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FUN FACT GOOD

WKND - - O N T H E R O A D - By Ge­orge Ku­ruvilla • The low­down on the hottest rides in town

he last Volvo XC90 we drove was the T6 vari­ant. It was a com­pe­tent 3- row SUV, launched af­ter Volvo came un­der the cor­po­rate stew­ard­ship of Chi­nese au­tomaker Geely. This time, we drive the T8 plug- in hy­brid, a ve­hi­cle more in line with Swe­den’s am­bi­tions of be­com­ing the world’s first fos­sil fuel- free na­tion.

DE­SIGN & AESTHETICS

The sec­ond- gen­er­a­tion Volvo XC90 was new for 2015 — and still looks brand new, thanks to its fu­tur­is­tic styling. The most ob­vi­ous de­vi­a­tion from its pre­de­ces­sor is its sil­hou­ette; Volvo aban­doned the light- duty SUV stance for a larger and mod­ern cross­over look, much like an Audi Q7. This min­i­mal­is­tic theme is more ad­vanced than Volvo’s con­fused state of de­sign — stuck be­tween square and round.

The XC90 has a con­spic­u­ous iden­tity, thanks to the bold rec­tan­gu­lar grille adorned with ver­ti­cal chrome slats, the sig­na­ture Volvo sash and the LED day- time run­ning lamps in­spired by Thor’s ham­mer ( the il­lu­mi­nated ren­der­ing of the Norse god’s war tool). The head­lights are LED- pow­ered too, which throws powerful white lights far and wide.

The XC90’ s long pro­file is still rec­tan­gu­lar, but soft­ened by rounded edges at the bon­net and the roofline, which is ter­mi­nated by a spoiler. Adding visual mus­cu­lar­ity are pro­nounced wheel arches and wheels sizes that range from a large 19inches to mas­sive 22- inches — like on the R- De­sign model. The ver­ti­cal tail lamps, that ex­tend from roof to bumper, are a neat and dis­tinc­tive XC90 tra­di­tion, but here they ap­pear slim­mer and sharper. Com­plet­ing the rear look are the trape­zoidal ex­hausts, nicely in­te­grated into the rear bumper.

With the first- gen­er­a­tion XC90, Volvo shed its boxy im­age; the new model comes with a more pur­pose­ful de­sign that gives it an ego — and that’s a good thing. But T8 model give­aways are few; ex­cept for what seems to be the fuel cap in the front fender is ac­tu­ally a charg­ing point for the elec­tric pow­er­train.

Once step in, you get a feel of the min­i­mal­is­tic theme that is con­veyed in the high- qual­ity in­te­ri­ors; it has a good blend of ma­te­ri­als and fin­ishes, along with an end­less ar­ray of neatly in­te­grated tech­nolo­gies. There’s a clean- look­ing black dash­board with in­ter­mit­tent satin fin­ish trims and… wood or metal­lic ve­neers.

The high­light, though, is the 9- inch ipad- like in­fo­tain­ment dis­play and its por­trait ori­en­ta­tion. Keep­ing that clut­ter- free cause in mind, Volvo has shrunk the usual busy 50- but­ton cen­tre con­sole down to 8 but­tons giv­ing all con­trols a but­ton on the screen while re­tain­ing phys­i­cal es­sen­tials like the home but­ton and vol­ume knob… they should have done the same with the HVAC con­trols too. Also, the touch screen is nei­ther the ca­pac­i­tive or re­sis­tive type — it works on in­frared, which means you can op­er­ate it us­ing your gloves.

There is a sporty feel we got from the small di­am­e­ter 3- spoke steer­ing wheel, which is quite un­like any other 2- ton SUV. It is ac­com­pa­nied by pol­ished black lac­quer set­tings for the multi- func­tion but­tons on its spoke — al­most glass- like. The T8 vari­ant gets the very ex­quis­ite hand­made crys­tal Or­refors shift lever; very jewel- like. There’s no con­ven­tional push- start but­ton but a knurled knob: twist to start or stop the en­gine. It is a lit­tle finicky but gor­geous. It is ac­com­pa­nied by a knurled drum: spin the bar­rel to switch be­tween driv­ing modes, but they could have sized it bet­ter. Adding piz­zazz to the cabin are large- skin per­fo­rated metal­lic speak­ers that we reckon would take sev­eral man or ma­chine hours to craft. It’s a speaker sys­tem that sounds and looks good too. Volvo was of­fi­cially founded on 14 April 1927. Their first car, ‘ Jakob’, was man­u­fac­tured in 1927

And, fi­nally, the ul­ti­mate yard­stick for any fam­ily SUV is space. Worry not! This is a gen­uine 7- seater with soft prepped up­hol­stery. The oc­cu­pants up­front get lav­ish space and power con­trols; the 2nd tier gets equally impressive re­clin­e­able seats, that can be slid for­ward giv­ing it a limo stature. The mid­dle seat gets a booster seat op­tion as well. The 3rd row gets only two seats but they sit higher, theatre- style, for a bet­ter view and, as per Volvo, they are best suited for those 5 ft 7 in and un­der. But ev­ery­one gets to en­joy the strato­spheric vista through the large panoramic sun­roof.

