Surprised? Well, it so happens that Volvo has a philosophy of building vehicles that are ‘designed around you’. Therefore it takes its focus groups quite seriously. In its journey to create the new XC90, the company decided to involve this particular set of Californians to work closely with them for over three years. They felt this group typically represented Volvo car owners around the world, who need a luxury vehicle that helps them keep up with their busy lives. Something they can call home while on the move.
The team at Volvo listened and mapped each of their lifestyles and hectic daily schedules; whether it was the need to travel with three kids in the back or fit in furniture samples, have a meeting on-the-go or carry camping equipment over the weekend, plan a family picnic or go for a black-tie dinner – each demand had to be met. Then they flew the group in to Sweden for a crash course around Swedish design; taking them to museums, furniture stores and giving them a glimpse of sophistication and simplicity in everyday items. The process eventually culminated in putting metal, glass, leather and technology together to try and take their definition of luxury and realize it in the form of a personal bubble on wheels. A sanctuary of sorts, that took them along with it. And thus was born the new XC90 – a vehicle that incorporates every demand for aesthetics, functionality, versatility, utility and simplicity, wrapped in a veil of uncompromised luxury. We can’t help but call it very very seXC.
The new XC90 is what one would call a breakthrough vehicle. It is Volvo’s new flagship after more than a decade, and nothing could have redefined the brand’s appeal and image better. There is a remarkable simplicity in its sophistication, and finer details are revealed as you spend time with the vehicle and discover it more. There is a bespoke character that is all calm and serene, with the real drama unfolding in the form of some refined on-board technology, making the vehicle intuitive and almost human-like to interact with. We had the vehicle for close to a week, and after driving around for about 500 kms our only disappointment was to see it go. And of course, the fact that we couldn’t take it out to explore the rough and tumble on a longer road trip out of town. But that’s for another day.
The first impression of the XC90 tells you that it has enough swag to lead a Presidential cavalcade. Imagine ten of these in Onyx Black moving in a linear formation. It would make a spectacular sight. The styling is unlike any car that has ever come out from Volvo’s stable so far and is a leap forward in terms of design. There is a subdued calm about the vehicle, which exudes a supreme sense of authority without making a spectacle of itself with unnecessary design elements just to prove a point.
The muscle lines on the hood, the distinct headlamps with the T-shaped ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED running lights and the regal-looking upright front grille with vertical slats finished in matte silver give it a powerful frontal appearance. The branding badge with the arrow aligned to the diagonal slat and chrome touches around the exterior, all add up to give the new XC90 an extraordinary road presence. There are integrated roof rails, dual integrated exhaust pipes and the Inscription model we drove came with 20″ 10-spoke silver diamond cut alloys, which made things look even better.
For a 7-seater, the side profile looks incredibly well proportioned too, without any over-the-top frills. It has just the right dose of chrome accents around the windows and door handles to complement the shoulder line and make a minimalistic impression. The rear remains true to the Volvo heritage, with the signature tail lamps and a noticeable design continuity from the last generation, which have been updated with sharper and tougher lines.
All in all, the new XC90 is a vehicle with an unbelievably strong presence, probably surpassed only by the Range Rover. The styling eschews confidence and a quiet refinement rarely seen in full size luxury SUVs. Its understated appeal stands out in a crowd of loud and brash SUVs and makes it unarguably one of the best looking ever.
The interior space in the new XC90 is quite a breakthrough. This one has been recognised globally for having one of the finest interiors, and sitting inside the cabin it’s not hard to see why. This second generation XC90 is larger than its predecessor, resulting in a roomier and airy cabin with tonnes of space. The super sized cabin does not feel intimidating; rather the tranquil zen like atmospherics make you feel quite at home the moment you step in and shut the door to the world outside. The yacht-like walnut decor inlays and quality of leather is exceptional to say the least. As you run your fingers over the leather wrapped dashboard, steering wheel and gear knob, you start appreciating the detailing, the craftsmanship and the impeccable hand stitching all around. The jewel like controls for Engine Start/Stop and Drive Mode, along with the touch panel to control the air-con behind the central armrest for the middle row occupants, add a delicate touch of finesse. Not to miss the tiny Swedish flag stitched neatly along the edge of the front seats to proudly remind you of the brand’s origin.
