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Volvo XC90 tested on UK roads

Second-generation Volvo XC90 is a major step forward and Volvo’s best weapon yet in establishing the brand as a true premium manufacturer

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What is it?
All-new version of premium Volvo XC90 SUV

Key features
Higher quality, more safety, more tech

Our view
The second-generation Volvo XC90 is a major step forward and Volvo’s best weapon yet in establishing the brand as a true premium manufacturer.

Volvo claims that when launched in 2002 the XC90 revolutionised the SUV market, and the model has certainly been a major success.

It has sold 636,000 globally, 55,000 in the UK alone, and is a luxury SUV that has become a signature model for the Swedish brand – in fact, some think that Volvo is the XC90 and nothing else.

All of which makes replacing it an even bigger challenge. The market is now far more congested, with big hitters such as the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 regarded as prime rivals – because the XC90 is the one Volvo that really competes on level terms with the established German premium brands.

This can be seen in the level of XC90 pre-orders, which numbered 36,000 across the world before the new car launched, including 3,500 in the UK. Clearly, customers are expecting something special.

They will not be disappointed – the new XC90 is not only thoroughly competent but impressive in all areas – from the looks, through the sumptuous interior, to the latest versions of Volvo’s revolutionary Drive-E engines, the impressive tech and of course the safety levels the brand is renowned for.

The new XC90 is both the first model built on Volvo’s new ‘Scaleable Product Architecture’ (SPA) platform and the first to employ the brand’s latest in-house created design language – many dub it Volvo’s first ‘entirely Volvo’ car.

And it is perhaps this that surprises slightly, because while these days Volvo is setting standards in most areas, it is still not the first brand most would mention when looking for examples of design.

Yet the new XC90 looks both purposeful and muscular, with notable detailing right down to the sculpted tail lights and the ‘Thor hammer’ symbols in the daytime running lights.

Slip inside and it just gets better. Fit and finish is exemplary, as good as anything the established premium brands can offer, but what immediately stands out is the centre console, where clearly the designers have refused to follow the herd and instead looked to see if there was a better way.

That ‘better’ way involves turning the centre touchscreen (nine-inch in the entry-level Momentum versions, 12 inches in the upper Inscription trim) through 90 degrees. The vertical format will be familiar to anyone who uses a tablet such as an iPad, and on it the four main control functions are tiled – using it soon becomes second nature.

The touchscreen combines with technology advances such as a head-up display to both simplify the dash layout – there are only eight actual buttons – and make it more attractive, while the rest of the interior maintains the standard.

The new XC90 is larger than its predecessor – the length extended by 143mm to 4950mm, the width up by 28mm to 2140mm, while a combination of the new platform and a four-cylinder only powertrain line-up means a smaller engine bay, shorter overhangs and more interior space. This is one seven-seat SUV in which fully-grown adults can really be comfortable in the back row.

Much has been written on The Car Expert about Volvo’s drive-E engine range and the XC90 takes full advantage. At launch, the options are a diesel D5 unit of 221bhp and a 315bhp T6 petrol, but before long they will be joined by the T8 Twin Engine petrol-electric plug-in hybrid.

This will be a truly impressive powerplant – it mates a 313bhp petrol engine with an 81bhp electric motor, the combined output 394bhp. This produces a sub six-second 0-62mph time, official fuel economy of 112.9mpg and CO2 emissions of under 60g/km – all in a large, all-wheel-drive, SUV.

But that is in the future and both the existing engines are plenty good enough. On paper the spec is encouraging. The D5 twin-turbo diesel will account for three quarters of all UK sales. It’s almost half a litre smaller than the 2.4 unit in the previous XC90, yet offers 11 more horsepower while CO2 emissions are slashed from 215g/km to 149g/km.

The petrol alternative is equally impressive – 10bhp more than the last V8 petrol engine in an XC90, but with emissions almost halved. The only oddity is the somewhat high-pitched engine note from the four-cylinder unit – but it’s hardly intrusive.

More importantly, both engines offer the combination of potency and refinement that is an essential if the XC90 is to seriously challenge the premium German rivals. The diesel perhaps could be a little more punchy in the mid range, but it will more than satisfy typical XC90 owners.

The Volvo XC90 might be a full-time all-wheel-drive vehicle but it has been designed with the view that it will spend most of its time on the tarmac, and thus it produces a highly competent on-the-road performance, as was proved during the launch test around challenging Pennine moorland roads.

Ride quality is impeccable – it glides along in comfort and the suspension does a grand job of cushioning any bumps and potholes before they reach the cabin. Push the car with pace through a challenging set of corners and there will be some body roll, but notinh alarming and accompanied by stupendous grip levels.

The XC90 goes on sale initially in two newly designated trims, Momentum and Inscription – a more upmarket R-Design specification will follow three months later. Even the entry-level standard equipment list is impressive, including Sensus navigation (with internet access, traffic information and free lifetime updates), the nine-inch central touchscreen, LED Active Bending Headlights, Volvo’s On Call help system, ‘CleanZone’ air quality, hands-free tailgate opening, Keyless Entry and Drive, leather upholstery, a powered driver’s seat, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors and a DAB radio.

Not surprisingly the XC90 has an impressive suite of safety technology, its makers dubbing the car the safest Volvo ever built. Fitted as standard is the raft of City Safety technologies, including autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection and front collision warning, all of which will now keep on working after dark.

Safety also forms an extensive part of the options list, with Lane Keeping Aid, Driver Alert Control, Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Collision Mitigation all on offer, along with two new systems dubbed world first by Volvo.

Run off-road protection detects when the car has inadvertently left the road and automatically tightens the front safety belts. The front seats also have an absorption unit built into the frame which reduces vertical forces by up to one-third and cuts the likelihood of spinal injuries.

Auto brake at junctions will brake the XC90 if the driver inadvertently turns in front of an oncoming car – common at urban junctions and on dual carriageways.

Other options will major on the lifestyle elements of the car, including two bdy styling kits majoring on whether the particular XC90 lives a more ‘urban’ or ‘rugged’ life.

The second-generation XC90 is a major step forward and Volvo’s best weapon yet in establishing the brand as a true premium manufacturer. Any niggles are minor – the car is seriously impressive in all areas and rivals should take serious note of it.

Volvo XC90 – key specifications

Model Tested: Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription
On Sale: June 2015
Range price: £45,750 – £63,705
Insurance group: From 33E
Engines: 2.0 diesel, 2.0 petrol, 2.0 hybrid
Power (bhp): 221, 315, 407
Torque (lb/ft): 345, 295, 295
0-62mph (sec): 7.8, 6.5, 5.6
Top speed (mph): 137, 143, 140
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 49.6, 36.7, 134.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149*, 179*, 49*
Key rivals: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery
Test Date: June 2015
* = entry-level models

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.