Looks like Volvo’s succumbed and added some attitude to the XC90
That’s right, this new pumped up SE Sport is clearly aimed at people who might have found the XC90 a bit too reserved and instead walked right into their local Audi or BMW dealer for a Sport-trim X5 or S-Line Q7. It’s part of a facelifted XC90 range, which in case you’d forgotten isn’t that fresh – having been launched in 2003.
So what’s so special about the SE Sport?
SE Sport cars are loud. Visually loud that is, and most un-Volvo-like. It’s got 19in alloys, twin chrome-plated tailpipes, extended body-colour wheelarch extensions and various bits of satin silver trim. Roof rails are not fitted. That makes it look sportier says Volvo although you can have them back if you want. Inside there are chunkier sports seats with bigger side supports to keep you upright on all those trackdays, some new leather coverings and the instrument faces feature chronograph watch-style faces. You can match the trim to every engine from the distinctly un-sporty but very useful D5 diesel (11.5sec 0-62mph, 31.4mpg) to the ballistic new petrol V8 (6.9, 20.9mpg). But we drove the new 235bhp 3.2litre straight six petrol which the XC90 shares with the latest Land Rover Freelander and lies between the old 210bhp 2.5 T and 272bhp T6 petrols it replaces.
So what’s this new engine like?
Impressive, though naturally not to the same extent as it is in the Freelander which weighs 1700kg, making it some 300kg lighter than the XC90. There’s 235bhp and 236lb ft on tap, a proper six-speed automatic gearbox (the old T6 made do with just four speeds) and a good dollop of refinement. But the diesel consumes far less fuel than the 24mpg 3.2 and has an extra 59lb ft at its disposal for hauling trailer, boats or just seven bodies and luggage. Yes, flat out it’s quicker than the 185bhp diesel, but not by much. Carting around two tonnes of metal takes its toll on performance so the 3.2 needs 9.5sec to get to 62mph. Neither engine feels particularly sporting but chassis tweaks unique to the SE Sport mean that it’s more inspiring to hustle than the rest of the XC90 range. There are stiffer rebound rates for the dampers, thicker anti-roll bars and steering response has been sharpened too all of which improve the XC90’s already car-like dynamics. There’s a meatier feel to the steering and it grips strongly and resists roll in corners but the Sport pack is still better viewed as a trim package. Is it better than the new X5 in Sport trim? Instinct says no, but we’ll have to wait for the twin test to be certain.
What’s changed about the rest of the XC90 range?
It’s mostly cosmetic stuff, new rear lights, more chrome detailing and different wheels, that sort of thing. There are new cabin materials too which improve the look and feel of the controls and other surfaces. But it's largely business as usual. Which means an airy cabin with ample room for five but whose third row of seats is for kids only. If you regularly need to shift seven bodies you'll be far better off in a Discovery.
Some careful tweaks ensure that the XC90 remains competitive with newer rivals and the much improved six-cylinder petrol option is one of those tweaks, particularly now that it has a decent auto gearbox. We’d still trade some of the 3.2’s on-paper performance advantage for the diesel’s real-world usability, but can't help thinking how much better the XC would be with a good V6 diesel.