Va-va-Volvo

Can the new Volvo take on the big boys? Jus­tus Vis­agie test-drives the com­pany’s new SUV

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If, 20 years ago, some­one had said to­day’s most de­sir­able car would be a square, bulky, four-wheel drive, peo­ple would have prob­a­bly laughed at the idea. And yet here we are in 2015 and the sta­tus sym­bol on wheels is a Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover or a BMW X5. There are many rea­sons for their pop­u­lar­ity, in­clud­ing prac­ti­cal­ity and a per­cep­tion of safety.

When these obese sta­tion wag­ons come up in con­ver­sa­tion, one brand is sel­dom men­tioned: Volvo.

Volvo did have a con­tender, the XC90. It went on sale here more than 12 years ago and over time had to watch the likes of the X5, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz ML eat its din­ner as it faded into ob­scu­rity.

The brand-new Volvo XC90 is a very im­por­tant car for the Swedish man­u­fac­turer. It be­lieves it can take the fight to the oth­ers and also deal with pend­ing en­trants to the mer­ci­less sports util­ity ve­hi­cle (SUV) arena from Jaguar, Maserati and oth­ers.

You might think Volvo is delu­sional, but re­serve judge­ment be­cause the XC90 is quite an achieve­ment.

To be­gin with, Volvo de­signed the rear of the ve­hi­cle very clev­erly. The parts that con­nect the wheels to the car, col­lec­tively called the sus­pen­sion, use one long, low­po­si­tioned leaf spring at the rear wheels in­stead of two up­right coil springs.

The ben­e­fit is that there are no tra­di­tional springs re­quir­ing lots of ver­ti­cal space.

When the third row of seats is pulled from the floor of the car’s enor­mous boot, they can be used by adults.

If you’re taller than 1.7 me­tres, you might be rel­a­tively un­com­fort­able, but the XC90 sets a new stan­dard here. And, just as im­por­tant, the boot can still swal­low much more than two Louis Vuit­ton hand­bags, which is more or less the stan­dard for its com­peti­tors. So the XC90 can carry some lug­gage and seven peo­ple.

Take a seat. Yes, they’re still the most com­fort­able in the busi­ness and feel made-to-mea­sure. Trail your eyes and fin­gers over the in­te­rior, and you re­alise it matches and even sur­passes that of the Audi and Porsche. There are very few but­tons as most of the car’s gad­gets are con­trolled by a touch screen the size of a tablet com­puter. It works well – al­most as easily as an iPad. Start the en­gine, put the car into drive and set off. Two things soon be­come ev­i­dent: the ride qual­ity is comfy and the in­te­rior is eerily quiet. It feels safe be­cause it is.

Volvo has in­vented nu­mer­ous safety sys­tems and the latest, in­tro­duced in the XC90, pre­vents the driver from turn­ing into an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle at an in­ter­sec­tion.

Volvo main­tains its vi­sion that by 2020 no one should be killed or in­jured in its new cars.

There’s no doubt the XC90 is a su­perb mo­tor ve­hi­cle, on par with its Ger­man coun­ter­parts. But as a prod­uct, it is vul­ner­a­ble to the strength of the other brands, a history of dis­ap­point­ing re­sale val­ues (which could well change un­der its new MD) and prices that can be seen to be too steep.

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

DE­LI­CIOUS MON­STER Volvo takes the fight to its com­peti­tors with the in­tro­duc­tion of the new XC90

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