Among the Volvo XC90’s many badges and logos, there’s one that’s so small, it almost escapes notice. Yet it holds the key to the XC90’s character, and why, for some customers, this car may be the top choice for a family vehicle: It’s the Swedish flag stitched into a corner of the driver seat.
Swedish design (particularly furniture) is one of the first things that comes to mind, and the XC doesn’t disappoint. Its exterior is distinctive without being brash. Instead of a grille that shouts, “Hey, look at me!” the front end has a simple rectangle adorned only with the brand’s ‘iron’ logo. The details are what make it upscale, such as the black bars embedded within the grille, all but invisible from afar. The headlamps are multiple LEDs with a T-shaped DRL feature.
It’s immediately apparent when you sit inside that the XC90 has one of the most comfortable and ergonomic cabins around. The layout and materials ooze class, with a vertical touchscreen taking up the center part of the dashboard. Our unit had the metallic accents, but for once we would’ve preferred the wood option—a matte-finish veneer that adds a touch of warmth to the interior. The driver seat is easy to slip into, given the Volvo’s high hip point. The seat itself is superb, with motorized articulation for almost all areas, including extension of the seat cushion.
Twisting a knob on the center console fires up the 2.0-liter diesel engine, capable of 225hp and 470Nm. With the eight-speed automatic’s abundance of gear ratios, sufficient power and torque are always just a tip of the accelerator away. True to its family-transport character, the XC90 doesn’t exactly revel in highway high jinks. It can hustle when called upon, but power feeds in smoothly, as if to keep all the occupants unruffled. You can almost imagine the car shrugging its shoulders and saying, in Alexander Skarsgård’s voice, “Well, if we must...”
The comfort of the front seats extends to the second row, where the bench is split into three sections. Each can recline and slide forward and aft as desired. The third row features sculpted bucket-type seats similar to the first row. Back and thigh support are relatively comfortable, but kneeroom is tight, even with the second row pushed forward. A graceful entry or exit from the third row requires the height of a midget and the suppleness of a gymnast. Each row does get its own A/C vents, and a touchscreen panel in front of the second row adjusts the blower speed.
One novel feature that the Volvo has is ‘smart’ cruise control, integrated with a Pilot Assist system. This means the XC90 can automatically maintain its distance to the car in front, whether in a traffic jam or on the highway. A small icon below the tachometer indicates when it’s locked on. What’s more remarkable is that Pilot Assist also takes over the steering. A radar sensor determines distance to the preceding car, while cameras scan for road markings to keep the car in a given lane. When it locks on to the car ahead, a small white icon lights up, and when it detects the proper lane, a green steering wheel symbol is shown.
The system is designed more for assisting the driver in stop-and-go traffic, rather than let the car drive on the open highway. It automatically shuts down at speeds of over 50kph, for instance. With Philippine road conditions and our intermittent or completely absent road markings, it could operate for only a few seconds at a time—a minute or two at the longest.
We have mixed feelings about Pilot Assist. In optimal conditions, we can relax a bit and leave the driving to it for a couple of minutes. But we always have to look at the instrument panel to check if the system is still locked on for both distance and steering. Our hands have to be on the steering while at all times, and we have to keep one foot hovering above the brake pedal just in case.
Otherwise, the XC90 is an excellent long-distance cruiser. On the standard 19-inch tires, the ride is firm without ever feeling harsh, even on badly maintained roads. Sound insulation is quite good, with only the diesel engine’s ever-present rattle marring the luxury feel.
Safety is still the unique selling point of a Volvo, and the XC90 has a full complement of equipment for this. On the active side, complementing the radar-assisted cruise control is the City Safety system. In Manila’s cut-and-thrust traffic, expect to often see four red lights illuminate, but not to start an F1 race. Rather, the heads-up projection on the windshield warns you if you’re closing in too quickly on another car. The computer can also apply full braking to help avoid a crash—jarring but infinitely better than the alternative. There’s also adaptive lighting. The ultra-bright beams of the full-LED headlamps point into bends, even seeming to anticipate steering wheel movement.
The major obstacle that trips up the XC90 is the eye-watering price tag. It starts at P5.5 million, and going up to more than P6 million for the unit we tested. That makes it cheaper than large German SUVs, but substantially more expensive than several excellent Japanese and American offerings. It would take a special kind of fan to look at these options and still be willing to go for the XC90. But if they did, they would appreciate a car that is well-equipped, comfortable, and supremely capable.
SPECS: Volvo XC90 D5 AWD
Engine: 2.0-liter turbodiesel I4
Power: 225hp @ 4,250rpm
Torque: 470Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic