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Driven: Volvo XC90 T6. Image by Volvo.

Driven: Volvo XC90 T6
A week on UK tarmac with the Volvo XC90? Bliss.

 



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Volvo XC90 T6

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: Looks, interior, ride quality, refinement, chassis poise... pretty much everything, really

Not so good: T6 not the most sensible engine option, can get pricey with a few bits of desirable kit

Key Facts

Model tested: Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription
Price: XC90 range from 46,250; T6 Inscription from 53,745, car as tested 67,925
Engine: 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 186g/km
Combined economy: 35.3mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 320hp at 5,700rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,200- to 5,400rpm

Our view:

We last drove a Volvo XC90 at its launch in the first quarter of 2015 and its sensational, scintillating all-round performance burned itself so indelibly on our minds that we spent the rest of the year boring anyone who'd listen about the seven-seat SUV's charms. Car of the year, then? Almost certainly.

So, with 2016 kicking off with a miserable January in which we seemed to lose every big-name star going - as well as a motoring celebrity in the form of the Land Rover Defender, its demise coming a month later than planned - a week in the company of the Volvo on UK tarmac at least proved a bright spot in an otherwise troubling period. However, of the three drivetrains available in the XC90, it's this T6 which is the minority interest. Volvo estimates that just 10 per cent of customers will choose the super- and turbocharged petrol engine, although the storming T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid isn't much more popular, with the expectation being that 15 per cent will opt for the PHEV. That means the D5 diesel will three-quarters of all XC90 sales.

You can't blame people for preferring the D5, mind. The T6 is the most torque-light of the three XC90s with 400Nm, although with 320hp at a relatively lowly 5,700rpm - from a 2.0-litre four - that puts it about on a par with the Porsche Macan S. But it's also the least economical version of the XC90 and is around 3,500 more expensive than the diesel. On the other hand, it's 9,610 cheaper than the PHEV, so can it make enough of a case to convince us of its merits?

We might as well start with a negative here, because we haven't got many to choose from. If money is no obstacle, there's no reason to avoid the T6 motor. It's extremely smooth, largely quiet (until you get past 4,000rpm) and more than capable of making you forget you're 'lacking cylinders', if that sort of thing bothers you in a premium SUV. Mated to that lovely, eight-speed automatic gearbox, it provides the 2,004kg XC90 with plenty of urge, the Volvo picking up pace smartly even if you only lightly depress the throttle in, say, Normal mode (the optional Drive Mode Settings with Adjustable Steering Force costs 395). All fine, then, in terms of performance. But in reality, 25.8mpg across 492 miles, conducted at a motorway-skewed 47mph average speed, is pretty poor for a 2.0-litre four-pot. Maybe the fuel costs wouldn't bother richer owners, but the Volvo's sub-300-mile range on a full tank might be more of an issue.

Other than that - and a cruise control system that only goes up in increments of 5mph, rather than 1mph, on the button (yes, we're clutching at straws here) - we're still hopelessly infatuated with the XC90. Aside from its instant appeal thanks to its sleek, cool looks and glorious interior, it's chock-full of lovely little touches. Details such as the rounded-square starter knob, the atypically comfy Volvo seats, and two boot-lip mounted buttons to control the automatic tailgate. One just closes the lid, while the other shuts it and then locks the car; so simple, so clever, so invaluable when your hands are full of the heavy loads that were in the boot in the first place.

And it's well-equipped. So comprehensive is the basic Momentum specification of the Volvo SUV that you start to convince yourself you could live with a D5 without any additions whatsoever, which makes the 46,250 ticket look an absolute bargain. However, when we checked through the options fitted to the T6, we began mentally specifying our 'own' car to order. And here, the Volvo can become expensive.

Take, for instance, the Four Corner Electronic Air Suspension. We've not actually driven a passively-sprung XC90 and reports we've heard are mixed; some say the ride is poor on the steel set-up, others say it's acceptable. Nonetheless, we've never thought 2,150 has been better spent than on this upgrade, because with it fitted, the Volvo's ride is flawless. Yes, you read that right: flawless. The XC90 simply oozes along roads, the suspension smothering every lump, bump and ripple into total submission at source while maintaining complete silence during operation. Honestly, we can't remember a vehicle of any size, shape or price that covers distance in a more serene manner. It's magnificent, so tick the damn box come ordering time.

