Progress is

SUCCESS

This is the future, and there is no way you can stop them from doing so. The all-new XC90 is just not another ordinary Volvo like how most of us would’ve keyed it. It is the most important model that will drive the sales figure closer to 800,000 units in the upcoming years – and to substantiate the ever-growing facet of this Scandinavian automaker. Keegan Dorai checks it out by taking it for a spin around Gothenburg.

by KEEGAN DORAI

It all began in 2001, where the North American International Auto Show was taking place at the remarkable Cobo Centre in Detroit with the rather quirky Adventure Concept Car on display. It was pretty much a shocker to all – sending waves of great news throughout the automotive world by showing that something really big is coming from a relatively conservative marque that is famed for building spontaneous wagons and extremely practical family saloons.

Though it was brilliant, the concept did upsetted plenty of brand loyalists – as they thought that the V70 XC (or Cross Country) was the furthest Volvo would go by matching supple SUV-like off-road ability with a wagon bodyshell. Yes, it wasn’t the last, and Volvo is keen on pushing the concept into reality by producing the upcoming on a massive scale to spur sales growth – and to avoid shutting the doors of Gothenburg down for good.

So instead of being another typical, also-ran, and of no value concept vehicle that shines like a diamond at an automotive show which never sees the light of production, Volvo has taken a bold move by producing a vehicle that was ‘largely’ claimed that saved the company in post-Y2K – and that vehicle is called the Volvo XC90. Production was pressed ahead in 2002, which embarked Volvo on a journey that holds a substantial future by taking on the big boys such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

It was groundbreaking. Demands immediately soared internationally and sales figures were off the charts – a first for a rather conservative brand which I’ve aforementioned. It won numerous awards throughout the globe, racking in great response from both consumers and journalists alike. But what’s most important, it was also the safest car that Volvo produced to date – a fabled tradition that the Swedish marque is proud to carry on.

But fast-forwarding to today, a 14-hour journey to Sweden is indeed a perilous business – but being a hardcore Volvo loyalist somehow has gotten me excited by travelling to the birthplace of this relatively conservative marque that doesn’t seem to chase nor crave for more portion out of the market-share pie all these years.

Now with spiralling economy that brings a slew of consumer-related questions, Volvo is answering that inquest by boosting up their brand appeal in developing a wide range of sophisticated powertrains combined with cutting-edge technologies. A fairly notable move that mixes all of the right ingredients together, which is topped-off with one of the most ambitious design language ever implemented for mass-production.

Yes, it is one redeeming move that Volvo – under parent company Geely at present – has been seeking for to crack open that hardshell of unexplored opportunities. A move that the Swedish marque was once desperate to get out off while being presided over by Ford a few years back. To simply put it, the days of yearning for more sovereignty under a restricted camarilla is finally over.

Currently with an array of advantages in hand backed by a solid financial cornerstone, Volvo is going all out by developing more than what has seem to be near impossible a few years back – and it doesn’t stops there for the all-new XC90 so stay tuned for more exciting models to come, in which one of them is the upcoming Volvo S90 that our editor-in-chief, Bobby, will be reviewing very soon in Europe.

Still, the new XC90 is poised to do that so – and it’s tasked to not only represent as a mere flagship replacement, but to loom as the ultimate halo model that’ll follow every necessary footsteps of its extremely-successful predecessor in a more sophisticated, and yet, broader manner. With this approach, the XC90 is on the verge of changing the brand’s once-famed image on producing cars that would only appeal to a handful of prospects.
At skin, the XC90 marks a huge departure away from the old – citing a vast diversity of new design touches that symbolises what future Volvos could look like. Visual aesthetics such as the muscular shoulder lines, a raised bonnet approach and the inevitably attractive Thorhammer-shaped DRL’s are one of the few novelties that Volvo has managed to give the all-new design language a more bolder presence without being audacious or brash.

