2017 Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design Review
by KARL PESKETT
Price: from $97,910 plus options and on-road costs
Engine/Trans: 171kW/500Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel / 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.2 l/100km combined
Suspension: Double wishbone front / Integral axle and composite leaf spring rear
Towing: 2250kg braked / 750kg unbraked
Occasionally, you need to get away. A treat for the body, a break for the mind, refreshment for the soul. Rather than a flight out of town, it was time to head off on a road trip. In this case, the Margaret River region, around three hours south of Perth, where good food, good wine and good times await.
A steed for the trip would have to be big, spacious, safe and comfortable. Fitting the bill perfectly was the latest addition to the Volvo range, the XC90. It represents a change in course for the brand.
While the introduction of the XC60 in 2008 marked a new direction for Volvo – the shedding of the “bloody Volvo driver” tag, and a redirection of the design language – the XC90 is the first of a new generation under Chinese ownership.
The styling has changed further, and is now thoroughly modern, making the rest of Volvo’s cars look positively ancient. Once the S90 and V90 arrive next year, the lineup will start to look a lot fresher, but in the meantime, this seven-seat SUV will carry the flagship tag.
Looking inside, you can see why that tag fits. The presentation is absolutely superb.
The leather’s aroma is what hits you when you open the doors. The tanning has produced a hide that is looks and feels expensive. It’s buttery-soft and stitched perfectly, and even with our test car’s R-Design specification, which includes R-Design Contour seats, the seats (which are basically race buckets) are pure bliss on long journeys.
The shape may seem a little out of place in a luxury SUV, but there’s no arguing with the comfort. The support and bolstering is beautiful, though the fixed headrests mean you do sit a little propped forward; in this respect, the standard seats allow a bit more of a relaxed feel. Even so, the everyday comfort is fantastic.
Along with the seats, the R-Design spec brings illuminated R-Design tread plates, R-Design perforated leather gear knob, specific carpet mats and R-Design pedals. Sounds a bit “R-Design” overkill, but it does differentiate the XC90 enough to give it a more sporting ambience.
The carbon-fibre detailing looks excellent and fits well with the black interior, while the huge touchscreen (more on that later) integrates nicely with the centre stack and chrome surround.
Up front is a TFT screen in place of traditional dials, which enables information to be displayed in full colour, as well as shifting the dials around when needed to show extra details.
Everything is high end – the quality is top notch – but that would all be for nought if the rest of the package didn’t add up. And, thankfully, it does.
The infotainment is bang up to date, with minimalist graphics, clear text, and intuitive control motions. Just like a tablet, that centre screen has a home button and simple left, right and top screens that can be swiped to access. Like the styling, this screen makes the rest of the Volvo range look as dated as a Tamagotchi.
With four people on board, plus luggage, having plenty of space was a high priority, especially when you’ll be spending hours on the road at a time. Well, the XC90 delivers. Sure, it’s a seven seater, and the rearmost seats aren’t really suitable for adults, but fold them down and there’s a huge boot available.
The 1100 litres enabled suitcases, food bags, fishing gear and – the most important piece of equipment – a coffee machine to be stacked in without resorting to crowding around the passengers.
Fold the second row down and more than 1950 litres becomes available, so in terms of practicality, the XC90 is right up there.
So, it’s beautiful inside and out, and there’s enough space for most families. So far, so good. But how is its road manners? We’re pleased to report it’s good news there, too.
Thanks to Polestar optimisation, the D5 (which is a 2.0-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder) goes from 165kW to 171kW, which doesn’t sound like much of an increase in a diesel, but more importantly torque jumps from 470Nm to 500Nm. This enables the XC90 to hit 100kmh in 7.7 seconds, which is 0.1s quicker than standard.
Again, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember that a diesel’s strength is not in how well it sprints off the line, but how well it responds while moving. And in this case, the Polestar increase makes it feel like a petrol when overtaking.
Volvo also doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to making smooth diesels, but the D5 sets a new standard for the brand, putting it directly in line with German oil-burners.
It’s smooth, quiet and, thankfully, the extra grunt doesn’t come at the expense of fuel use, which stays the same as the standard car. For this reason alone, it’s well worth looking into the D5 rather than the T6.
The steering is well weighted, despite being a bit artificial in feel, but it’s sharp to turn in and the XC90 handles very well, too. Helping here are the R-Design upgrades which bring larger wheels.
Of course, this impacts the ride, making it a bit more jittery around town, but not so much as to put you off your lunch. In fact, as the speed increases, the ride quality improves.
Braking pedal feel is good, but you probably won’t get to test an emergency stop – the car will warn you first and then take over way earlier than you’d be able to react to. And that’s the beauty of a Volvo – it’s always on the lookout for your safety. Whether it’s checking blind spots, watching how well you’re sticking to your lane, freaking out if a car turns in front of you; the XC90 is going to keep you and your family safe.
But all that tech comes at a price. The car we tested started at $97,950, but the options fitted took it to $107,875. There were the Options Driver Support Pack ($4,000), Heated Front Seats ($650), Tinted Rear Glass ($950), Laminated Side Windows ($750), Heated Rear Seat ($400), Heated Steering Wheel ($300), Keyless Entry with Handsfree Tailgate ($975) and Metallic Paint ($1,900). Of course, some of that is completely unnecessary, but it’s still going well over $100K.
But what you’re getting is a solid, dependable, economical, grunty, quiet and comfortable machine that looks, feels and is superb. Sure, we used the Volvo to escape the rat race for a few days, but the car is a retreat in itself.
It would probably never been thought of for nefarious purposes, but the truth is the XC90 is the ultimate getaway car.