► Replacement for original 7-seat SUV
► Tech will underpin all future Volvos
► Diesel, petrol, hybrid powertrains
The original Volvo XC90 proved a hugely important car for Volvo, selling strongly on its safety features, seven-seat versatility and understated good looks. After an admirable 12-year innings, it’s being replaced in 2015 by an all-new second-generation car, one of the most important in the marque’s history.
Not only does the new XC90 replace one of Volvo’s most loved models, it also marks the beginning of the new post-Ford era, the debut of innovative new chassis architecture and the introduction of suitably bold and progressive design language.
So what’s changed on the 2015 Volvo XC90?
In short, everything. Only the name, a little design inspiration (Volvo was keen that this second-gen car remained recognisably XC90) and the fact that it’s a seven-seat SUV from Sweden remain the same.
Key to huge strides the new car had made over the old – namely strength and stiffness, interior space and driving dynamics – is Volvo’s new scalable chassis design. One of the key parts of an $11 billion engineering investment, it can be modified in almost all dimensions, from wheelbase to rear overhang, allowing all future model lines and derivatives to be built on the same basic platform. Indeed while this XC90 is new now, in just four years’ time Volvo vows it will be the oldest model in its range.
The new chassis has been designed to accommodate conventional and hybrid powertrains alike. UK XC90 buyers will be offered the 225bhp D5 diesel, the 320bhp petrol T6 and the 400bhp hybrid Twin Engine T8. All are four-wheel drive, though two-wheel drive versions will follow.
New suspension systems front and rear aim to improve both the driving experience and yield more internal space, while an all-new design language inside and out aims to take the XC90 upmarket and toe-to-toe with premium rivals from BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Range Rover.
How does the new XC90 drive?
The optional air suspension system will be a popular fitment for most buyers and with it the XC90 is a fantastically refined drive, blending a superbly pliant ride with good body control and a steering fluency the old car could only dream of. You can tweak the suspension system to your taste, switching between drive modes that also re-calibrate myriad other parameters, from throttle response to steering weight (always on the light side but nicely judged and responsive), but even in Dynamic mode the big Volvo hangs onto its ride quality.
There’s a little roll if you’re pushing but generally the handling is composed and trustworthy. Besides, to drive the XC90 like this is to miss out on its great strength – an incredible refinement born of that plush ride, the interior’s calm ambience and a hushed lack of any wind or road noise.
The D5’s 222bhp twin-turbo diesel four is fit for purpose. It’s not spectacular but it is smooth, quiet at low revs and strong enough to make for an engaging drive and the odd opportunistic overtake.
The eight-speed auto gearbox is best left in less racy modes; switching to Dynamic does the engine no favours, revving it past its best, shifting clumsily between the lower gears and making a bit of a racket that’s at odds with the XC90’s otherwise Zen-like sense of tranquility.
It’s big. Is it clever?
Much has been made of the vast central, driver-orientated touchscreen interface and there’s no doubt it rids the dashboard of ranks of ugly buttons. It works very well, requiring only the lightest of taps and scrolling through different pages in a very intuitive, very Apple-esque manner, allowing you access everything from head-up-display brightness to navigation. But for functions you use frequently, like climate, you can’t help but feel the touchscreen interface is an inferior solution, being slower and impossible to use without taking your eyes off the road.
Elsewhere there’s evidence of thousands of hours of clear-headed Swedish thinking. Impressively the third row of seats is comfortable for adults and blessed with real legroom, a decent view ahead and its own air vents. The second- and third-row seats both stow for a completely flat load bay floor, while the power-operated boot and lowering function (a button in the boot drops the load bay 50mm on the air suspension) make loading a doddle.
There’s also a raft of Intellisafe safety aids, from collision-avoidance technology to new systems that brace the car and its occupants for impact should it detect that you’ve left the road or that a car approaching from behind isn’t going to stop in time.
A handsome, cleverly engineered and hugely refined SUV with the road manners, versatility and design brilliance to bring a serene ease to the most challenging of school runs. Prices from £45,750. Which means it's taken a step up the pecking order.