March 28, 2016 @ 10:11 PM

Review: Volvo XC90 - Volvo's new era begins here

Volvo’s Dark Knight is finally here, and we were the first to drive it

There’s a sensation of exuberance – from the moment that leather trimmed key fob graces the palms of your hands. Trimmed in the exact colour of the interior I’m told. A subtle yet instantaneous rationale creeps over – Volvo is back, and they’ve got it very, very right this time! 
No less than USD11-billion dollars has been spent on three little alphabets that spell out ‘S.P.A’ or Scalable Product Architecture. Volvo’s take on variable platform architecture – which Volvo claims will spawn a further seven models by 2018. The Volvo XC 90 is the first offspring of S.P.A. 
Another call to fame revolves around a motor generator that interfaces with both the engine and gearbox – marked by a shiny badge on the rear boot lid called ‘Twin Engine’, the ‘T8’ badge next to it more traditionally proclaims the level of power and kit, and even so, is a first.   
13-years since the debut of the first generation – a lot is to be expected of Volvo’s flagship SUV, especially when the other market contenders are better and more established than ever. Audi has given us its all-new Q7 while stalwart BMW’s uber-SUV the X5 still hold high-regard, even amongst CAR’s UK team – who still call it the best all-rounder on sale today. 
The effervescent scent of unmolested rubber and leather suggests a hastened rip of the plastic seat protectors just before I got there. Volvo did not even have time to upload the localised GPS maps into the car before we snatched the keys from them. After the succeeding 30-minute walkabout in hopes of understanding the various trinkets and thingamajigs of the car… everything still feels pretty much alien.     
Parked parallel against the darkly tinted glass of Volvo’s training centre. The combination of gargantuan proportions draped in the soft, champagne like hue of the sheet metal… the all new XC 90 looks staggeringly beautiful. 
Up front, the sleek rectangular grille utilises soft edges around the corners. The grille slats themselves sport thick vertical spokes now – bedecked with the iconic diagonal strake and circular arrow iron-mark which now aligns with the metallic feature. A retrospective detail explains Zahir from Volvo. Flanked by the company’s new signature headlamps imprinted with the sexy T-Shaped DRLs… aptly named Thor’s Hammer. A salvo of LEDs, double-tiered is said to allow the XC 90 to virtually bend the projected light rays. The lower regions of the bumpers flex around the three-dimensional air-ducts creating an air of power and aggression.
Look closely along the hood line to find a subtle kink in the metalwork that starts at the top of the hood and curves ever so closely towards the headlamps which then continues along the flanks to create a muscular waistline. Glorious 20-inch alloys interact beautifully with polished metallic side steps.  Look here to also find the embossed metal plate spelling ‘Inscription’ – the top of the line trim level offered by Volvo.  
Round the back, the signature bold profile shoulder line, with tail lamps wrapped around is now smoothed off for a cleaner finish. Familiar Volvo fonts are now proudly spaced out (instead of being centrally clumped-up in yesteryears) across the rear tailgate.