The Nappa leather upholstered seats are slim and contoured, making for some additional leg room. The seats are ventilated with heating and cooling options, and both front seats are electronically adjustable with individual memory settings. They come with lumbar support and under thigh extension for added comfort. The middle row offers reclining seats with great support and you can move them forward and back as well. Leg room is ample and even the third row seats aren’t completely useless like most 7-seaters. These are slightly raised and thoughtfully designed to offer serious comfort for adults even over long distances. Both the middle and rear seats can be individually folded flat to hold small or large bits of cargo, and the full flat option makes for some huge space where you can literally live in comfort for a couple of days. The flexibility that the individual seat folding offers makes this an extremely versatile vehicle.
The only bit of discomfort we had was with the hard plastic back of the front seats and the rather cheap netted seat back pockets. Contrasting leather would have been far more appropriate. For the middle row occupants to be staring at a huge chunk of black plastic in front, or hitting your knee against a hard surface takes away the sense of space in a cabin which is otherwise light, bright and airy. We also felt that the seats were perhaps not the most comfortable Volvo seats we have seen. We drove the XC60 R-Design a while back, and the seats in there were just heavenly. But this could be a matter of individual perception. By no means are these seats a compromise, it’s just that they are much slimmer. And with their tradition of crafting the best seats in the business, we were perhaps expecting the flagship to take things to another level.
The uncluttered cabin speaks volumes about the effort that has gone into making life easier for the occupants. The tablet-like vertically mounted 9″ Sensus touchscreen is the piece de resistance. It replaces most of the tactile buttons (and Volvo had just too many) resulting in a clean, easy to use interface that you can swipe and scroll through. It controls pretty much every function of the car. Although it is a finger print magnet and you cannot avoid smudging the screen, it is brilliantly intuitive and absolutely lag free. The graphics are uncomplicated and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer precision of the system. What all can it do? Well, a host of things. It picks up your voice commands even if you speak naturally to it (a bit Siri-like); it can turn the vehicle into a wi-fi hotspot and activate the head up display; it warns you with a gentle vibration on the steering wheel when you accidentally move out of your lane at a high speed; it throws up road sign information and warns you about speed limits; it alerts you if you are drowsy and suggests a coffee shop nearby; and best of all, it parks itself if you want it to. We tested the Park-in and Park-out feature and it worked fabulously well in the real world. Tap the screen and the system senses a slot when available, guides you to either accelerate or brake, and steers rather spookily all by itself to neatly lodge the vehicle into the slot. Jaw dropping, when you experience it for the first time.
Calling the XC90’s feature list extensive would be a major understatement. Volvo has packed the car with everything you might need on the road. A very effective four-zone climate control, a head-up display and the mesmerising 19-speaker, 1400 watts Bowers and Wilkins surround sound audio system are just a few things that would typically make your day. The sound quality would rank high up amongst the best in-car experience. Depending on your mood and music, you can choose a Studio setup, Individual Stage or the Konserthuset setting, which replicates the sound from Gothenburg Konserthuset for an immersive concert-like experience.
Then there are some other nifty features that you would appreciate inside the cabin. Like a compass integrated in the rear view mirror, a vastly improved navigation system, CD, Ipod, AUX, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, an air quality filter, sun blinds on the rear windows and a panoramic sun roof. Outside, the power operated tailgate can be opened and closed by just waving your foot under the bumper, just in case your hands are full or you can’t reach out for the remote button.
The driver information display is a 12.3″ full graphic panel that can be customized with any of the four display themes – glass, minimalistic, performance and chrome rings. The ambient lighting inside the cabin can also be changed to suit your mood.
