The new XC90 is the culmination of a remarkable period in Volvo’s history. Just six years ago – normally the period of time you’d want to develop such a car – the firm was perched on the edge of uncertainty.
A nose-diving global economy, falling sales and the desperation of then-owner Ford to extricate itself from European concerns left Volvo adrift on much the same perilous waters that eventually pulled Saab under.
Even the immediate solution to its woes – acquisition by Chinese company Geely – seemed precarious. What chance its recovery with a potentially fickle and impatient foreign investor at the head of the table?
But the clouds have parted spectacularly. Geely (from the outside, at least) has apparently been content to sit back and let the Swedes do what they do best: come up with neat, idiosyncratic solutions to the multitude of challenges that face a comparatively small European manufacturer.
Consequently, the XC90 is not merely a replacement for the firm’s flagship model. It’s also teeming with recently developed technology that will underpin a raft of new models in the next decade.
That’s for tomorrow. Today, the car must simply be very good. Which isn’t simple at all, of course, because Volvo’s new halo is a premium large SUV, and that segment is hardly stocked with underachievers.
Among them is Land Rover, a company also divested by Ford and which has gone from strength to strength under foreign control. Volvo will have noted the company’s rise with interest and will hope to convince buyers that its take on seven-seat, all-wheel-drive luxury is at least as compelling as the one that has emerged from Gaydon in the past 18 months.
From launch, it will need to do so with two trim levels: Momentum and Inscription (R-Design comes later) and only two four-cylinder engines, plus a plug-in hybrid version. The entry-level D5 model is likely to be the most popular, so that’s what we’ll focus on here.