That's really job done for the XC90 already, because these big SUVs need to be comfortable first and foremost. But it doesn't stop impressing you there. Cast your net wide and there are sharper, sportier competitors out there - either of Porsche's offerings, most of BMW's larger X-models, the lunatic Range Rover Sport SVR and Jaguar F-Pace - but the Volvo is no wallowing disgrace. In fact, it comports itself in a remarkably talented manner, the body never leaning more than a tiny amount when turning in sharply, the steering - while light - is accurate and clean, the chassis gripping with a crisp neutrality. At least the XC90's handling proved that the 395 Drive Mode option is needless, because we just left the Volvo in Normal and it blended road-holding and ride perfectly well in this setting.

But we'd probably want the Winter Pack with Head-up Display (it also includes heated seats and washer nozzles) for 1,175, because the HUD is brilliant. The Intellisafe Pro Pack, for 1,500, adds in blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and rear collision mitigation, yet it's an 'essential' thanks to Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist - meaning the Volvo does all the donkey work in the inevitable stop-start traffic you'll encounter on any British motorway. You could probably avoid the 2,000 Xenium Pack although the tart in us does love a panoramic sunroof and 360-degree cameras, both included. And, by crikey, it's ludicrously expensive at 3,000 but the Sensus Connect option adds the extraordinary Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system. This thing is awesome; you'll spend half your time with it clicking the 'Gothenburg Concert Hall' setting just to hear what some ridiculous track hidden away in your iPod sounds like in a totally inappropriate setting.

What else have we got? Metallic paint at 700 - yup. Apple CarPlay for 300 - OK, yes, even though we're, er, not exactly all smartphone-savvy people. Laminated side windows... will that make the car louder if they're not specified? If so, we need them to preserve the Volvo's wondrous, cathedral-like cruising demeanour. Another 400 gone. Lobbing a set of 21s on the XC90 won't spoil the silken ride on the air springs, but it does increase CO2 emissions. Whether the additional company car cost is enough to put you off making the wheels better fit the XC's arches or not is probably a moot point - we like big alloys here in the UK, simple as that. However, they cost a not-inconsiderable 1,450.

Anyway, we've gone on long enough about this. The fact is that while a 45-grand XC90 sounds like the Swedish company is almost diddling itself out of money, a near-70,000 Volvo as tested starts to seem a little steep. But allow us to sign off with some consumer advice. Firstly, save yourself three grand by picking the D5 instead of this T6, because the 470Nm diesel is more than capable of providing the same utterly luxurious driving experience as the petrol. Secondly don't think of this as an alternative to anything German of a similar price - after nearly 500 UK miles in its company, we're convinced of what we said when we drove it first time around. This thing is so bloody fantastic that it obliterates its Teutonic opposition. Indeed, the Volvo instead feels every bit as exceptional, refreshing and imperious as a Range Rover.

And as even a standard Rangie starts at 75,000, then you can see why we're in love with the Volvo XC90. Apart from the unknown quantity of its off-road prowess (sorry, we've not yet tested that facet of the car), we simply cannot fault this Swedish masterpiece. It's probably the best big SUV yet built - by anyone.

Alternatives:

Audi Q7: The new version's looks split opinion, as does its driving experience - for our money, the Volvo is better in all departments.

BMW X5: We've picked the BM instead of the Mercedes GLE as the X5 can be had as a seven-seater. Dynamically sharper than the Volvo but not by enough to offset all the other areas where the Volvo is superior.

Range Rover: The litmus test that proves the XC90 is extremely well-priced. The Volvo has the same high-quality finish inside and out as the Rangie, and its same focus on refinement ahead of handling; and yet the XC90 is far cheaper spec-for-spec.


Matt Robinson - 1 Feb 2016









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2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription drive. Image by Volvo.








 

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