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