Choose your driving mode through the gorgeously sculpted diamond cut drive mode selector. There are Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-Road, and Individual settings. Barring the Eco mode, all others offered a more than satisfactory drive.
While it is a full blown luxury SUV, the new XC90 is fitted with a small 2.0L four-cylinder twin turbo engine, which makes it frugal and cheaper to run. Without compromising on power delivery and driveability, it remains fuel efficient and low on emissions. We clocked an efficiency of 10.75 km/l during our review. Peak power output stands at 225 bhp, with 470 Nm of torque. Although the figures might not compare directly with some of its competitors, the vehicle puts down the available power smoothly even at lower revs. Not for once did we feel it to be underpowered or sluggish.
The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, with an option to go manual for better control. Power delivery is linear, making the XC90 an enjoyable drive. It remains planted even under hard cornering, and offers solid grip towards the front, which is commendable for a vehicle this size.
The new generation 3-spoke steering wheel is compact in size with all the usual mounted controls. The wheel is extremely light and responsive and makes for an engaging drive especially in Dynamic mode, when you can feel an instant difference in the way the steering and throttle responds. The car does have a huge turning radius though, making it a handful in tight spaces.
The air suspension system shows great reflexes and adapts the ride quality as per the drive modes, hugely improving its versatility. It feels cushy and soft in Comfort mode, navigating bumps and potholes without much fuss. Considering that most XC90s in India would be chauffeur driver, it delivers well on this front, offering a pliant ride that surpasses most of its competition. In Dynamic mode the vehicle crouches by 20mm for a more planted drive with improved aerodynamics and handling at high speeds. In Off-Road mode it increases the ground clearance by 40mm to navigate through unpredictable terrain without harming the undercarriage. The air suspension can also lower the rear end of the vehicle by 50mm through a button in the boot, making it easier to load or take out heavy cargo with ease. You can also customize it to lower the vehicle by 40mm when it stops, making for an easier ingress and egress.
Multi terrain driving is supported by features like Hill start assist and Hill descent control which makes navigating steep uphill and downhill easier. The Auto Start/ Stop and Auto Brake features on the other hand, are a boon while driving bumper to bumper during peak time traffic. The advanced cruise control also makes driving through slow traffic less stressful by offering automatic steering control, brake and acceleration assist, relative to the vehicle ahead.
Volvo has always been about safety, and the XC90 is no exception. It comes with 2 step airbags, SIPS airbags and inflatable curtains, whiplash protection, ABS, active bending lights and an Intelligent Driver Information System with features that support you while driving, prevent accidents and protect you in the unfortunate event when one occurs. For instance, when it senses a cause for impact or collision, it automatically tightens the belt, retracts the brake pedal and compresses the seat to minimise injuries. When it anticipates a rear-end collision, it tightens the belts and locks the brakes. And if you are about to hit someone in the front, it brakes automatically.
Priced at INR 70,96,700 for the Momentum and INR 80,23,700 for the Inscription (the one we drove), the new XC90 is an intelligent investment for the civilized sorts. It is a family battle tank, and with safety and all, the cost of not owning one is far greater than the cost of ownership. You could end up paying dearly.
With newer flagship SUVs from competitors being priced higher, the Volvo XC90 also makes the cut in terms of value. Throw in looks that befit royalty and possibly the greatest cabin in the business, and it is amply clear that Volvo has a winner in its hands. The new XC90 is not built to compete with the rest; but to step aside and stand apart. It is genuinely an example of a vehicle built around you. A vehicle that exceeds expectations in nearly all aspects without trying too hard. Its nonchalant and minimalistic take on luxury proves that less is more. That simplicity is after all the ultimate form of sophistication. And therein lies its true appeal that makes the new Volvo XC90 very very seXC. And we all need to take a moment to thank Reagan Hayes, Andrew Yermian, Therese Turner, Matt Brandt and Steve Hoffrichter, the five Californians who helped Volvo make the new XC90 what it is.
Photography: Dinesh Gaur
Location courtesy: Four Points by Sheraton, New Delhi