2015 Volvo XC90 Review

The relaunch of the Volvo brand starts with the new seven-seat XC90
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There has perhaps never been a more important car for the Swedes than the all-new 2015 Volvo XC90.

Since the introduction of the original XC90 in 2002, the Scandinavian car-maker has sold an impressive 636,000 units, around 15,000 of which found homes in Australia.

The new Volvo XC90 is not just the launch of a new luxury SUV. It’s the relaunch of Volvo as a brand under new Chinese ownership with significant investment.

The pricing and positioning of the large SUV ($89,950 to $122,950, both plus on-road costs) is dead on against the recently launched BMX X5, the soon to be updated Audi Q7 (new model in September) and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLE (replacing the ML later this year). You can read our full pricing and specification story here.

It’s a risky move for Volvo to pit its wares against the established German trio, but considering what the Swedes have managed to engineer and design, it may just work.

From the outside the XC90 is an unashamedly modern-looking vehicle. The futuristic headlights with their horizontally strong daytime running lights, which Volvo says were inspired by Thor’s hammer, will become the face of the company going forward.

The rear shares strong resemblance to existing Volvo product, but evolves the design even further. Even the company’s logo has been updated, making the iron mark more in sync with the lines in the bonnet while de-emphasising the Volvo text inside. Overall, the design is not what one would call beautiful, but it stands out for all the right reasons.

But it’s the interior that really puts the segment on notice. It’s fair to say that against its current set of competitors, it’s the best in class in terms of fit-and-finish and the quality of material used, such as the jewellery like gearstick and the perfectly weighted knobs. Not to mention the large and high-resolution 12.3-inch infotainment screen.

That said, the driver-orientated infotainment system itself, which will support Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android auto, was a tad disappointing given Volvo’s choice of touchscreen technology.

Unlike nearly all other cars on the market, the XC90’s system works on light sensing technology rather than touch itself, meaning it’ll register input even if you have gloves on, but as a result it can be cumbersome, inaccurate and almost entirely different to your modern smartphone in terms of feel.

Owners will no doubt get used to it, but considering how rarely Australian drivers wear gloves, the disadvantages of the system outweigh its advantages.

Another issue is the single USB port, odd for a family orientated SUV, but it’s technically due to the brand’s decision to support CarPlay and hence not having the hardware to run multiple USB ports. There is a power out socket in the second row, so you can simply plug a USB wall charger with dual ports for the nagging kids low on iPad battery.

On another note, the 9.3-inch high-resolution instrument cluster screen is super clear with a digital speed read-out, and it updates rapidly with clear navigation information right where you need it.

There are some other unique approaches to the XC90’s interior, such as the knob that has to be turned for the car to be turned on, with Volvo having to adhere to changes in upcoming legislation that now prevent the placement of a push button start in the centre console.

The brand new front seats are a big highlight, being highly adjustable and a delight to sit on.

The second row comes with built-in standard booster seats, saving you cabin space, but you can also fit two ISOFIX child seats and still have enough room in the middle for an adult to sit comfortably.

Perhaps the most important selling point for the new XC90 is that it has seven actual seats. While the X5 offers a 5+2 configuration (the Mercedes is a five seater only), so that the third row can accommodate kids at best, the XC90 has seven usable seats, ones you can fit a person up to around 170cm in without much trouble. The new Q7 promises the same but we are yet to sample it.

We tried the third row (measuring 180cm tall) and found it adequate, for those measuring a tad lower, it can actually be a pleasant place to be with reasonable head and knee-room. The air-conditioning vents and controls for the rear passengers are also simple and easy to use.

There will initially be two 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines when the XC90 lands in August. The D5, with its turbo diesel that produces 165kW of power and 470Nm of torque (with a 5.8L/100km consumption figure) and the turbo (and supercharged) petrol T6, pumping out a very healthy 235kW and 400Nm (7.7L/100km).

Later in the year the pair will be joined by a T8 ‘Twin Engine’ plug-in hybrid powertrain that takes the T6’s petrol engine and adds a 60kW electric motor for a mighty 295kW and about 640Nm. Volvo claims a fuel economy figure of 2.6L/100km but that is entirely dependent on how far the car is driven, as it can do around 40km on pure electric mode from full charge.

For our review we headed an hour west of Barcelona in Spain for a series of highway, suburban and windy roads.

It’s important to note that all three engines, coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission, are excellent. They are a testament to what Volvo has been able to do all on its own without the support of a parent company.

The D5 is quick off the mark with outstanding torque delivery (though it’s a tad noisy at low speeds) while the T6 brings more performance than you’ll ever need from a family hauler.

Our T8 test cars were pre-production, but showed the potential for how fun a hybrid SUV can be with blistering acceleration (0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds) and smooth change between the petrol and electric drivetrains.

First impressions are that the XC90 is not as dynamic as the BMW X5, but that’s almost irrelevant considering buyers are likely to favour its creature comforts over cornering ability.

In saying that, we found the steering a tad vague at times (and poorly weighted) and the optional air suspension floaty in the D5 but more focused and faster to settle in the T6. The optional driveline selector allows a change to the steering weight, suspension setup and engine response using a centre-mounted selector.

The Spanish roads were far too smooth to get a real feel for how the XC90 might behave on poorly surfaced Australian tarmac, and Volvo supplied no cars with the standard steel suspension (which Volvo says is the balance between comfort and dynamic), meaning we will have to wait until the cars arrive locally before assessing ride comfort.

All our test cars (regardless of grade) were fitted with an optional $4000 driver support package, which adds 360-degree camera display, adaptive cruise control with lane keeping aid and a head-up display (HUD).

The extensive options list bares a striking resemblance to its German rivals, an area where Volvo would do well not to copy. In this case, taking the HUD out of the driver support package, the rest of the features should absolutely be standard across the range for a brand that has such strong emphasis on safety.

Speaking of which, the XC90 comes with seven airbags and is constructed from plenty of high-strength steel. Its active and passive safety features are second to none, including two world-first technologies: automatic braking at intersections and run off road protection.

Volvo says that while it scores very well in crash tests, it doesn’t design its cars just to pass tests, it designs them to protect occupants from real world scenarios – for which it has been recording crash data since the 1970s. A unique selling point that potential Volvo buyers should strongly consider.

The significance of the new XC90 can’t be over emphasised, not only is the entire SUV new, but so are the three engine choices on offer. This is a rarity in an automotive world that works on cycles that seldom sees both car and drivetrains be updated together.

Overall we feel the new 2015 Volvo XC90 has been worth the long wait. It will give those seeking a luxury German SUV a genuine alternative in terms of technology, interior refinement, European flair and practicality.

Our 8/10 score is reflective of our test car’s extensive options list and that rather jittery ride, if the steel suspension proves more adequate for Australian roads, it may well get a higher rating.