The Volvo XC90 has been to the European countryside what salted peanuts are to a pint of beer. It’s a strange analogy to draw, but the point is that the car was one of the most popular SUVs of the noughties. It was viking tough, practical, delightfully understated and purposeful, even at a time when the Range Rovers of the world were evolving into chariots of footballers.
Not much seems to have changed. Except for the fact that everything about the new XC90 has in fact, changed. This is Volvo’s first car to be based on their brand new Scalable Product Architecture platform. While the old model’s delayed arrival in India diminished its popularity, the early arrival of the new one has already brought Volvo 266 new bookings, presumably based on ergonomic and aesthetic appeal – something that can be found in every crevice of the SUV. The sheer size of it is imposing, but the lines are perfectly benign and unpretentious, soothing the eye of the beholder with practiced Scandinavian minimalism. The new design language is a complete departure from the old one – the edges are softer and everything feels the right amount of subdued. There are particular design attributes which stand out, such as the wide grille and the slick, tapering LED headlamps which, Volvo has wasted no time in infusing with Norse symbolism, calling it ‘Thor’s hammer LEDs’. Make no mistake, the whole package is a masterclass in understated design, but it’s the attention to detail here that’ll make this car a big seller.
Internationally, the XC90 is available in three trims – the base variant, dubbed ‘Kinetic’ will not be making its way to India, so we’ll be looking at the mid-level Momentum and the top of the line Inscription. The only engine available available for the moment is the 2.0 litre, four-cylinder diesel D5 engine producing 221 bhp and 47 kgm of torque. If you’re expecting mythological levels of thunder here, that’s what the turbocharged T6 engine option is for, but you won’t be getting that in India either. Primarily because you’d be silly to want that much power. Yes, it’s a big SUV and its frame is made of Boron steel as opposed to the industry standard aluminium. But Volvo have decided to stay ahead of the legislative curve and stick to the relatively small engines which will soon become the norm across Europe. By no means are the power levels on this car inadequate though – on highways it steadily climbs to triple-digit speeds and remains perfectly stable while teetering near the 200 kph mark. It is designed to be the most tranquil space to occupy across different driving scenarios. During a long commute you savour it’s exceptionally well done interiors – luxurious without a hint of ostentation. It’s like a monastery merged with a high-end luxury spa. The wooden trim has an organic feel to it, while the dash feels uniquely new and useable. Volvo has dispensed with their palette of buttons and replaced it with a large nine-inch touchscreen display with a clear and easily operable interface. The highlight however has to be the 19-speaker, 1400 watts Bowers and Wilkins sound system, with a sound quality that will not be found on anything south of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. There’s an incredible sense of space in here, and things feel refreshingly un-Germanic. There’s a neat heads-up display unit and an enormous sun-roof and a proper third row of seats. This really ought to be a prototype for modern-day cabins.
Driving it over a sharp set of hairpins didn’t unnerve me for a second, thanks to the enormous 275 section tyres and an AWD system. Naturally you can feel the weight of the car, but for something this large, the XC90 does not wallow or roll tremendously – in fact, around the corners it feels rather light. But not as light as the steering which annoyingly, offers no feedback whatsoever, even when you scroll down to ‘Dynamic’ mode, where it feels marginally stiffer. The ride quality remains quite good, even on awful, jagged off-road stretches, where switching to the ‘Off-road’ results in a rise in ride height and the engagement of a hill hold feature which automatically slows the car when you lift off while descending sharply. The 8-speed gearbox won’t catapult you into a breezy pace, but it is sufficiently lag free and refined – you don’t get any paddle shifts on this one, but you can slot it into manual for an added level of control.
With the Momentum trim starting at Rs 64.9 lakh (Ex-Delhi) it is the more economical option. However with the Inscription you get the full monty at Rs 77.9 lakh, with air suspension, a bigger sunroof and one of the best sound systems in a car. Things are starting to look very good for Volvo.