Nonetheless, there are one or two traditional traits being carried over exteriorly. In profile, the XC90 still retains that chunky – albeit crisper – big seven-seating silhouette of the old. One obvious trademark would be that pair of symbolic rear light clusters, which extends up towards the roofline to better visibility. It’s a deep-rooted Volvo design hallmark that differs the brand away from the rest.

‘The XC90 holds a deep-rooted Volvo design hallmark that differs the brand away from the rest’

Unarguably, the XC90 still looks like a Volvo throughout in the forefront. It remains the most groundbreaking model yet to look exceptionally different from the existing range of models – bringing back an impact that was once experienced with the radical XC60 penned by Steve Mattin.

Sitting beneath the swanky new sheetmetal however, is a smart innovation of technology that doesn’t only save the company millions in development – but also – diversifies the potential of creating newer models by sharing the same footprint in the near future. Unlike the days of limited resource and development under Ford, the XC90 is the first vehicle to utilise the all-new Scalable Product Architecture, or better known as the SPA modular platform.

A first for Volvo, the underpinnings of this modular platform are meticulously engineered to accommodate both modern and traditional technology within. Though flexible, expandable and multi-adjustable in nature to accommodate various bodystyles and types of powertrain, the SPA platform is, indisputably, the strongest modular chassis ever to be developed in the automotive world.

In construction, the platform uses a generous range of hot-formed boron steel – a primary material that the company has been using since the early days by ensuring all occupants are safe in an unfortunate event while on the go. Apart from that, the platform also enables Volvo to shorten the overhangs of the XC90, even while in favour for a longer wheelbase to boost interior space. In return, the exterior proportions are superlatively balanced.

Taking centre stage in the front-most area is the all-new, turbo and supercharged 2.0-litre Drive-E motor that puts out an immense 320bhp on standalone. Why standalone? It is because the T8 variant utilises a plug-in hybrid mechanism which combines an 87bhp electric motor and a 9.2 kwh battery pack – bringing in a grand total of 407bhp with 640Nm of torque when combined (or floored in a more ‘enthusiastic’ manner).

Taking the Söderleden pass and exiting out from the 158 motorway towards Särö, the roads soon began transforming into the usual, cramped countryside road. Despite the XC90’s ponderous dimension, it steers and circles around narrow cul-de-sacs with ease. Unlike older Volvo models, the XC90 has somehow overcome the poor turning radius problem without breaking a sweat.

By keeping all of the faddish occupants happy, Volvo has even slotted in an eight-speed automatic transmission that is specially tailored by Aisin for both greater efficiency and refinement. The gearshifts are extremely unnoticeable, and it’s a match made in heaven with the polished T8 powertrain – working harmoniously well together while exuding a rather seamless feel on the go.
Though the air springs are partially on the softer side – but with great absorbency rate, the XC90 effortlessly glides on gracefully – eradicating any excessive jolt and thuds into the cabin over some pebble stone alleys in Gothenburg.

As usual, the new-generation of orthopedic-friendly seats are well padded for most occupants of different shapes and sizes. Rear and third-row passengers do get a generous amount of both head and legroom space – all thanks to the use of slimmer seat materials that enhances space inside. Drivers on the other hand, will appreciate the well-positioned seat and visibility.

To complement the uniqueness of the powertrain, Volvo has ditched the traditional propshaft – and instead – uses the centre transmission tunnel to store the main battery pack. It is built-in with a string of mechanisms around, in which, is incorporated with a slew of high-speed network connectors to the battery pack behind – enabling the all-wheel-drive function when selected.

Still adhering to Volvo’s latest policy by resting its laurels only with four-cylinder engines, the T8 is one of the key testaments made possible in replacing the old 4.4-litre Yamaha V8 without sacrificing power. Impressively, the new motor also produces way less Co2 emissions than most of its rivals in the same pitch – a notable achievement that the XC90 T8 is proud to précis with the world’s first seven-seating plug-in hybrid denomination.

