation XC90 hung around for ages. After all, why mess with a winning formula?
Later versions, sold right up to 2014, tidied up the basic formula but were otherwise much the same as the models that first rolled into dealers in 2002. That's one heck of an innings. At least though, it paved the way for something different. There was no way that the scond generation XC90 would be a mere 'evolutionary' design. Even so, few were ready for quite the radical change Volvo's Chinese owners Zhejiang Geely have funded. The low-key approach of old? It's fair to say that has been usurped by a much more extrovert look.
Key to understanding the dynamics of this second generation XC90 is the fact that it runs on the all-new chassis based on Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). Yes, it's Volvo's take on the infinitely customisable chassis systems like Volkswagen's MQB and will inevitably underpin a whole host of next-generation models. In this guise, it's lighter, stronger and safer than the old XC90 chassis, but despite an increase in vehicle dimensions, this XC90 downsizes its engines. You'll find no Yamaha V8s this time round, just a range of engines from the marque's green-tinted Drive-E family.
The flagship engine is the 320PS T6 petrol, which utilises both turbo and supercharging, while most British customers will inevitably walk straight past that to look instead at the 225PS D5 twin turbodiesel. Both engines drive all four wheels via the almost obligatory eight-speed automatic transmission. The other option is the T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model, billed as 'the world's most powerful and cleanest SUV' This delivers a combined 412PS output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatchd in just 5.6s, yet this car can also gve you 26 miles of pure electric driving range when fully charged.
Design and Build
Whatever you think of Volvo's latest design direction, it's hard to ignore. The XC90 has a very big face. Even the 'iron mark' grille badge has been updated, while the headlamps now get T-shaped "Thor's Hammer" daytime running lights. The intricately shaped bonnet is an XC90 trope and that continues, blended into even more complex forms. The beltline and the sharpened shoulders connecting with the distinctive new rear lights are other design signatures that will be mirrored across the range. Wheels? They're big too, with alloys of up to 22 inches being offered.
The interior is even more boldly-styled, with a massive tablet-like touch screen control console helping to create an interior that is modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this XC90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including a gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors, the Swedish glassmaker, and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. This genuine seven seater features innovatively designed seats that also free up interior space for passengers in both the second and third seat rows. Even the third row can seat an adult up to 170cm tall.
Market and Model
All XC90 variants come with 7 seats, automatic transmission and AWD and there's a choice of three main models. Minority choices include a potent 320PS petrol turbo T6 and the unique T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid variant. Most UK buyers though, will want the volume 225PS D5 diesel version. D5 pricing starts at just over £45,000, while you'll need a budget from £50,000 if you opt for the T6. There's a choice of 'Momentum', 'R-Design' and 'Inscription' trim levels.
Top models can be ordered with features like 21-inch Inscription alloy wheels and powered, heated and ventilated seats trimmed in Nappa leather. Inside, the tablet-like touch screen in the centre console drives the minor controls and a whole host of Internet-based products and services. Audio services in the plushest variants come courtesy of a monster Bowers & Wilkins stereo that's juiced up by a 1,400 watt amplifier, 19 speakers, and the latest sound processing software. It even has air-ventilated subwoofers. The electronically controlled air suspension has choice of five modes, including one where the driver is free to tailor the settings to his or her personal taste.
XC90 safety gear includes a run off-road protection package which tightens seatbelts and activates energy-absorbing technology in the seats when the car detects challenging terrain ahead. Another system is the auto-braking feature, which cuts in if a driver pulls out in front of oncoming traffic. Both safety systems aim to bring Volvo closer to its vision of nobody being seriously injured or killed in any of its vehicles by 2020.
Cost of Ownership
In the D5 diesel most will choose, expect 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 149g/km of CO2. Inevitably, these figures take a tumble in the more powerful T6 petrol variant, falling to 36.7mpg and 179g/km. If you want to do better, you'll need to look at the top T8 Twin Engine petrol plug-in hybrid model, which delivers 49g/km of CO2, 134mpg and up to 26 miles of pure electric driving range.
Depreciation will be a key consideration for potential owners. Aside from the V8 models, which drank like matelots on shore leave, the XC90 has tended to deliver excellent residual values. That was, in part, due to the bolstering effect of that durable body style. The radical latest car might well send values of existing XC90s down quite markedly, which will affect part-exchange values for those looking to trade up to the latest car. That'll be offset by the stronger residuals of this MK2 model, which will probably be some of the industry's best.
Well, it's certainly different. Volvo has responded to an explosion in the big SUV market by bringing us an XC90 that's unrecognisable from the former model. It's bigger, bolder and, yes, a little brasher but with Chinese owners and a Chinese market that loves big and shiny, that was perhaps inevitable. The Cotswold set might be disappointed by the extrovert exterior but it's hard not to love the sheer audacity of the XC90's cabin, complete with its tablet-style input screen, brilliant safety systems and continuing focus on comfort.
Clearly Volvo's punt is that for every existing XC90 buyer who finds the latest car infra dig, there will be countless more attracted to the marque, and these will probably be valuable conquest sales from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative. This XC90 is Volvo's natural progression.