Wednesday, 11 July 2012

REVIEW - Volvo XC90 R-Design

Chelsea Tractors. The large 4x4's often seen in suburban towns and villages. I've always questioned the appeal of such large, seemingly impractical cars, but in the spirit of fair judgement I decided that before reaching a conclusion I should at least test one. I was lucky enough to be able to secure a Volvo XC90 for a week, to help me find out where the appeal lies.

Looks - 8/10

Now the XC90 is a familiar face in the world of motors. The model you can buy today is almost exactly the same as the one you could buy at launch in 2003. In 9 years there have been a few minor tweaks here and there but the basic shape remains. Fortunately it is a good-looking shape and if there is one thing this car has it is presence. The XC90 is simply vast. It is long, tall, wide, chunky and this gives a very 'robust' feel to the whole car. I tested the R-Design model, and as far as looks go this is the model I would choose without a moment of hesitation. There is a quad-exhaust, silver wing mirrors and the car sits on 19-inch wheels which almost make it look sporty. Furthermore, there is an optional 20-inch wheel package for those who find the 19's not quite good enough. The XC90 also has a split rear tailgate which is a feature that comes in handy.

Inside there is leather everywhere, and it is some of the highest quality leather I have ever come across. There is a big, chunky steering wheel with the 'R-Design' logo on the bottom of it. Other impressive features include the James Bond style sat nav which slides out of the dash, easy-to-use iPod connectivity with a cracking sound system, and the optional privacy glass adds a touch of class for rear-seat passengers. If I was to be really picky, I found that the dashboard layout didn't seem as practical as it could have been. Both of the controls for the heated seats were at one side of the centre console, and the buttons for folding the mirrors, turning off systems etc, were all a bit 'cheap' feeling. Like I said though, that's being overly critical.

Handling/Performance - 8/10

For me one of the best feature of any Volvo is the engine. There is no other word than 'sublime' I can use to describe them, and every time I drive one it reminds me why. There are a few manufacturers which have 'signature' engine styles. Subaru have the 'Boxer' engine, VW have the 'W' engines, and Volvo have 5-cylinder engines. The 'T5' Volvo's have always been fast, and let's not forget that the 2.5-litre engines in the Ford Focus ST/RS are Volvo 5-cylinder units. But I think that where the engines really show their worth is in their diesel form.

The engine in the XC90 is a 2.4-litre, 5-cylinder engine which produces 200PS and a meaty 420Nm of torque. 0-62mph takes 9.7 seconds and the top speed is 127mph. I also wish to mention at this point that the 'Geartronic' automatic transmission is superb. Quite often I set the car in manual mode and found it very pleasant to drive. The best thing about driving the XC90 is that when you put your foot down a bit the noise you experience is far from what you'd expect from a diesel. It's a smooth, refined, 5-cylinder noise that I have only ever come across in a Volvo. At times it almost felt like I was sat behind a V8 unit.

There is plenty of power at any given time thanks to the torque of the car, and the kickdown was responsive; even more so in manual mode. My only finding was that the car really seems to want to accelerate hard in 1st gear; I think having such a short first gear was probably the cause. However this was another problem which disappeared in manual mode.

On the handling front the XC90 does actually do quite well. Whilst it is a large, tall, heavy car, it also sits lower than you might expect from a 4x4. This means that it doesn't roll in the corners like you might expect, and the steering isn't low-geared so you can actually go round corners without three locks of the wheel. The seats are supportive and comfortable, and I wasn't thrown about even as a small chap. Generally the XC90 drives like a big car, and on the motorway comes into its own. This is one of the most comfortable long-distance cruisers I have ever experienced, and there is even a blind-spot system which means that when anything is in your blind spot, a little light comes on near the wing mirror. It's a brilliant system that's easy to use but never distracts you.

Economy - 7/10

Just in the nature of full disclosure, the figures for the XC90 are a combined fuel economy figure of 34mpg and a CO2 emission of 219g/km. This puts the XC90 in CO2 band K, meaning road tax will cost you £270 (£600 first year). The reason I mention full disclosure is that this cannot be taken on its own. Frankly, anybody who can afford to spend upwards of £40,000 on a car will not be put off by a yearly cost of £270. Nor will they be bothered by the fuel bill. Actually, I think that band K for this size of car is not that bad at all, considering they go up to band M. 34mpg is reasonable too, as this is more than the quoted figure on the Mitusbishi L200 I had sat on my driveway at the same time.

Practicality - 10/10

This is the area where the XC90 is most surprising. I was expecting that the size of this car would cause problems, that space in the rear would be cramped and there would be no boot. How wrong I was. This car doesn't feel big when you get behind the wheel. Parking was a doddle, and on narrow roads it never really mattered because everybody had moved out of my way before I noticed any sort of a problem. The driving position is comfortable and the XC90 is a great long distance cruiser.

Space in the back is better suited for children. However having said that, I managed to fit, and I wouldn't have been cramped. Admittedly, at 5'7" I'm not a giant, but I am still an adult with all of my limbs and that exceeds what I expected. The split tailgate was a really useful feature, and the boot is vast. Even with the rear-most seats in place there was room for your shopping, and with them down there was so much space I felt like I had to be wary of squatters.

Fun - 8/10

A really big question here. I see a lot of you raising your eyebrow at the 8/10 score, and some might even be screaming obscenities at me. But hear me out first. Fun can be experienced in many different ways. A car that pulls huge G's in the corners and tears your face off can be fun. A car so full of toys you find new ones every time you drive can be fun. A simply car stripped back to basics can be fun. The XC90 manages to stick two fingers the government and the ramblers and the environmentalists with their hatred of 4x4's. When you drive it you almost feel like you are too. And that's a good thing. I believe that a person should be able to choose whatever car they like and the government saying that certain cars are 'bad' isn't really fair. Driving the XC90 felt like making a statement; 'I chose this car and I love it and I don't care what people think'. It put a smile on my face when the 19-inch wheels crept through the small village and ramblers had to move to let me past, and then when I hit the country roads I would unleash put my foot down on a wave of noise and get my money's worth out of my road tax!

Concluding Remarks

Well I started out unsure of why these large 4x4's were so popular in a world where they will most likely never be taken anywhere near a patch of mud. However, having spent a week driving the XC90 I can certainly see the point. In fact it is more than that, because I would go as far as encouraging people to buy one. The government spends a lot of time telling us how 4x4's are killing the planet and that the world will heat up and boil us like lobsters. I think after the summer we have had, there are obviously not enough of them on the roads. So go out and buy one. Clog up your village roads. Watch people curse as you drive up the narrow streets. You won't care, and if enough people were to go and buy them, then maybe we won't be Eskimos next summer! A huge thanks to Nickie at Volvo for arranging the XC90 for me.

Total Score - 41/50


  1. That interior is soooooooo cool!

    1. It certainly is, it offers great practicality, is incredibly versatile and is a generally nice place to be; on a long drive it's very comfortable!

  2. Just bought a 2012 R series and I am in heaven! This car is amazing!

  3. Just got a 2013 R design to pull a caravan. We call the caravan "Beauty" just guess what the car is called... It certainly lives up to its name. It isn't as well suited to a 6'4" bloke as a shorter person but it's still relatively comfortable and an awesome machine.

  4. Just got a 2013 R design to pull a caravan. We call the caravan "Beauty" just guess what the car is called... It certainly lives up to its name. It isn't as well suited to a 6'4" bloke as a shorter person but it's still relatively comfortable and an awesome machine.