It’s essentially a tweaked translation of the original brief: a big, squarish and high-shouldered seven-seater in the Volvo mould. That’s fine. A Range Rover Sport the XC90 isn’t, but utilitarian good looks and neat touches like the standard ‘Thor hammer’ LED headlights help it to stand out from the bland-athon that includes everything from the Audi Q7 to the Kia Sorento. Such is the impact it has been passed onto the V40 and will be seen on the next gen XC60 and the XC40.
The underpinnings are far more novel. The XC90 is the first car to sit on Volvo’s new modular platform, dubbed SPAR (Scaleable Product Architecture). This technology claims to use a higher percentage of hot-formed boron steel than any other manufacturer and allows the XC90 to be larger, lighter, safer and better balanced than previously.
The platform also enables shorter overhangs and a longer wheelbase, a layout helped by the engine bay’s need to be big enough for only four-cylinder engines.
Preservation of interior space and weight reduction are also the reasons given for the use of a transverse composite leaf spring in the rear axle. The manufacturer is adamant that its design, when incorporated into a new multi-link suspension, means it has less of an impact on third-row space.
Alternatively, you can opt for air suspension, which does away with the leaf spring and the coil springs in the front wishbones and offers a range of driver settings that include the ability to raise the body by 40mm in off-road mode.
Although it is not particularly intended for the muddy stuff, the XC90 will initially be four-wheel drive only. Its on-demand system is based around a fifth-generation Haldex coupling that’s capable of sending 100% of torque to the rear but generally taxes the front alone. The hybrid T8 differs in that its all-wheel ability is delivered by the 81bhp electric motor on the back axle.
Up front, the T8 uses the same 317bhp petrol engine found in the T6. Sharing an identical four-cylinder architecture with its diesel equivalent (along with an eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission), the unit employs turbocharging and supercharging to improve on the output of its predecessor’s V8 while emitting just 179g/km CO2.
The diesel D5 goes even further. Thanks to i-ART, which locates fuel pressure sensors in individual injectors rather than collectively controlling them via the common rail, the unit develops 222bhp and 347lb ft of torque for CO2 of 149g/km, putting the two-tonne XC90 on a par with a two-wheel-drive BMW X5.
There is rumours gathering that Volvo are planning to let their performance division Polestar loose on the XC90 and create a rival to the Audi SQ7.