What is it?
Unfortunately for Volvo, it’s a perfect illustration of how fast class standards improve at the premium end of the car market: it’s the latest Volvo XC90.
This car has been given a the mildest of late-life refreshes for 2011. There’s a little bit of extra chrome on the radiator grille, some more widely colour-coded bumpers, some new watch-style instruments inside, and a new ECU for the car’s 2.4-litre five-pot diesel engine which liberates an extra 15bhp and 15lb ft of torque, as well as allowing for EURO V exhaust emissions compliance.
Otherwise, this is the same practical, slightly retiring SUV that we’re already well familiar with – which is both good and bad news.
What’s it like?
197bhp and 310lb ft is just enough to motivate this two-tonner. Dig deep and this Volvo will move along at a reasonable enough pace, but it’s still more sedate than the latest premium diesel 4x4s. More important, however, is that the XC90’s six-speed automatic gearbox, engine and four-wheel drive system have been reconfigured for quicker response from a standstill – so, unlike the original car, it doesn’t seem to take such an eon to pull away at a roundabout.
Volvo has done little to boost the XC90’s rolling and mechanical refinement, however. Compared to younger rivals, the car’s chassis seems clunky and crude. It crashes even over relatively minor bumps, and although wind noise is minimal, the car’s engine isolation seems poor: there’s just too much thrash from that five-pot powerplant that finds its way into the cabin.
Combined that shortage of mechanical refinement with some unnecessary weight and a lack of natural feel in the car’s steering, and it makes the XC90 quite an unpleasant car to drive at times. Large 4x4s such the current Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes ML and BMW X5 have become highly refined cars in the time since Volvo’s XC90 first appeared, and it would seem that Gothenburg just hasn’t done enough to keep up.
Should I buy one?
Don’t dismiss the idea completely; there are still plenty of ways in which this family 4x4 appeals. It’s well screwed together, it’s got a decent boot, its seven-up seating layout is great, as is the child seat integrated into the sliding 2nd row middle chair. And it’s well-priced.