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Car reviews - Volvo - XC90 - range

Our Opinion

We like
High quality, well executed interior, resolved and handsome exterior
Room for improvement
Standard suspension tune not up to par, some body flex, diesel underdone


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4 Aug 2015

VOLVO’S XC90 used to sit nicely between the large SUV segment, well underneath the German prestige brands but a little north of the more expensive mainstream models. It had seven seats, a reputation for safety, handsome looks and a European badge – and it sold well as a result.

In one fell swoop, the second-generation car has found itself thrust right into the heart of the prestige battle, with the point of entry into the XC90 jumping some $30,000 at the base. It’s now up against the mid-range BMX X5 25d, Audi’s soon-to-be-replaced Q7 and Mercedes-Benz’s ML400 (and forthcoming GLE equivalent).

Initially, the XC90 will start at a shade under $90,000 before on-road costs… and before a long list of options are brought into play. While its standard level of kit is pretty robust, you need to tick a few boxes to make the most of the package.

For example, it has a very sophisticated suite of electronics that include a City Safety package that can spot cyclists, pedestrians and cars before you do, day or night, as well as applying the brakes if you get it wrong at an intersection.

You need to pay more for adaptive cruise control that can take over from you in stop-start traffic, lane keeping (standard in much lesser competitor's vehicles), and more again to get blind-spot warning and cross-traffic detection.

There is a $4000 pack that gets you all this, plus a 360-degree camera and a head-up display. In a $60,000 rig, that’s acceptable, but for a $90,000 SUV, it’s a pretty steep ask.

There’s another optional extra that should be high on the list for prospective buyers, though. Standard, the XC90 is equipped with steel-sprung front suspension and a novel transverse composite leaf spring set-up in the rear.

An adaptive air suspension kit is available for $3760, and GoAuto would tick that box every day and twice on Sundays, based on our brief test drives.

In standard tune, the ride of the XC90 is simply not good enough for a premium-priced SUV. It’s too firmly sprung and not sufficiently well damped in either direction of travel to be comfortable, while its performance over even the smallest of holes or bumps does not become it. It fares even worse if larger rims from the option list are fitted, becoming downright unpleasant on coarse chip country roads.

Holes and undulations crash loudly through the body, even displaying a degree of shimmy throughout the cabin. We even quietly wondered whether a set of travel blocks used to secure cars for transport had been accidentally left in the car’s front springs, such was the performance over bumps.

Steering feel is great, road-holding is excellent as is its resistance to body roll, and its braking performance is top notch. It appears Volvo simply got the spring/shock numbers wrong for less than ideal roads – the sort frequently encountered in Australia.

Switching to an air-sprung version sees a 180-degree turnaround in performance.

Equipped with a multiple driving mode dial, the Comfort setting is soft and cosseting, while Dynamic is firm (still not as firm as the standard car!) and well controlled. It felt like an entirely different, much nicer car.

The two new engines also drew mixed reviews. With 165kW at 4250rpm and 470Nm of torque between 1750-2500rpm, the new four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel is a little down on the numbers to push 1970kg of seven-seater around. It struggles to get a head of steam up when rejoining a highway, for example, and its petrol sibling will see it off everywhere else.

It is unusual to see a petrol derivative cost more than a diesel, but the dual-charge T6 is worth the extra money. What it loses in economy – 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres as versus 6.2 – it makes up for in underfoot sparkle, and with 235kW and 400Nm to hand, it simply feels better everywhere, and has more character while doing it.

The eight-speed gearbox lacks either paddles or an override function on the stick, which is a pity, particularly on the petrol version.

Volvo has spent big on the interior of the XC90, though, and it shows.

Scandinavian simplicity and logic abounds, while clever and artful design lifts the cabin everywhere you look.

The all-new seats are brilliant, and even incorporate shock-absorbing technology should you be unlucky enough to run off the road and suffer an impact through the bottom of the car.

Second-row occupants are well looked after on the outside seats, but the centre seat is a child-only proposition. Luckily, that’s where Volvo has located its clever child seat booster cushion.

The third row features a pair of full size seats with proper headrests and armrests, but it should only be regarded as an option for smaller adults and kids. Volvo itself says it optimised for people under 170cm.

Those seats can be lowered flat into the floor and with all the seats down, there is 1868 litres of storage capacity, and the rear end of the car can ‘kneel’ down if the air suspension kit is optioned for easier loading.

The front pair of low-slung pews are powered in all directions, with extendable bases and adjustable side bolsters. They are supremely comfortable over a couple of hours, and can be optioned with heating and/or cooling.

The 9.0-inch portrait screen in the centre console has allowed Volvo to reduce the number of buttons on the centre stack to just nine (from an average of 30-35 in the previous version).

It operates the same way as a typical tablet so much so that one of the Volvo guys cheekily suggested that the owner’s kids should be roped in to show the folks how it works.

The central display controls all functions via three main screens, while individual buttons can be repositioned to taste. The steering wheel, too, houses a large number of functions, but it needs a period of acclimatisation to really get the most out of it.

Visibility all round is great, especially with – you guessed it, optional – tinted panoramic glass roof.

The cabin could probably do with at least one more USB port in the front, and it definitely needs at least one in the rear, though both back rows are well covered for bottle holders, hidey-holes and ventilation controls.

While we would have liked a little more time in the car, at first blush the eagerly awaited XC90 is perhaps not all that it could be, particularly considering the asking price.

Yes, development time has been short and overhead costs have been high, but perhaps a few items that were moved to the options list should have stayed on the ‘fitted as standard’ sheet.

Without question, we’d recommend the air suspension and the additional safety suite to get to most out of the new XC90.

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