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Volvo XC90 TwinCharged 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the Volvo XC90 at its Australian launch.

Volvo has released the first all-new XC90 in 12 years -- and the first vehicle developed under the ownership of Chinese car-maker Geely.

The starting price has risen dramatically, from $70,000 to $90,000, and the range will stretch to an eye-watering $125,000 when the plug-in hybrid arrives in the next six months.

Volvo aims to justify the price hike by giving the new model a more upmarket appearance inside and out, and adopting technology such as an iPad-style central display which swipes, pinches and moves apps around in much the same way as the popular tablet.

It also has a widescreen digital driver display, similar to Audi, in lieu of regular analogue dials.

As ever, there is a raft of safety features, including a couple of world firsts such as being able to automatically slam on the brakes in an intersection if you're about to turn in front of an oncoming car, and a "run off road" technology that senses when you've unintentionally left tarmac and are about to crash.

Volvo says the XC90 marks "a new beginning" for the brand and is a sign of things to come.

It even treated itself to a fancy TV commercial with what appears to be a rather scruffy looking young car thief who, wearing a beanie or a hoodie depending on how cold it is in each particular shot, has made off with someone's brand-new XC90 and then seemingly gets congratulated for it.

It turns out, however, he is a famous international DJ and one of Volvo's brand ambassadors as the company attempts to reshape its dull image, no matter how far the stretch.

Whatever you do, don't buy the optional air suspension

It was interesting to note, therefore, at the Australian media preview of the Volvo XC90 this week another video apparently showing real customers.

Aside from the Volvo sales staff planted into the "vox-pop" process, most target customers were old people in suits. There wasn't a DJ or a hipster in sight.

On the road 

Whatever you do, don't buy the optional air suspension. Aside from saving $3600 it makes the car drive worse.

When we tested cars equipped with air suspension in Europe earlier this year we came away underwhelmed.

Driving the car on regular suspension on Australian roads redeemed the XC90.

The suspension is comfortable enough over bumps (although we sampled the basic 19-inch wheels and tyres which are much more forgiving than the fancy-looking 20, 21, or 22-ich rims) but the suspension itself was fairly noisy as it did its best to dampen the bumps in the road.

The steering is way too light at first, but once you become accustomed to it, it's not bad.

This is a trait of electric power steering, which is becoming the norm because it saves a little bit of weight and a little bit of fuel. Given the rapid rate the car industry is adopting it, it could possibly be cheaper to assemble.

The engine and transmission combination is impressive

While engineers are still finding ways to make electric-assisted steering feel like hydraulic, we will be in a period of vagueness.

The engine and transmission combination is impressive. Don't be put off by their small capacities (just 2.0-litre four-cylinders in 2.2-tonne cars).

Both the diesel and the petrol versions move off smartly and are responsive when on the move thanks to the extra ratios available: eight-speed autos back both.

The petrol engine sounds a little coarse, almost like a diesel (I got out to check the badge on the back and the fuel flap) but it's no tractor.

Perhaps that's because it has a turbocharger and a supercharger attached. Here's hoping Volvo doesn't have the same reliability problems Volkswagen had with similar technology.

The new XC90 is one big leap for Volvo

Of course, most people will buy the XC90 for its interior. It's wider than before (and wider than many rivals), and there is easier access to the third row seats because the second row tilts and slides more than before.

But make sure you don't leave the dealership before anyone who is going to drive this gets a thorough demonstration of the iPad-like display and also learns every button on the steering wheel.

You don't want to be figuring out this stuff on the move, otherwise you may need its world-first safety systems.

Verdict

The new XC90 is one big leap for Volvo. But the price is a stretch and peers here and overseas who've driven the upcoming Audi Q7 reckon it's better. We will compare the two in the coming months.

What's new?

The XC90 is all-new from the tyres up, the first new model in 12 years.

Price: From $89,950 plus on-roads, but the price can easily climb beyond $125,000 once options are ticked, including for example $4500 for 19-speaker audio, or $4000 for technology that will guide the car itself in slow traffic.

Equipment: Widescreen digital dash, iPad style cabin controller, automatic emergency braking, 360-degree camera view, seven airbags (although the second-row seats lack body-protecting side airbags, only head coverage).

Performance: Power from both the petrol and the diesel engines is good, despite their small capacity. Aided in part by the 8-speed auto that steps off the line briskly.

Driving: Don't buy the optional ($3600) air suspension. The standard suspension drives better. The steering's a bit too light but you get used to it.

Design: The T-shaped LEDs in the headlights have been named "Thor's hammer" but the design came first, the name later.

Pricing Guides

$62,888
Based on 9 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$67,888
Highest Price
$69,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
3.2 Executive 3.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $44,990 – 52,360 2015 Volvo XC90 2015 3.2 Executive Pricing and Specs
3.2 R-Design 3.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $36,630 – 43,670 2015 Volvo XC90 2015 3.2 R-Design Pricing and Specs
D5 2.0 Inscription 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $67,888 – 69,990 2015 Volvo XC90 2015 D5 2.0 Inscription Pricing and Specs
D5 2.0 Momentum 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $54,230 – 62,370 2015 Volvo XC90 2015 D5 2.0 Momentum Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7