For the past six months I’ve been driving a Land Rover Defender. Obviously, in many ways it’s terrible, as you may well be aware, but I have enjoyed every single one of the 15,000 miles I’ve driven in it, even though most of those were on my own, on a motorway, which is hardly natural Defender habitat.
Motorways are rather more the preferred ground of the car that has come to replace it: a Volvo XC90, in what counts for entry-level XC90 specification these days. It has a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing 222bhp and has arrived in entry-level Momentum trim, in which form it costs some £45,750 before options.
“What’s an XC90 for, then?” asked a passenger, who’d known the Defender, the other day. “Well, it’s an off-roader like the Land Rover,” I said. “Only it’s longer and wider, it won’t go as far off road, it’s more expensive…”
I trailed off, getting the distinct feeling this wasn’t really selling the XC90, which wasn’t my intention at all. It was one of my favourite new cars of last year and, if you’re going to drive more than 30,000 miles a year in anything, a Volvo XC90 is quite the choice.
So I better explained. It’s a seven-seat executive car, I went on, explaining how Volvos have exceptional seats (the driver’s one being electrically adjustable) and a terrific driving position, and that the XC90 in particular has in its centre console a cool new touchscreen that is as easy to flick around as a smartphone’s screen. Then there are the safety features, I said, of which it has loads. It’s comfortable, posh and practical, but at the same time it’ll tow things and go through a field if you want it to.
All of which is true. The XC90 is one of those do-anything vehicles, the sort of thing that would migrate to near the top of the list if someone said you could have just one car.
Even in its base Momentum form, the Volvo comes well specified. There is leather trim, that touchscreen infotainment system as standard, including navigation, and a fine stereo. There is also cruise control and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Volvo won’t offer anything bigger than a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, be it petrol or, as here, diesel, so that’s what this XC90 gets, badged D5. Air springs are optional (£2150) and fitted to this test car, as is ‘Drive Mode select’ (£395), which I’d have thought should come free with the springs, but can stiffen them up while sharpening the gearbox’s responses and adding weight to the steering. Other options fitted to this XC90 include an all-round camera to supplement the standard reversing camera (£700), 20in diamond-cut alloys (£1000) and sensors that look out for traffic if you’re reversing out of a parking space and also look into your blind spots and try to mitigate rear-end collisions (£500). Topping it off is a Winter Pack of heated seats, windscreen, washer nozzles and steering wheel, at £575.
Truth be told, only the Winter Pack makes this car feel any more plush than it would do as standard. All of the things that feel luxurious about the XC90’s interior are fitted as standard anyway: the leather seats, the touchscreen, the all-digital dash whose look can be changed via an options menu.
Ah, yes, digital things. The XC90 has a lot of those. It gets keyless go, while the heated seats and radio and so on are all controlled via the touchscreen. And I’ll be honest: they don’t work flawlessly. The XC90 is one of those cars that involves ‘ensembles’ when displaying digital radio stations, the passenger’s heated seat frequently switches off automatically after only a few seconds, and on about one journey in five the XC90 ‘loses’ the key and thinks it’s no longer in the vehicle.
Pity, because its functions mostly work brilliantly. The XC90 has automatic headlights including auto high beam, and they aim, dip or dim just a section of the lights with impeccable skill. The stereo sounds fabulous and the heated windscreen unfreezes in seconds. The XC is a fantastic winter car.
It’s a comfortable one, too, for the most part. If you were being picky - and let’s face it, on Autocar we’re paid to be - you’d argue that the ride was occasionally a bit crashy over big surface imperfections, while the four-cylinder diesel is a bit gruffer than you’d expect in a £50,000 car.
It performs pretty well, though. We recorded a 0-60mph time of 8.3sec when we road tested the XC90 and, apart from a slightly hesitant step-off, there’s plenty of urge. You can always flick the gear selector to the left and make shifts yourself - something I sometimes do at roundabouts because it seems to improve response. Fuel economy is 34.1mpg so far - pretty good for a 2076kg SUV. It’s not a massive improvement over the 28mpg the agricultural Defender was getting, but I do cruise in it rather more quickly on the motorway - at around the legal limit rather than a steady 55-60mph. Will 30,000-plus miles a year in the XC90 be as enjoyable as those in a Defender? I strongly suspect so. But even if they’re not, they probably won’t take quite as long.
Car: Volvo XC90
Needs to be: Comfortable and effective as a motorway cruiser, somewhat economical.
Run by Autocar since: January 2016
Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum
Price £45,750; Price as tested £51,770; Options Air suspension £2150, 20in alloys £1000, metallic paint £700, 360deg camera £700, blind spot/cross traffic/rear collision warning £500, Drive Mode settings £395, winter pack (heated seats, windscreen, steering wheel, washer nozzles) £575 Economy 34.1mpg; Faults Electronic niggles; Expenses None