Worth the wait

How Swede it is: The truck-size Volvo from China hits the spot

The Advertiser - Motoring - - THE TICK -

IT has taken far too long to get a new Volvo XC90 on the road in Aus­tralia. The orig­i­nal was se­verely lack­ing in sev­eral ar­eas from day one, as any­one who ever at­tempted a U-turn in a nar­row street — or any reg­u­la­tion park­ing op­er­a­tion — quickly dis­cov­ered.

Did I also men­tion it was as slow as a tug­boat? And I first drove one back in the dark ages, around 2004?

But now we have the new one, which has won de­sign awards around the world, and it brings a new world or­der and a new di­rec­tion for a brand which is very dif­fer­ent to­day from even the re­cent past.

Volvo is still the safety-first car com­pany, with a freshlystamped five-star ANCAP rat­ing in Aus­tralia, but it’s also about de­sign and qual­ity. And did I men­tion China?

That’s right, Volvo of Swe­den is now part of Geely of China, which is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing if it brings the cash and back­ing for its Euro­pean arm to do what it does best. We’ve al­ready seen how this sort of deal can be a win-win for the com­pa­nies and cus­tomers through Jaguar and Land Rover, which are owned by Tata of In­dia.

But I’m get­ting off the track.

The XC90 is a ground-up rein­ven­tion of the Swedish SUV and the start of a new gen­er­a­tion of prod­ucts.

It’s big and bulky, as you’d ex­pect of a three-row fam­ily hauler, but also sur­pris­ingly el­e­gant. The cabin lay­out and de­sign is very good, al­though some of the ma­te­ri­als are not up to the qual­ity stan­dard of ear­lier Volvo flag­ship mod­els.

It also gets along pretty well, copes with most Aussie road haz­ards, and brings the sort of ex­tra ben­e­fits — from an iPad­style in­fo­tain­ment pack­age and a wide-screen dig­i­tal dash dis­play to 360-de­gree cam­era view — ex­pected in a car that must go up against the all-new Audi Q7, bench­mark BMW X5 and up­dated and re­named Mercedes GLE.

But the price is quite high, as the ba­sic $89,950 is in­flated to $106,875 for the T6 In­scrip­tion with ex­tras — in­clud­ing a $2950 panoramic glass sun­roof — that ar­rives for The Tick test.

I won­der if non-Volvo peo­ple will be look­ing at the bot­tom line and go­ing to a Ger­man ri­val, par­tic­u­larly the new Q7, to stay on fa­mil­iar ground.

But the new XC 90 is a se­ri­ous seven-seater ma­chine with im­proved ac­cess to the third row, and also with more body width to im­prove the com­fort, and I like lit­tle things like the pop-up booster seats which are built in as stan­dard equip­ment.

Those boost­ers re­flect a holis­tic ap­proach to safety that is in­grained at Volvo in ev­ery­thing from the ba­sic body struc­ture through to the rearview cam­era, auto safety brak­ing, seven-airbag cabin pack­age and new tech­nol­ogy that can de­tect an im­pend­ing rollover and even brake if you ac­ci­den­tally turn across in front of an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle.

My early min­utes in the XC90 are a bit con­fus­ing, even though the ba­sic lay­out and con­trols are fa­mil­iar Volvo stuff. That’s be­cause there are lots of but­tons to learn and the in­fo­tain­ment screen is very Ap­ple — with swipes and pinches and stuff — that takes some learn­ing and ad­just­ment.

The petrol-pow­ered XC90 is a lit­tle nois­ier than I ex­pect, per­haps be­cause the 2-litre four across the nose is boosted by both a su­per­charger and turbo. But things calm down once I get above 60km/h and there is im­pres­sive re­sponse from the lights.

The big Volvo is truck sized and has truck-like carry ca­pac­ity, but it never feels as hulky as the Toy­ota Prado that re­cently came away with­out a Tick. It’s heavy, which can hurt the econ­omy in the city and sub­urbs, but it feels as car­like as its direct ri­vals in the up­per end of the SUV stakes.

The eight-speed au­to­matic is very good, with lots of ra­tios to en­sure per­for­mance with re­laxed high­way tour­ing, but I’m not sure about the need for all-wheel drive un­less you in­tend tow­ing. And, if you do, the ca­pac­ity is only 2250kg, which is less than I ex­pect for some­thing in the XC90 class.

The steer­ing is very light at first, but you ad­just quickly. It’s never as re­spon­sive as an X5 or Q7, and the ride can get a lit­tle harsh at times on the 20-inch al­loys, but the turn­ing cir­cle is good and it’s easy to park.

On the in­side, the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is big and im­pres­sive, I like the dig­i­tal dash­board, the air­con works ex­cel­lently and the fo­cus on de­sign means it’s a nice place to travel.

Af­ter a week with the XC90 I’m won over, even though the pack­age is not as driver friendly as an X5 or as ful­some as the loaded GLE. I’m yet to do Tick time with the Q7, but I’m also ex­pect­ing the Audi will have the edge in some ar­eas.

But, late as it is, the new Volvo is an im­pres­sive ef­fort and a pointer to good things to come from a com­pany which has al­ways done im­pres­sive work. It’s a Swede that definitely de­serves The Tick.

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