At the wheel, the XC90 pulls with sweet poise. As tested on an empty stretch of road in the municipality of Torslanda, it somehow matches the fabled claimed figure of 5.6 seconds in a century sprint. Surprisingly brisk for a SUV that weighs in a tinch above the two-tonne mark – and yet frugal enough to return a mind-blowing 21.8km/l in both Gothenburg city and highway driving. Indeed, 21.8km/l as tested – an utterly impressive figure that I have never come across in my life ever before piloting a vehicle in this bulk.

In the ride and handling synod, the XC90 feels solid and stably planted throughout the drive on the E6 motorway that ends in Oslo. Steering feel is reasonably adequate, though vagueness is apparent when steering through the bends and corners in a slightly spirited manner along the scenic Kongahällavägen route, which leads towards the old Gothenburg City airport. Typical as it is, the need for sporty handling is something that would be the least of concern for a regular Volvo buyer.

Unlike the wallowy-feel execution of the old car, the XC90 feels more precise and rigid as well. It absorbs both bumps and undulations well with ease, and road noise is kept at bay within the cabin while on the go.

‘The XC90 remains the most groundbreaking model yet to look exceptionally different from the existing range of models’

There are six different types of driving modes to choose from – starting from the aforementioned All-Wheel-Drive function, which is best used at mild terrains, Off-Road for the occasional rough patch, Hybrid for the usual daily commute, and Power for a spirited 407bhp drive. The other two would be the electric-only Pure mode that is best left in town use – and then finally, Save mode, which recharges back the battery pack up to quarter-full if a plug-point is nowhere in sight.

Now with that said, all of these modes are easily accessed through the impressive 9-inch Sensus infotainment display. Yes, it is undoubtedly the second biggest centrepiece inside the relatively simple and straightforward cabin – a typical, and incomplex Swedish colophon that tallies with my experience of not having my coffee served with a teaspoon at almost every café during my stay. This is the simplest and most functional dashboard layout ever made by Volvo.

Regardless, the materials used throughout the inside are top-notch. Built quality is peerless, while fit and finish remains one of the plushest amongst rivals. Kit levels that are specific to the T8 are a set of banging 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system that holds the Gothenburg Concert Hall surround function, and the Orrefors crystal gearknob – which is the ultimate centre of attraction that will please every smiths and wrights out there.

If practicality is a source of concern, then fortunately, the XC90 still retains all necessary requisitions that were persevered by its predecessor. Besides being gifted with a nearly lipless load entry point and the superb height-lowering function for slotting in any cargo with added ease, it also comes with a cavernous 436 litres of boot space – even with the third row seats in place. If folded, it expands up to a cavernous 2406 litres – making it one of the biggest load luggers around.

Interested in one? Then voila! Volvo Car Malaysia has launched the all-new XC90 locally, and do stay tuned for a local review in the coming months. In other words, I do hope the new R-Design trim will be marketed – or at least, offered in a limited quota as well. Relentlessly, the R-Design could be an expensive proposition upon signing that order form, but if you do so, then do expect a commanding adversary in the styling chapter with one.

Nonetheless, the XC90 reigns supreme all around – let alone inside or out. It basically redefines the company’s core value that revolves around safety, quality and practicality onto a whole new level. It has clearly succeeded the former without losing all proper requisitions that made this seven-seating Swedish nameplate an instant sales success since 2003.

Volvo
XC90 T8

Engine Inline-4, 1969cc, turbocharged, petrol
Power 407 hp
Torque 640Nm
Transmission 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive, traction control, autonomous braking
Weight 2342kg
Power-to-weight 178PS/tonne
Price RM403,888

And so – while I was waiting for my next flight out of Landvetter – it has come to me that the new XC90 is the boldest and most competitive product that Volvo has ever made to date. Now by being a brand loyalist myself, I am extremely pleased to know that this is both the face and the future of Volvos to come.

‘It basically redefines the company’s core value that revolves around safety, quality and practicality onto a whole new level’