The new Volvo XC90 was launched in Singapore today. Here’s the first local review of a car we had high expectations of.
SINGAPORE — Some people think Volvo has become a Chinese car company, now that it’s owned by Hangzhou-based Geely Automobile. Those people are dummies.
You’ll see why when you climb aboard the new XC90. It’s easily the finest car Volvo has ever made, and one that backs up insider claims that Geely pretty much leaves its Swedish subsidiary to do its own thing.
Indeed, the XC90 takes the Swedish idea of luxury — light colours, fine materials, ease of operation — and turns it all up to 11. There are gorgeous textures in the new Volvo’s cabin, and the controls look and feel polished, the way a Macbook tends to feel posher than a Wintel laptop.
You’ll have to try hard to find any cheap-feeling plastic, and the leather upholstery is so soft, you feel like sitting in the seats naked.
All of this matters because Volvo has decided it wants to take the bread off the German luxury brands’ table. The XC90 T6 you see here would set you back $360,000 with COE, more than the $343,800 it costs to buy BMW’s X5 xDrive35i.
Granted, the car we drove is the pricier Inscription model, which costs $30,000 more than the base XC90. It has that soft, soft Nappa leather, as well as a panoramic glass roof. There are other goodies like a 25 LED cabin lighting package, a (lovely) leather-wrapped key, bigger wheels and nicer carpets.
The Inscription version also gets some badging and this “waterfall” grille.
It’s nice enough, but I don’t know if I would cough up thirty grand for it all. Nevertheless, the basic XC90 proposition is pretty strong, with or without frills.
It’s a handsome car, with crisp lines that disguise its size well, and classy details like the headlights and their daytime running lights shaped like Thor’s hammer.
But above all, this is the car that taught the world that putting seven seats in an SUV is a winning idea, and the new one improves on the concept. The middle row has three individual chairs, all of which can tilt and slide to let you fiddle with legroom, and if you want to fold them to create a flat floor (and 1,899L of cargo space with it) you can do it single-handed.
Access to Row Three seating is easier than climbing into the back of a Scirocco, and Volvo says the chairs there are for people up to 170cm tall. Maybe that would be a problem in Sweden, but most members of the CarBuyer office wouldn’t find it inhumanely tight back there.
There are air-con vents for Row Three, and each person there has a cupholder and bin deep enough for a large smartphone.
But it’s in the front, right seat where you’ll find the most progress in the XC90. The T6 engine is a tiny thing for a car that weighs more than two tonnes, but it has a supercharger (to forcefeed it air at low revs) and a turbocharger (to take over at high revs) so the Volvo has plenty of heart.
The XC90 gallops along nicely, with lively acceleration that complements the agile handling well. Yes, I did say “agile”, something the previous XC90 couldn’t have been accused of but is characteristic of the new one.
In fact, driving the XC90 is almost strange, because it’s a big, tall car but isn’t a lumbering one. Instead, you can whip the steering around with abandon and the Volvo responds with zip and composure.
For something with premium positioning the XC90 isn’t particularly quiet, and the ride quality is more competent than excellent, but the driving experience is pretty satisfying overall. It’s like sitting on top of a phone book and piloting a large but well-sorted sports saloon.
Conversely, you get the feeling that Volvo doesn’t quite trust you behind the wheel all that much, though. There are various safety systems, most of them enabled by infra-red and radar cameras that let the XC90 see ahead.
And so the Volvo is the first car in the world that won’t let you accelerate into oncoming traffic at a junction.
It can also track a car in front of you and adjust your speed automatically, or give ghostly nudges on the steering wheel to guide you back into your lane. There’s even something called “Pilot Assist”, a system that lets the Volvo practically drive itself at up to 50km/h.
Once you learn to trust the sensors, you can actually drive surprisingly far without touching the pedals, which makes the Volvo a car that almost comes with its own chauffeur. Mind you, it’s less smooth at driving than you can be, and though it’s meant to assist, I’m not sure whether the semi-self-drive tech doesn’t just end up adding to your stress.
What’s definitely not stressful to use is the Sensus Connect system, that puts practically all the major controls into a tablet interface. The graphics look sharp and render smoothly, and if you can use an iPad you should be able to operate it intuitively. (And if you can’t, find a five year-old to help you.)
Having the huge screen there does a number of things. It tidies up the dash considerably, leaving just eight buttons behind and adding to the Volvo’s posh cabin ambience.
And it also makes the XC90 feel not just current, but fairly future-proof. Upcoming enhancements (like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) can simply be loaded into the system, after all.
It even turns the glovebox into a safe by letting you key in a digital passcode to lock it.
But the most interesting thing to me about the touchscreen is that, unlike an iPad, it apparently works when you have thick gloves on. That’s as Swedish as you can get, because up there you have winter wear on for practically half the year.
I like to think it’s a metaphor for the XC90 on the whole. It’s a handsome, practical car that’s good to drive, loaded with safety kit and overflowing with useful features — like a big, thoughtful friend who carries you around, really. Crucially, it feels expensive, too.
All that is what makes the XC90 a Volvo, and what defines Volvo’s approach to luxury. The war for premium car customers is a heated one, but Volvo’s newest model shows how it aims to win battles with friendly fire.
NEED TO KNOW Volvo XC90 T6
Engine 1,969cc, 16v, in-line 4, super- and turbocharged
Power 320hp at 5700rpm
Torque 400Nm at 2200-5400rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 6.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.0L/100km
Price $330,000 with COE ($360,000 with COE for Inscription)
Sensus sensibility: How Volvo’s tablet-like interface works
What better way to show you the XC90’s touchscreen system in action than to show you? Here’s a video our Chief Ed did when he drove the new Volvo way back in March.
Here's a run down of the new Volvo XC90's cabin and infotainment system. It's got a crystal knob!
Posted by CarBuyer Singapore on Wednesday, 4 March 2015