Utmost Importance | Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription

BY Azfar Hashim

Volvo’s best-selling SUV returns with a new skin and a comprehensive equipment list, but can it repeat its predecessor’s success?

Photos by Azfar Hashim

It came at a point when the rest of the world was too preoccupied with outdoing each other in the luxury SUV segment; BMW’s X5, Audi’s Q7, Porsche’s Cayenne and Volkswagen’s Touareg were all vying for the buyer’s attention. Then along came Volvo, providing more seats and a price tag that was significantly lower than the Germans.

Hands down, the first-generation Volvo XC90 was one of the best-selling full-sized premium SUVs your money could buy; so successful, it became like the Toyota Corolla of the segment. And it was not hard to love it: You got a handsome exterior with an authoritative stance, an interior that was highly practical and useful, plus engine options that were mated perfectly to lug all of that sheet metal.

But while the X5, Q7, Cayenne and even Touareg were constantly refreshed to stay relevant to buyer’s demands, Volvo’s strategy - or lack of it - demoted the XC90 to second division. Plus it didn’t help that ownership of the Volvo brand was changing hands; basically, Volvo was in a limbo to a point that the XC90 started coming across as Jurassic when standing next to the more upbeat Germans. Yes Volvo did perform some facelifts, minor technical improvements and whipped out special/limited editions, blah blah blah, but those exercises were obviously still not enough.

Finally now, an all-new XC90 is here. I must admit that when official images first appeared online, I had no love for it. Nil. Zilch. It may come across as ‘more modern’ than before, but there are far too many angular edges; its predecessor had a butch approach with broad shoulder lines, and I liked that.

This Swede is different when you see it in person though. In this Inscription guise (a.k.a premium model), it looks very sleek. While it’s true the face is too upright, it’s obviously good for intimidating roadhogs thanks to that wide grill and slit headlamps.

Thankfully, Volvo didn’t overdo the chrome bits. You only get them on the front grill, lower part of the front bumper, around the windows, along the door guard, and rear bumper; then finished with the pair of exhaust tailpipes. There’s just a nice balance of class and style thanks to that. At the same time, a set of stylish 20-inch rims wrapped in low profile 275/45 R-20 Michelin Latitude Sport 3 rubbers come standard.

Inside is your typical Volvo, oozing quality. On that note however, I wonder which member of the design team thought that putting the hazard light button that small and that low was a brilliant idea; it’s rather irritating when you need to activate it while your eyes are looking forward. Another minor disappointment was the lack of paddle-shifters; while it’s true the average XC90 buyer won’t give a hoot, with this price tag, such an item should be standard fitment already.

It is very clear Volvo has taken the minimalist approach this time around, with the cockpit providing the driver with a commanding, minimalist ‘work area’. As part of the whole lets-not-clutter-the-dashboard exercise, you can control all sorts of functions from this iPad-like central console; some examples include Park Assist, Eco Driving mode, Hill Descent Control, Lane Keeping Aid and Auto Engine Start/Stop, just to name a few. Equally cool is how it offers wireless Bluetooth charging for your smartphone — on top of that, it doesn’t take long to connect your phone to the car’s operating system and you can listen to your music or conveniently make calls as well. Unfortunately, this test car didn’t come with the premium Bowers & Wilkins premium speaker system, but surprisingly, this stock set-up is more than enough for me after some adjustments with the treble and bass.

The third row seat folds flat, allowing more useful space

The third row seat folds flat, allowing more useful space

Every seat is nicely padded with the rear doors opening wide to ensure ingress and egress can be done elegantly. Access to the last row is not as friendly as an MPV’s, but still, you don’t have to be a contortionist just to get back there. Another surprising twist is how much boot space the XC90 offers even with the third row up: 451-litres, which is more than enough for most, unless you have prams or other large bulky items. Even then, stowing the third row away means you have 1,102-litres of space; with all rear seats down, you have a very commodious 1,951-litres. Good enough to fit Punggol and Sengkang (perhaps Seletar as well) together…

Being the D5 variant, powering the XC90 is a 4-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that’s mated to an 8-speed Geartronic transmission. With that combo, you get a power output of 225 bhp and — here’s the better bit — 470 Nm worth of torque available from 1,750 rpm onwards. What this translates to is that it takes only 7.8 seconds to get to 100 km/h from stationary and has a top speed of 205 km/h.

By diesel standards, the engine is an impressively quiet operator when cruising along the expressway - you can feel the power readily available and when picking up speed, it does so willingly even in 8th. However, when flooring the pedal for quick overtaking manoeuvres along two-lane back roads, there were moments where the transmission seemed to take some noticeable seconds to figure things out, before finally downshifting two or three gears. Plus, keep in mind this thing here weighs more than two tonnes, so you would need to plan such actions in a timely manner.

Until recently, SUVs were usually known to be soft, wallowy, and prone to understeer; generally no fun at all. The XC90 manages to go against this order, by which we mean a ride that feels sedan-like, and won’t bow down when driven enthusiastically.

The XC90 seemed unfazed even when driven hard

The XC90 seemed unfazed even when driven hard

There is an inspiring level of grip and cornering ability the day-to-day driver will probably never fully explore or even exploit, courtesy of the front-biased all-wheel drive system. When the nose starts diving wide into a corner, the stability control will cool everything down before the information even reaches the steering wheel. In terms of braking power, the XC90 stops commendably well despite the significant pace and bulk — it doesn’t nosedive rudely and remains poised.

At the end of the day, the XC90 D5 here proved to be a comprehensively packaged SUV that, at the same time, delivers respectable economy (it returned slightly more than 16 km/L). If your daily tasks see you chalk up as much mileage as a taxi, this is definitely a sound option. It has presence, a lovely cabin and depending on your driving pattern, is a trusty handler too.

Twist this little knob to the right, and everything comes to life

Twist this little knob to the right, and everything comes to life

Definitely a notch higher than its predecessor, hence the decade long wait was damn worth it.

Last row seat actually accommodate two adults comfortably

Last row seat actually accommodate two adults comfortably