How good is the diesel-powered Volvo XC90 on the highway? To find out, I have subjected it to my own commute of 70-odd kilometres at mostly highway speeds. Multiple times.
Our example is an XC90 D5 R-Design, with a few accessories thrown in: Nubuck leather seats, Premium Pack (panoramic sunroof, premium sound system and tinted rear windows) and optional adaptive suspension.
D5 denotes a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel under the bonnet, which uses two turbochargers to develop 177kW at 4000rpm and 500Nm from 1500–2500rpm.
That thick band of torque helps the Volvo feel peppy and unencumbered around town, and especially off from a standing start. The worst criticism I can level is an odd surge when accelerating, and the Volvo is caught downshifting when you need the power. Such is the nature of high output, lower-capacity vehicles.
When you’re on the open road, the eight-speed gearbox does a decent job of hiding that relatively small capacity, making decisions briskly and giving you enough go-forward. While it’s not dripping with grunt, there is enough power for dual-carriageway overtaking, for example.
Where the engine is most happy is right amongst that wave of torque, which leaves the XC90 feeling relaxed on the highway cruise. It’s quiet and impressively refined for a diesel power plant, as well.
Listed fuel economy for the XC90 is 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle, but that’s something we haven’t been able to replicate in the real world. Our long-term number is 9.3L/100km, which has been mostly town driving. This is a bit higher than the 6.3L/100km that Volvo quotes for urban driving.
On the highway, the fuel economy figure we got was as low as 6.3L/100km, which is not too far off the quoted 5.6L/100km.
Along with the usual suspects of adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, the XC90 also has a semi-autonomous mode called ‘Pilot Assist’. It’s a more pro-active system, steering around mild corners, holding your set speed and keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
I noticed the system has a tendency to sit on the passenger side of the lane, which can make you feel a little bit cosy with other vehicles on multi-lane highways. Maybe people much smarter than me have figured out that this is the safest place for a vehicle in a lane, and I think part of the problem was also my apprehension of trusting the machine completely to stay in the lane. Once you put your faith in the system, Pilot Assist is impressive.
There’s additional safety technology, of course. Blind-spot monitoring works well, and autonomous emergency braking works for animals, cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles alike, day and night.
There’s a raft of additional, smaller details that Volvo has included in the XC90, which are impressive and too numerous to run through here. I’m talking about things like run-off mitigation, boron steel and energy-absorbing seat structures, for example. Safe to say, Volvo covets its reputation for being right at the forefront of vehicle safety.
One option that has been ticked with the XC90 is ‘Air Suspension with Four-C Chassis’. This is airbag suspension in the rear end, with adaptive dampers at all four corners. That means you have adjustability in the ride, which changes according to the conditions and selectable driving modes.
While the steel-sprung XC90 can be a little firm, the addition of adjustable gear underneath leaves it feeling smooth and mostly plush over bumps and rough surfaces, particularly when you consider the 22-inch wheels and 275/35 rubber.
You have a Dynamic driving mode to utilise when you want to firm things up and reduce body roll, but I don’t think I ever used it beyond checking to see if it did anything. While the XC90 does have tidy steering and handling characteristics, for me it’s all about the ride refinement.
Tyre pressure monitoring is a handy feature to have, as well. We used it first-hand when a rear tyre picked up a big nail and developed a slow leak. When you have so much wheel and not much tyre, it was difficult to tell the difference between 40psi and 32psi by just looking.
There's plenty of refinement on offer in the cabin, as well. R-Design specification gives you flash bucket seats that look racy, but are supportive and comfortable. The simple overall design works well, and is nicely finished off with some quality touchpoints.
While it's not cheap, special mention must go to the Bowers & Wilkins sound system, which we get as part of the $5500 Premium Pack. There's 1400 watts, 19 speakers, a 12-channel amplifier and a subwoofer. As a tool for whiling away long drives, thumping out your favourite tunes with clarity is hard to go past.
Aside from the fuel economy not reaching the same frugal figures that are quoted on the box, it’s difficult to raise any stern finger against the XC90.