The look is finished off with the pronounced rear bumper housing twin exhaust outlets at either end. To the right of the registration plate are three small badges that will become the norm for the ‘S.P.A’ gen of cars depending on laden tech – the XC 90’s read Inscription, Twin Engine and AWD.  
To be honest, I love this new trend of subtle boastfulness from Volvo. But there’s a lot to be proud off… and one glance is all it takes, Volvo’s new design blend of upscale flamboyance and textbook machismo is simply sublime. Volvo also offers accessory packages, namely the Thor Package which adds an even beefier body kit and the Oden Package which slots in massive 22-inch six-spoke alloys.
Climb inside and the treatment continues – soft Nappa leather becomes the initial point of contact. Rubbing against my arms on the door panels, brushing under my fingers towards the centre console and steering wheel – the fit and finish are sensational. The dark soft touch rubbers that line the top of the dash console and door trim creates a counter-point to the creamy leathers – separated only by the tactile surfaces of the non-laminated wood trim that lines the middle section. 
A caution here – it’s perilously easy to stain and scuff the fair leathers, so unless you have hired help for upkeep, you might want to opt for the darker shades Volvo will sell you. 
The inclusion of the ‘Sensus’ 9-inch tablet on the dashboard has left much of the centre console beautifully minimal – by now only housing  an exquisitely finished ‘Drive Mode’ rotary drum selector, the twist toggle engine start controls and a ‘Orefors’ crystal shifter even Range Rover would be envious off. 
I had my preconceived notions surrounding the ‘Sensus’ tablet-like nerve centre, but for the most part, is spaced out between three different screen layouts. Touch intuitive commands require a swipe right or left to access the home screen, multimedia and safety system controls. While prompting tabs at the bottom and top displays air-conditioning controls and other setup parameters respectively. If all fails, press the home button on the piano black frame to repeat the process from the start of the puzzle again. In my opinion, the system will compliment an Apple iPad user’s skillsets better at first. But Android natives need not worry.
The key slots neatly into a holder in the centre console tray. A quick twist of the starter knob – sends the virtual needles on the dial-screen whirling in a clockwise direction and then back again. A sonic whirr is heard – perhaps traditionally denoting a functional  fuel pump, only in the XC 90, it’s the 87bhp and 240Nm combo of the from the twin-electric motors at the rear and lithium-ion battery pack that sits longitudinally along the car’s central tunnel and stores up to 9.2kWh on a full charge. Besides the electric motivation, there’s a conventional (if one could call it that) 2.0-litre supercharged, turbocharged, direct-injected and variably timed Drive-E power mill that delivers a whopping 320bhp at 5700rpm and 400Nm of torque from 2200rpm. 
With their powers combined - saddle up for a smile inducing 407bhp and 640Nm total system output. Frankly it beggars belief, I’m not sure if it’s even politically correct for a Volvo to have 400+bhp – much less from an inline four-banger. Power is sent through an eight-speed Aisin torque-converted auto with a rather long 3.20 final drive ratio. Volvo claims a 5.6 second 0-100kph time and 230kph at full tilt.  
This of course, is supplemented by a plethora of safety functions that come as standard – for one, forget dreary ABS, airbags and traction control. The suite of kit has been extrapolated to include active pedestrian and cyclist detection and collision aversion protocols, road signage identification and indication, lane keeping aid and the only system currently able autonomously brake when you turn into oncoming traffic – City Safety becomes the umbrella name for all the above. The system works through a network of cameras and radars around the XC 90 feeding data through Volvo’s ‘Intellisafe’ protocols. 
But the spec-sheet alone arguably won’t win enough hearts of the showroom floors. And if the proof is really in the pudding, this car has to drive like never before… and it does! 
Six drives modes are accessible. The XC 90 starts off by default in Hybrid Mode – where the car’s control system calculates the most optimal synergy between the combustion engine and electrical motors for everyday driving performance and comfort. The ultimate duality between 407bhp and zero-emissions is provided by the Pure Mode – which maximises the electric drivetrain capability and reduces energy usage where possible. While Save Mode - crimps up the amount available electrification in an effort to shore up as much juice as possible. This is usable when a long outstation drive might be followed by an in town crawl. The motor-generator recharges the batter y pack under braking and during engine over-run. 
There are two rough-and-tough modes, All-Wheel-Drive and Off-Road which alter engine, gearbox and the all-important air-suspension ride height. When Pure and Hybrid and Power modes are selected, the ride height is lowered seamlessly at speed (or while standing still) to reduce aero-drag and add stability and raises ride height by circa 3-inches when the off-road modes are called into play. 
An Individual Mode is also on hand if you’d like to mix and match driving parameters but for the most part – the length and breadth of the preceding five modes leave little to desire. I did however concoct a full-EV mode under the sportier-suspension settings - useful for posing as you pace silently past a nightclub on Jalan Changkat, much to the bewilderment of party-goers. I refer to this as Stealth Mode. 
The XC 90 rides on a double-wishbone setup up front and an integral axle at the rear, modulated by airbags pumped and deflated through twin compressors that sit where the spare tyre normally would. 
Progress through the modes and find that regardless of the road conditions, the ride quality in the XC 90 is largely serene. Swallowing the larger bumps while threading highway distances with the same brutal efficiency and comfort levels as an Merc S-Class is a tough act to follow as it is, made even more profound when u factor in the colossal 2343kg kerb weight, but that’s how good the XC 90 is. 
There are some bugs but for the most part, body control is superb and never bone-jarring even when called on to attack a tight B-road. Cycling through the modes invariably creates a more ruggedly connected feel to the blacktop, the power assisted rack and pinion steering weighs up nicely – one doesn’t necessarily feel like the car has condensed around you (like an X5 or Cayenne), just a heighten sense of involvement of the  proceedings. 
Which is no bad thing in my books – but the system does get caught out on the smaller dips, expansion and those pesky rubber bumps in place in every shopping mall’s car park.  The dampers compress brilliantly on the bound stroke, but upon recoiling back towards the road, jerks the chassis rather perceptibly. The sensation is as such when a conventional setup bottoms out under full elongation, which can become rather intrusive after a while. 
Which brings me onto the brakes – there’s no faulting the stopping power they afford. But between playing a role in charging the battery, managing traction and slip ratios and stopping the car – there tad bit of corruption at the pedal. It’s rather hard to draw a relation between pedal travel, brake force and the subsequent pedal weightage – and this caught me up rather often, especially in mid-to-low speeds in traffic. 
Otherwise, to nit-pick for a kink in the armour of Volvo’s new hero will turn up largely blank in my opinion. It’s a heroic effort by all accounts; and surely Volvo’s best ever. Add to that an introductory price of RM453,888 after some well-placed ‘Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) tax reliefs put it over a RM120k cheaper than the equivalent BMW X5 (xDrive 35i) or Audi Q7 (3.0 TFSI Quattro), with a better warranty in place – Volvo’s Dark Knight has well and truly risen.

Words and Photography: Arvind Kumar

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