Volvo XC90, from £45,750
AT THE turn of the century Volvo’s engineers hit on an amazing idea. Sitting in the sauna one day, as naked as the day he was born, Thor turned to Sven and said: “Sven. After you have whipped me with some twigs and I have leapt for no reason into a freezing-cold lake, why don’t we design a big family car that might actually suit a big family?”
Land Rover had tried this with the seven-seat Discovery. But of course Land Rover was run back then by people who were only interested in how a car performed on a very muddy slope in Wales. They didn’t understand children. Many, I suspect, weren’t even quite sure where they came from.
As a result the Discovery had seats in the boot that could be accessed only by someone with a degree in engineering. Certainly, they could not be folded down unless you were some kind of Indian god with six arms. And to make matters worse, there was no space in the boot for even the thinnest dog.
Sven and Thor had had a better idea. Their car would not be particularly good on a muddy slope in Wales. And it would not be able to spin its wheels when leaving the traffic lights. Nürburgring lap times? They weren’t interested at all.
However, it would have the cool, raised splendour of a big 4×4 and it would have buttons that could be operated by someone wearing gloves. The seats could be moved about and folded away easily, even by a harassed mum who had six bags of shopping and a child who’d run off to jump in puddles.
They called their new car the XC90 and in 2002 showed it off to the public at an American motor show. Nobody paid it much attention. Why would they when the rest of the hall was full of cars that could growl and generate so much G in the bends that your face would come off? At a motor show nobody is interested in harassed mums or seats that can be folded down with one hand.
Despite the wall of silence that greeted the new car, Sven and Thor went ahead and put it on sale. They obviously weren’t expecting much. Because they’d geared up to make only about 42 in the first year.
As the father of three young children I knew straight away that I had to have an XC90. And a few years later I bought a second. And then a third. And then a couple of months ago a fourth
But the world went mad for the XC90. It soon became Volvo’s bestselling model, and because demand way outstripped supply, second-hand values were off the charts. It won award after award as people began to realise that the Swedes had pretty much reinvented the wheel. A 4×4 for people who don’t answer to the name of Ranulph or Sir Stirling.
I first saw an XC90 at the Donington Park racetrack. I can’t remember why it, or I, was there, but as the father of three young children I knew straight away that I had to have one. And a few years later I bought a second. And then a third. And then a couple of months ago a fourth.
This may strike you as odd, because why would you buy one of the last of the old models when you knew a new one was due to be launched in a matter of weeks? Simple. Back when the original XC90 was launched, Volvo was owned by Ford. It was a big player with deep pockets. But today Volvo is owned by a Chinese operation called Geely, and, from what I can gather, its pockets are now a bit more like those flaps you get in a pair of Levi’s. To put it simply, I figured the new car would have been designed on a bit of a shoestring.
When the second-generation XC90 was brought round to my gaff recently, I thought I’d made the right decision. It’s not really much of a looker any more. The deeply sculpted sides are now more slabby, and, my God, it’s big. Really big.
But the bigness pays dividends on the inside, where you now get a boot and seating for seven adults. Not five adults and a lot of moaning from the teenagers who have been put in the very back.
And there’s more, because, ooh, it’s a nice place to sit. The dials, the textures, the air-cooled subwoofer and the sheer design of everything is absolutely wonderful.
It’s so simple too. There are only eight buttons on the dash — not counting the diamond-cut starter button— because everything is controlled by what isn’t an iPad but sure as hell looks like one.
There is a bit of a drawback, though. Have you seen a child’s iPad after he’s had some sticky buns for tea? Well, that’s what the screen in the Volvo looked like after I’d played with it for five minutes. Oh, and the sat nav idea where you pinch the screen to zoom? That doesn’t work at all. But these are niggles compared with the feature that had driven me mad before I’d even reversed out of my drive . . .
The problem is that back in 2012 Sven and Thor had another idea. They said that by 2020 no one should be killed or injured in a new Volvo. That’s obviously preposterous, because what if you drove one off Beachy Head? No safety feature is going to save you then.
But, having made the claim, they are now working flat-out to realise it, and as a result the XC90 is festooned with systems that become hysterical if they think you are about to bump into even a rose bush.
The XC90 is festooned with systems that become hysterical if they think you are about to bump into even a rose bush. Manoeuvring this car in a tight spot is like being at a rave
Manoeuvring this car in a tight spot is like being at a rave. You have flashing lights, sirens and whistles, and there’s no point diving into the iPad thingy to turn everything off because that’s smeared with fingerprints and is invisible.
Later, on the motorway, the car did its best to stop me changing lanes — by which I mean it took control of the steering — and it applied the brakes if it thought I was too close to the car in front.
Every fibre of my being was stretched to a teeth-bared grimace by all this, but then I started to think: “Hang on — just go with the flow. Let it do its thing and you are less likely to have a crash.” And when you start to think that way, the new XC90 starts to make sense.
It becomes quite relaxing. Very relaxing, in fact. Because the 2-litre engine is now far quieter than it was in the old model, and the ride — mostly — is pretty good too. It’s so soothing you could nod off. And you’d be fine because it’d wake you up if anything was going wrong.
In the course of a week I drove this car around my farm, around London when the Tubes were on strike and on various motorways, and after seven days I was pretty much in a coma.
So, yes, I made a mistake by buying the old one. This new car is very good; so good in fact that it’d be ideal for those who find the current offerings from Land Rover a bit — how can I put this? — pratty.
Volvo XC90 D5 AWD Momentum specifications
- Engine: 1969cc, 4 cylinders, diesel
- Power: 222bhp @ 4250rpm
- Torque: 347 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Performance: 0-62mph in 7.8sec
- Top speed: 137mph
- Fuel: 48.7mpg (combined)
- CO2: 152g/km
- Road tax band: G (£180 a year)
- Price: £45,750
- Release date: On sale now