Polished new Volvo XC90 shining SUV star

All-new second-generation Volvo XC90 can compete head-on with premium sport utility vehicles in all

All-new second-generation Volvo XC90 can compete head-on with premium sport utility vehicles in all departments. - Credit: Volvo

You might be surprised to learn that Volvo's first-generation XC90 is only now being replaced. It was a pivotal model for the Swedish company, but after close to a decade and a half it's time for a 21st century replacement, says Iain Dooley.

Volvo XC90

What's new?

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Given the importance of this second-generation XC90, it would be easier to list what hasn't changed in the transition from old to new. This is a properly all-new premium sport utility vehicle. The car's bold exterior look is just one of many key changes to the XC90 recipe, as Volvo is setting its sights even higher in the fiercely-competitive premium SUV market.

The Swedish company routinely name-checks the Range Rover Sport as a direct rival, and with this XC90's enhanced luxury specification it's also knocking on the door of the mighty Range Rover itself. Factor in a wealth of safety kit, clever new engines and an infotainment system boasting tablet-like ease of use and it's clear Volvo is aiming high.

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Looks and image

Volvo cars have always possessed unusual, and often unique, styling and aesthetic character – it's what has set them apart from the crowd. This second-generation XC90 stays true to its maker's design philosophy, although the end result is more Apple iPhone than Nokia brick. Clean lines, an overall lack of fuss and a sprinkling of thoughtful details help the XC90 stand apart from the me-too generic SUVs already on sale.

Space and practicality

The default choice for the UK is a seven-seat cabin, which means a two-three-two layout and the rear seats realistically best suited for children although modest-size adults will fit for short trips. Still, that's better than most rivals and, when not in use, you can fold them flat to form part of an expanded rear load space. Fold the second row and you've got yourself a very posh, cavernous van. Back in the cabin, there's ample space for adults and their belongings.

Behind the wheel

In a bid to seriously reduce emissions and fuel consumption Volvo's brave new world revolves around four-cylinder power. Be it diesel, petrol or plug-in hybrid, smaller but usefully powerful engines will be powering all XC90s. The D5 diesel driven here offers a reasonable 225 horsepower, complementing the 320 horsepower T6 petrol and 400 horsepower 'Twin Engine' T8 hybrid.

There's a clear refinement and comfort bias when driving the D5 – this is no edgy driver's car like BMW's X5 but its rounded performance is much easier to live with. The Volvo's accurate steering, lofty driving position, slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox and air suspension – steel is also available – all conspire to make the XC90 a polished and agreeable experience. Despite its size it's also surprisingly agile, while the all-wheel drive system only sends power rearwards when needed – saving on fuel and further boosting refinement.

Value for money

Volvo is making a big deal about the XC90's package of safety and comfort kit, which it believes positions the car ahead of a number of key rivals. From the predictable array of airbags and electronic stability systems to the advanced cruise control, hazard detection, auto brake functions and systems designed to minimise injuries if it goes horribly wrong, Volvo has your back. It also has your ear thanks to an easy-to-use entertainment system, complete with oversize touchscreen and intuitive tablet-style, swipe-friendly way of navigating its many functions. And don't forget those engines – they've been designed to burn and emit considerably less then the old units.

Who would buy one?

The XC90 offers a rounded, road-biased experience complete with all the mod-cons associated with a premium saloon. Then there's the cabin's impressive versatility, clean design plus the promise of meaningful running cost savings. Being a Volvo the fancy safety kit is a given.

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