A Big Car That Poses a Tiny Problem
Our resident petrol head gets behind the wheel of the new Volvo XC90 Inscription D5
Review by Marc Stickley
So Volvo have launched the new XC90 – it’s slimmed down, but beefed up at the same time. It’s a good looking car, with the bluff nose leading a hewn-from-solid body. Inside all is as it should be in a luxury SUV- premium leather, sound and gadgetry. My particular favourite design feature are the new “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights. There are four driving modes to suit your mood- Eco for when you feel guilty about being in such an enormous car, Comfort for everyday driving (a bit wallowy and it made my wife feel seasick), Off-Road in the unlikely event you’ll ever go off-road and Dynamic for “High Performance”. Eco mode did make it feel more frugal- probably by making it seem quieter. Dynamic nicely firmed up the suspension and reduced the ride height and roll around corners. Bizarrely it also smoothed out the bumps. I’ll get to Off Road later.
All of the XC90s at launch are 4 cylinder engines- I’ve been driving the D5 twin -turbo Diesel with 225bhp, in Inscription trim level. The two litre engine propels the big Volvo along at a pretty good lick- but sounds a little harsh under hard acceleration. That’s fine though, because a couple of swipes of the iPad central console sees the Bowers & Wilkins sound system transferred into the Gothenburg Concert Hall mode, with enough oomph to drown out a Metallica gig (or play one). The heated leather seats and heated steering wheel, with four zone climate control (the 6th and 7th seats get the leftovers) make the cabin very comfortable and you never hear the air running. The Inscription came with smart headlights (they steer around corners), adaptive cruise control, auto braking, speed zone and lane-depart detection and a host of other safety features.
All the gizmos aside, the car is undeniably enormous and I felt nervous on the road. It fills the carriageway, which means on single track country lanes it is VERY imposing. The extra visibility offered by that raised position means you can usually see what’s coming in time enough to find a passing place though. It also FILLS a parking space, which would make city living interesting. That said, there are enough of these sized cars around that you must become normalised to piloting something only a smidge smaller than a transit van…
In an attempt to test something that is probably only a reality for 10 per cent of the owners, I took the XC90 off-road. And I don’t mean my drive (which is very steep, so a challenge in itself). On the mundane return journey from school, I turned off a single track lane, onto a mud track used to access a farmyard gateway. It climbs a steep incline, before turning into what used to be a metalled road, but is now a crater strewn track, that then runs past the gate and onwards, down hill parallel to the road, but above it. The XC90 gobbled up the muddy incline and easily tackled the crater-run back down the hill. I switched back to Dynamic with a turn of the diamond knurled roller switch and we launched away back on our route. This is probably as close as most owners will get to needing to go off-road, perhaps with the exception of towing a horse box. Luckily, the XC90 was fitted with a retractable tow bar and the rear of the car could be lowered with a button- handy for taking off your wellies, or loading your overweight labrador into the cavernous boot.
So, to sum up, the XC 90 is a massive, top-quality, luxury SUV. It has enough gadgets to keep a geek busy when not driving (me), enough pace to be entertaining to a petrol-head (also me), it can tackle rough tracks (and probably even more aggressive off-road) and is economical enough to keep your bank manager happy. I managed 28mpg for my week with the car; the £50,000 asking price isn’t unreasonable for such a ride as this. If you chose the petrol T6 (a 320bhp, two litre with turbo and superchargers fitted) that might not be the case, but if you wait until early 2016, the petrol-electric hybrid T8 is due to be launched, with a claimed 135mpg. I’m sure if I owned one, or drove it for longer, it would shrink around me and the nervousness would recede, but for now, it’s back to something a little more car sized. Or just something little compared to the XC90.