POW­ER­TRAIN & PER­FOR­MANCE

The T6 model we drove was pow­ered by Volvo’s mod­u­lar low dis­place­ment tech­nol­ogy. Even so, we were sur­prised to find a 2- litre in­line 4- cylin­der en­gine in it. But it was aug­mented by both a su­per­charger that runs at lower rpm, and a tur­bocharger for the higher revs; the en­gine is matched to an 8 speed au­to­matic. De­spite its small dis­place­ment, it made some healthy horses — 313bhp at 5,700rpm and 400Nm of torque from 2,200rpm to 5,400rpm.

This T8 hy­brid com­bines the T6’ s en­gine with a 65kw elec­tric mo­tor ca­pa­ble of send­ing up to 240Nm of twist to the rear wheels. The to­tal sum out­put be­comes 400bhp and some 640Nm of torque — good enough to set the T8 off for a 0 to 100 km/ h time of 5.6 sec­onds. It is not only quicker than the T6 but the power de­liv­ery is a full- bod­ied ex­pe­ri­ence; we never caught it flat footed and that kind of power is a lux­ury.

In most sit­u­a­tions, the large tyres graze the tar­mac of­fer­ing good trac­tion but around high- speed cor­ners or a quick di­rec­tional change, the sheer length and mass does lit­tle to sub­due body roll. Dy­nam­i­cally, it won’t hold a can­dle against the Cayenne and X5, but fares bet­ter than the Q7 and In­finiti QX60. But the pri­or­ity here is ride com­fort, which is of high grade.

Even with the power up­grade, the T8 out­shines the T6 in terms of econ­omy. With an elec­tric mo­tor that helps prop­a­gate mo­tion that of­ten side­lines the petrol en­gine and with con­stant brak­ing recharg­ing the bat­ter­ies, the fuel econ­omy has been brought down to a re­mark­able 2.5L/ 100km. The other ad­van­tage with this plug- in hy­brid is that, if you wish, you can run on a very si­lent pure elec­tric mode ( but range is lim­ited to 40 km) — and you don’t need to rely on re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing. You can juice up bat­ter­ies from any one of the 26 pub­lic charg­ing points avail­able in the coun­try or from the con­ve­nience of home.

FEA­TURES & FUNCTIONALITY

Volvos have been syn­ony­mous with safety, and the XC90 sets yet an­other bench­mark with plenty of ac­tive and pas­sive fea­tures that in­clude City Safety with Full Auto Brake in­clud­ing Driver Alert Con­trol, Pedes­trian and Cy­clist De­tec­tion, BLIS with Cross Traf­fic Alert, High Beam As­sis­tance, Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing, ISOFIX Child Seat At­tach­ments and pos­si­bly the best

VERDICT

360 de­gree cam­era we have seen.

The mu­sic sys­tem, the Bow­ers and Wilkins 1400- Watt 19- speaker unit, is un­par­al­leled in cre­at­ing a con­cert am­bi­ence or stu­dio qual­ity in the cabin. You also get ac­cess to all mod­ern- day con­nec­tiv­ity like stream­ing Blue­tooth au­dio, USB and Aux In­put.

Au­dio, nav­i­ga­tion etc are con­trolled via the Sen­sus in­fo­tain­ment which, much like an ipad, can be pinched and swiped; and it re­sponds with much elec­tronic en­thu­si­asm. There is a Wifi con­nec­tion avail­able in­stantly, turn­ing your car into a hotspot for the oc­cu­pants who have reached their monthly cap in their data plan.

Even with the 7- pas­sen­ger con­fig­u­ra­tion, you have a large, sedan- like cargo space be­hind the third row. Both rows fold flat and they can be folded in nu­mer­ous per­mu­ta­tions, giv­ing you a boot ca­pac­ity that starts at 451 litres and grows to 1951 litres.

The 2017 Volvo XC90 T8 is the re­source­ful 7- seater SUV for the iden­tity- and en­vi­ron­ment- con­scious in­di­vid­ual or fam­ily. It brings Thor’s ham­mer and his light­ning power or, in this case, elec­tri­fy­ing pow­er­train to the chas­sis. By de­liv­er­ing pur­pose­ful power, sat­is­fy­ing com­fort, money- sav­ing econ­omy, and an ex­haus­tive list of safety fea­tures, this Scan­di­na­vian SUV has be­come, ar­guably, the top choice in its seg­ment!

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