We’re out here in Switzerland awaiting the start of the Geneva motor show tomorrow. But just before Autocar goes into its annual new car frenzy, I thought I’d revisit a slightly older model – the Volvo XC90.
Why? Because the XC90’s baby brother, the XC60, is being launched here tomorrow and Volvo’s hoping that this all-new compact 4x4 will attract more than 50,000 new buyers per year to the brand. It reckons most of these buyers will be young, thrusting, outdoors types – the sort who’d have an XC90 if it weren’t so big and expensive.
And I reckon that, if the XC60 is nearly as capable as the XC90 I’ve been driving, then the Swedes could be on to a winner.
We’ve been using a XC90 D5 Lux to cruise between snowy Alpine towns over the weekend, and I’d forgotten just how good this now six-year-old, seven-seat SUV is. It’s practical, classy and comfortable, the 2.7-litre turbo diesel easily returned around 30mpg, low-down grunt and 4WD got us through the snow hassle-free and it’s proved pleasingly agile on twisty mountain roads too.
Massive luggage space, heated seats and that split rear tailgate, which folds down to provide a bench, makes the XC90 well-suited to outdoor activities. We packed a load of skiing gear in and changed boots and clothes while sitting on the rear.
I know that back home in Britain the XC90 blends in to the background. I see fleets of them helmed by school-run mums bouncing over speed bumps in the west London suburbs where I live. But out here, when we’ve really needed its size and four-wheel-drive, this capable Volvo off-roader has been a bit of a godsend. Plenty of local mountain-dwellers drive one too, which can only be a good thing.
Of course, there are a few flaws. Our example’s sat-nav was terrible. Its directions were often wrong, the remote control you program it with is daft, and Britain’s butchest lady rugby player has been recruited to read the voice guidance. Save yourself £1850 and do without this if you’re considering buying an end-of-the-line XC90. Also the cabin now looks and feels below par compared with more modern rivals.
But this generation XC90, now in its final year of production before a new version is due, has made a lasting positive impression with me after my experiences with it here. And Volvo intends to address the cabin and infotainment issues on the next version, bringing it more upmarket, while stand-out looks will continue the new XC60’s fresh-faced, contemporary styling theme.
Despite all of that though, personally I would never buy an XC90. It just wouldn’t suit my lifestyle. It’s too big and too expensive. Seven seats? I rarely use five. And I’d have nowhere to park it.
But this new XC60 - a compact, cheaper, more dynamic-looking, but still classy Volvo 4x4 - has got my attention. And if it delivers on its potential, and IF it feels like a mini-XC90 (that’s a big if), demand should be sky high.
Later, we’ll be on the Volvo stand to see what the XC60’s really like in the metal and, crucially, be ready to gauge the public reaction when the covers come off.