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Volvo XC90 D5 SE Geartronic

Click to view picture galleryIf it ain’t broke... Yes, we can all
  finish the phrase that so neatly sums
  up Volvo’s range-topping SUV,
  the XC90. It’s been around since
  2002 but every year has seen it get
  consistently better...”

ONE OF THE PRIME REASONS TO buy an XC90 is its comfortable seven-seat specification. Another its all-wheel drive safety. And Volvo has saved you the trouble of worrying about which engine and transmission combo they fit the XC90 range with just the one drivetrain: a 197bhp D5 2.4-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel mated to a six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission.

But 'reasons to' don't stop there because the more you look the more you'll find to confirm why now would be a very good time to start what could become the habit of a lifetime.

The XC90's design team have done an admirable job of making a big SUV look handsomely tough yet not in the least aggressive — none of this macho posturing for Volvo. But it is nevertheless a pretty large SUV: from the tip of its fluently-shaped nose to the tip of its practical split-tailgate it measures almost sixteen feet long; mirror-to-mirror, it's close to seven feet wide.

“Climb aboard and you
(and your passengers —
up to six of them) will
appreciate every inch of
those sixteen feet
because there’s room to
stretch out in all
directions
...”
Climb aboard and you (and your passengers — up to six of them) will appreciate every single inch of those dimensions because there's room to stretch out in all directions.

The cabin majors on quality and materials: classy brushed aluminium trim highlights, smart white-on-black 'Chronograph' dials with satin chrome bezels, a logically-populated control panel linking the fascia to the central tunnel plus lashings of soft leather covering all seven seats combine to create a tasteful and welcoming cabin.

Driver-friendly aids include the usual power windows and heated powerfold mirrors, dual-zone electronic climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear park assist, etc, along with a pop-up SatNav display screen that, if you know where you're going, can be retracted back into the dash top — if not, it's ideally-sited for both the driver and front passenger to see. A remote handset lets your passenger operate the navigation should you prefer; or you can do it yourself using the switches on the steering wheel.

A bit different (and rather unexpected as many Volvos now come with electronic switch-operated parking brakes) is the American-style, foot-operated parking brake — to apply it you press down the smaller pedal to the left of the main brake pedal; to release, you pull a small handle on the fascia to the right of the steering wheel. You'll hear a rather loud 'thump' when it disengages. Not a problem; it's logical and easy enough to use, and you adapt quicker than you'd expect.

And it goes without saying that there's a surfeit of safety kit to keep you and yours safe including a full complement of airbags, front seat anti-whiplash head restraints, side impact protection, Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (warns you if another vehicle enters your blind spot) and water repellent front side glass; plus there's dynamic stability and traction control and permanent four-wheel drive to make the XC90 a genuine 'can do' all-weather wagon.

In normal driving conditions, as much as 95% of drive power goes to the front pair of wheels; the instant slip is detected, anything between 5% and 65% is shunted back to the rear wheels. It works perfectly and you need never give it a thought.

Global warming or scaremongering — whatever you believe, the fact is that we're now getting a lot of devilishly stormy weather. Thankfully the XC90 takes it all in its stride — you could say that even hurricanes hardly hassle you in an XC90. If you do have to brave it out then Volvo's range-topping SUV is a very safe place to be.

“Thankfully the XC90
takes bad weather
conditions in its stride —
you could say that
hurricanes hardly hassle
you in an XC90.
But if you do have to
brave it out then Volvo’s
range-topping SUV
is a very safe place
to be
...”
XC90 drivers are also guaranteed a commanding driving position courtesy of a first-class 8-way multi-adjustable powered seat (made better by adjustable lumbar support and a 3-setting seat and door mirror position memory) from where they not only enjoy excellent visibility but a feel-good chunky three-spoke leather steering wheel. Multi-functional? Of course.

It's a given that Volvo seats are super-comfortable. No disappointment with the XC's; they're spot-on, providing support in all the right places — so much so that I must confess to sneaking off after lunch for forty winks in my private Volvo 'sanctuary'.

Unless you want to travel down the MPV road, seven seat estate-cum-SUVs are few and far between. So whether you're carting around six others or just bulky items and you like to do it in comfort and luxury, the XC90 should be in your sights.

