Can the new Volvo take on the big boys? Justus Visagie test-drives the company’s new SUV
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.
DELICIOUS MONSTER Volvo takes the fight to its competitors with the introduction of the new XC90