The Swedish engineers have two test cars on hand. One is powered by Volvo’s range topping petrol-fired VEA engine (which has both a turbocharger and a supercharger) and the other has a high-performance version of the VEA diesel that has proved so effective in the S60. Both have mechanical all-wheel drive.
The XC90 is based on Volvo’s new SPA architecture, which can be stretched from 4.55m to 5.07m long and will be used as the basis of all future 40-, 60- and 90-series models. This platform uses a great deal of high-strength and ultra-high strength steel in its construction, but the company claims the XC90 will be the lightest car in its class.
The front strut towers, however, are made from cast aluminum, which improves the stiffness of the mounting for the double-wishbone front suspension. These towers are glued and riveted to the steel bulkhead and inner wings.
In the metal, the XC90 is a big and imposing car. In fact, it is just 100mm longer and marginally wider than the old model but has a wider stance, longer wheelbase, flatter sides and a more imposing nose styling. It is also clearly much more spacious than the current car.
A contribution to this is Volvo’s ‘new generation’ seats, which are markedly thinner than previously and now incorporate a wider range of adjustments and even the option of extendable seat squabs.
With a tall driver in the front seat, there’s a remarkable amount of rear legroom for the second-row passengers. Volvo also claims that the third row of seats can now accommodate an adult, if not for long journeys.
I head off out onto the ice-bound test tracks with R&D boss Peter Mertens in a petrol-powered XC90 mule. With around 300bhp on tap, it has an impressive pace. Mertens takes the car up to 200kmh (around 125mph) and two things stand out. Or, more precisely, don't.
Firstly, the sound of the new VEA four-cylinder engine is remarkably cultured. Even when it is being stretched, it has a remarkably refined, somewhat electric hum. Mertens said that, having abandoned five- and six-cylinder engines, they had considered ‘manipulating’ the engine noise. Clearly, there’s no need.
Secondly, all-round refinement seems a particular strong point, with Mertens claiming that the company has borne down on noise from “all sources… something our rivals don’t always seem to do”.
The interior is dominated by the 9.5-inch portrait-format touchscreen – immediately propelling Volvo into a lead over premium car rivals. Where rivals are button-heavy, only a volume knob and six tiny conventional switches intrude on the XC90’s interior. The touchscreen has been fitted with an “expensive filter'' to stop it reflecting in the windscreen and can also be operated by a gloved hand, something not possible with most smartphones.
Despite the XC90’s size, the view out is impressive, something Mertens said that the company worked hard on. The A-pillars seem thinner than before, the mirrors are mounted on stalks to further improve the view forward.
More important than this, it seems that this Volvo rides far better than any previous model I can recall. One of the traditional Volvo flaws has long been something of a ‘stumbling’ ride and thumping heavily across sharp edges.
The new XC90 would appear to be a giant leap in the right direction. Even when hitting the edge of packed ice on the test track the new chassis did a pretty impressive job smothering the impact. The unusual use of sophisticated double wishbone suspension – combined with a multi-link axle at the rear – will put all the new SPA-based Volvos in a very strong position when it comes to tuning the handling.