Peeps first: even passengers travelling in the third row will still feel like they're travelling first class — these two large individual pop-up-from-the-floor seats are as usable as they are easy to conjure up by pulling the obvious release. And they have their own dedicated storage bins and cupholders; AirCon too. Teenagers will be particularly happy sitting back here — for some reason kids seem to love sitting at the end of the 'bus'.

Between the rearmost pair and the front pair are three individual (split 40:20:40) equally comfortable seats offering plenty of room in all directions — each of these these can be slid forwards or back independently to vary the legroom to best suit passengers' personal requirements. For smaller, still-growing family members, a booster cushion is built into the second row's centre seat.

For load-lugging duties the XC90 offers three options: with all seven seats in play there's still 249 litres for baggage; with five seats in use there's a generous 615 litres that will easily swallow a mass of luggage or lifestyle gear; and with both the second and third row seats folded there's an antique dealer-friendly 1,837 litres combined with a flat load bay floor.

The front passenger seat can also be folded forward for extra-long loads. Not expected, but a bonus for tribal camping expeditions (or towing a dingy, or just taking a trailer to the local tip), is the XC90's ability to tow a braked 2,250kg.

“Fire-up the five-barrelled
D5 and you really
wouldn’t notice that it
drinks from
the black pumps.
And with 309lb ft of
torque on call,
it always feels powerful
and ready to respond
to your right foot
...”
Enhancing the XC90's functionality is a split tailgate. The larger upper section opens tall for easy access; the lower section folds down to make a sturdy ledge (and handy seat for outdoor jaunts!) that makes loading a doddle.

Another plus point: the smartly trimmed load bay not only looks as though it will cope with regular family use but is packed with practical features including a really useful flip-up boot separator, bag holder, roller luggage blind, and extra storage under the boot floor.

Fire-up the five-barrelled D5 and you really wouldn't notice that it drinks from the black pumps. With 309lb ft of torque on call between 2,000 and 2,750rpm, it always feels powerful and ready to respond to your right foot. Use the revs in the lower gears and you will hear the engine at work — but it's a pleasing five-cylinder growl.

Thanks to the Geartronic's manual mode you always have full control of the six ratios without ever needing to call on kickdown — most experienced auto drivers prefer to drop down manually rather than use kickdown as then it's you, not the 'box, who decides at what point to shift back up again. Left to its own devices, the Geartronic delivers well-judged changes and if you need to make brisk progress, just flick the selector into Sport.

Full auto or max-control manual to the rev-limit, the six-speeder auto 'box serves up smooth up/down changes, even during full-speed-ahead Sport shifts. For the record, the XC90 reaches 60mph from standstill in under 10 seconds and its top speed is 127mph. Engine noise at motorway speeds is a muted but reassuring hum.

Official fuel consumption figures are 25.7, 41.5 and 34mpg, respectively for urban, extra-urban and combined — a week's real-world driving by MotorBar's road testers saw an overall test average of 34.2mpg.

While the XC90 makes no claim as to out-and-out off-roading skills, its electronic all-wheel drive and 218mm of ground clearance do let it go places that would be off-limits to an ordinary estate car or MPV. And the ride is clearly biased towards comfort — combined with the especially comfortable seats, the ride ensures you exit the vehicle feeling as relaxed (if not more so) than you did when you took your seat at the start of your journey).

Dynamically, the steering feels fine and nicely matched to the XC90's driving characteristics and, despite being a high-rider, Volvo's SUV doesn't feel tall and handles tidily. Pulling up, even with a full load, is never a problem — large disc brakes on all four wheels provide excellent stopping power.

Genuine seven-seaters in this class are as rare as hen's teeth. And when you factor in the Volvo's quality, assured longevity, practicality, all-weather safety and ease of use (not just for the driver but for the whole family too), it's easy to see why the XC90 will be celebrating many more birthdays. — MotorBar

Volvo XC90 D5 SE Geartronic | 38,875
Top speed: 127mph | 0-60mph: 9.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 34.2mpg
Power: 197bhp | Torque: 309lb ft | CO2 219g/km