Volvo turns 90 this year, and the brand has garnered a much-deserved reputation for safety technology over the decades, but the latest XC90 is about much more than just keeping occupants safe.
Volvo is 90! That’s right, the brand is almost a century old. And if you ask most people to provide you with a single piece of information about the brand, most will say that it makes safe cars. Of course, this perception isn’t entirely unwarranted. The brand does indeed make very safe cars – and it invented things like the three-point safety belt and rear-facing child seat – but safety isn’t the only thing Volvo cares about. It makes cars that can compete with the best in the world in terms of performance, comfort, design and luxury. No vehicle better illustrates this point than the XC90. This large SUV is on par with anything on offer from the Teutonic brands. Let’s start with the engine. This particular example is powered by Volvo’s D5 oilburner, which is a 1 969cc four-cylinder turbodiesel. It’s been tweaked slightly for 2017 so that it delivers 173kW and 480Nm of torque (up from 165kW and 470Nm). It also boasts something called PowerPulse technology, which greatly reduces turbo lag. PowerPulse draws air from the air filter via a compressor, into a pressurised two-litre tank.
When required, the compressed air is fed by a valve into the exhaust manifold to instantly spool up the turbo. The tank automatically refills after each burst, and the compressed air remains on hand at all times to provide extra boost, on pull-away and during low-speed driving. The 2017 XC90 has also received an update to Volvo’s Pilot Assist system, which brings the SUV close to being autonomous. The all-new XC90 pioneered the original Pilot Assist system, which could be activated at speeds of up to 50km/h and allow the vehicle to follow one in front. With the latest upgrade, a lead vehicle is no-longer required, and the XC90 is able to maintain safe semi-autonomous driving, provided that lane markings are clearly visible on both sides of the vehicle, at speeds up to 130km/h.
The cabin of the XC90 is also worth focusing on. Featuring a complete re-imagination of traditional in-car controls, the XC90 driver interface is based on touchscreen technology and an intuitively tiled menu system that takes the effort out of personalisation and interaction. Volvo’s Sensus control system delivers connectivity with a range of useful cloud-based applications and services that can be operated via touchscreen, through steering-wheel controls, or via an advanced on-board voice control system. Unlike some other luxury SUVs, and even with what could seem like a somewhat diminutive oilburner under the bonnet, the vehicle is fun to drive. The XC90 feels eager and sprightly thanks to the torque on offer – and lack of turbo lag – and it remains surprisingly composed in corners. Volvo has developed an engaging ride and handling characteristics for the XC90 in its state-of-the-art chassis simulation lab. The vehicle delivers a smooth and thrilling drive on country roads and a comfortably solid presence on the highway.
Then, of course, there is the safety. The XC90 is very safe. It was awarded the Top Safety Pick+ rating from the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and received five stars during Euro NCAP testing. The XC90 (with standard City Safety technology) was the first car from any manu-facturer to score full points in Euro NCAP Autonomous Emergency Braking Car to Car rear-end tests (AEB City & AEB Interurban). When it comes to safety, the Swedish company is setting its sights high. With its Vision 2020 goal, it aims to deliver cars in which no one is killed or seriously injured by 2020. That is certainly a lofty and admirable goal, and it’s great to see that Volvo is pushing technological advancement on all fronts. The XC90 is a great vehicle in every regard.
Open-road rating 8 out of 10.
The good Safe and refined.
The bad Pricey.
Specifications – Volvo Xc90 D5 Awd
Engine 2-Litre Turbodiesel
Power 173kw @ 4 000r/Min
Torque 480nm @ 1 750r/Min
Transmission Eight-Speed Geartronic
4wd System Permanent Awd
Fuel Tank 71 Litres
Fuel Consumption 5.8 Litres Per 100km (Claimed)
Tyre Size 275/45 R20
Luggage Space 692–1 057 Litres
Price R950 350