So, SUVs – not really our thing here at GRRC. Sure, if you want something with which you can tow the track-day car to the circuit, they’ve got a purpose: they’re weighty and they usually have lots of torque. To that end, the main choices in this market previously were either the Range Rover (the luxury one) or the Porsche Cayenne (the sporty one).
Volvo, however, is trying to muscle its way back into the large SUV battle with its new XC90, a machine we’ve waited 13 years for since the original arrived. That’s an unusually long life cycle for a car and – while the original XC90 was innovative and popular when it first appeared in 2002, by 2014 it had sunk beneath a wave of German and British premium SUVs that did things so much better than it did.
But can this new model change all that and persuade us that the Volvo is both a credible rival to the Germans and Brits, and also a really good SUV? I’m going to cut straight to the chase and say: yes. Oh, emphatically yes, on both counts. The XC90 is a magnificent creation and one which has propelled Volvo from also-ran to class-leader in one fell swoop. While the Range Rover wasn’t benchmarked during development of the XC90, Volvo has turned out a car that feels every bit as luxurious and refined as the British icon – and it’s around £30,000 cheaper to boot.
Despite all XC90s only having four cylinders, none of the three launch models lacks for the sort of torque required for hauling loads, with the T6 320hp petrol making 295lb ft and the 225hp D5 churning out 347lb ft. But if you want the most jaw-dropping towing machine of them all, it has to be the flagship: the T8 Twin Engine.
Boasting a 318hp 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged petrol engine and an 82hp supplementary electric motor, the T8 is a plug-in hybrid that makes 400hp – the same as a Porsche Macan Turbo, lest we forget – and a drivetrain maximum of 472lb ft. Neither of these numbers have trouble moving a 2.3-tonne body around, yet the Volvo emits just 59g/km of CO2 and can return 112.9mpg; admittedly, Volvo says that latter figure will be hard to achieve for long-distance drivers, but with a 25-mile-plus electric range, it is possible some XC90 owners won’t need to dip into their fuel reserves at all.
But what really astonishes about the XC90 are the exalted levels of quality and refinement it musters up. It has a sublime ride, pretty much zero wind or tyre noise leaching into the cabin (and this was on optional 20-inch wheels running 275-section rubber at all corners) and silky smooth manners from the engine, gearbox and all-wheel drive system. The electric motor serves up 177lb ft from zero revs, meaning there’s never a lack of go from the Volvo. OK, so it hasn’t been set up to be a sporty drive, given the steering is a bit light and lacking feel, but for such a large vehicle it’s actually quite a tidy handler with exceptional body control and an abundance of grip.
And in terms of aesthetics, both inside and out the XC90 is a winner. The body is sharp, crisp and cool, everything you’d expect of something Swedish, and despite housing that cavernous interior the Volvo doesn’t look elephantine. And in the cabin, every material and surface you touch feels shot through with quality, while the new infotainment system and its tablet-like touchscreen is a joy to use; simple and modelled on the swipe/pinch control methods of a good smartphone. The car’s interior is supremely comfortable, exquisitely made and… well, faultless.
In essence, Volvo has rounded off the one or two rougher edges of the old model and turned in something that would make a Range Rover owner wonder where their extra 30 grand had gone, while utterly eclipsing the Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche offerings. Plenty of these XC90s deserve to be seen in trackside paddocks in the months and years to come, because it truly is an exceptional car.
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Engine: 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with rear-mounted electric motor
Power: Petrol 318hp at 6000rpm, electric motor 82hp, total output 400hp
Torque: Petrol 295lb ft from 2200 to 5400rpm, electric motor 177lb ft, total output 472lb ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Wheels: 19-inch alloys front and rear standard, 20-inch fitted to test car
Tyres: 275/45 R20 front and rear
Price: XC90 from £45,550; T8 from £59,955
On sale date: Now