Tonight, I, and several hundred people from every corner of the globe, found ourselves at the shores of the Baltic, sitting together in a hyper-modern Swedish art gallery impatiently waiting for a curtain to be peeled back. We weren’t just there to see another new car; we were there to see the all-new Volvo XC90. This is a not just the first all new Volvo since the company left Ford, it will define the Volvo brand for the next decade.
As the sheet was pulled back, I can say that my expectations were high. $11 billion and thousands of hours of engineering, designing, and branding had been poured into this car. It needed to be good.
To put it simply, it is. The new XC90 marks a return to Volvo’s core identity as a Swedish automaker. It makes the statement that Volvo is going to put style, safety, and the customers quality of life first and foremost. It also says that Volvo is going to be unlike anyone else.
The first and most obvious place this is visible is in the styling. Volvos of the past decade have been good looking, even beautiful, but they have also been shrinking violets – hardly able to stand out in the crowd of aggressively Teutonic German trucks.
The new XC90 may have all the subtle, Spartan lines of we have come to expect from Scandinavian design, but it also has a touch of the Viking. With its tall broad shouldered stance, there would already be a sense of assertiveness absent in previous Volvos, but it doesn’t stop there. The striking t-shaped Thor’s hammer LED lights and wide almost shark like grille make the front end of the XC90 pop in a way that only a few cars can.
This is a Volvo though, so understatement is the name of the game. The XC90 recedes from its striking front end to present a side and rear profile reminiscent of the outgoing car. Where other SUVs shout with loud chrome and massive ride height, the XC90 commands attention with a piercing Nordic stare. In short, this car is instantly recognizable as a Volvo, but still a dramatic departure from the past.
If this weren’t obvious enough, Volvo has kindly summed it up with a slight redesign of its iconic logo. The symbol may look like the male sign but it is actually the international symbol for iron, and on the XC90 it has been tweaked so it sits dead center with its arrow flowing smoothly along the grille’s chrome stripe.
The same simple lines and fine subtleties are present in the interior. While we had seen interior images some time ago, seeing it in person is another matter. The materials are of a quality unmatched in anything short of a $100,000 Range Rover, and the controls are placed in logical ergonomic locations.
Take the all-new Sensus infotainment system. At face value it looks as if an iPad has been seamlessly integrated into the dash, and that isn’t far wrong. It may still be in its prototype stage but the touch screen is one of the finest I have seen in the industry and the simple tab based menu system is instantly intuitive.
Volvo’s designers asked the right questions too, instead of thinking about everything they could add; they asked what the driver actually needed. The result is that the touchscreen’s interface uses a grand total of one button. In fact there are only eight buttons in the entire XC90, compared to the staggering average of 35 in the segment.
I have to withhold final judgment until I have used the Sensus system in a production vehicle under real world conditions, but if it lives up to its potential it promises to be an industry leader.
With its combination of clean lines , warm materials, and cutting-edge tech the XC90’s interior looks like the sort of Scandinavian designed and furnished living room that I would have if only I were a better person.
Just like the styling Volvo’s technical solutions are both unique yet thoroughly practical. Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture and Drive-E motors will underpin the entire Volvo range and represent very clever one-size fits all approach to power and economy.
The bread and butter of the XC90’s sold in America will be the T5 and T6 gasoline engines. Both are 2.0-liter four cylinders, the difference being that the T5 has a turbocharger and the T6 has both a turbo and supercharger. The T5 puts out around 260 horsepower and its big brother manages 320. Both impressive enough, but the real magic is in the T8.
The T8 is in essence an industry first. A plug-in hybrid that puts down 400 horsepower and 470 Viking-approved torques. All this while still offering about 25 miles of fully electric driving and gas mileage that is likely to make Prius drivers pass out in shame. And all this in a seven-seater that tips the scales at around 4,400 pounds.
In the T8 the power from the 320 hp gas motor goes to the front axle, and 80 from the electric motor goes to the rear. In the more pedestrian gas or diesel models mechanical all wheel drive is an option. But all XC90’s will use Volvo’s buttery smooth eight-speed auto that has been specifically designed to work with Volvo’s new architecture and motor.
Until we have a chance to drive the XC90 all judgments are preliminary, but seeing it in the flesh tonight makes me excited for not just the XC90 but the future of the Volvo brand.
Five years ago the only place that Volvo could clearly say that it lead the industry was safety. Today, with the unveiling of the XC90 Volvo has the chance to not just be competitive but potentially lead the industry with its powertrain, its in car technology and its design.
The XC90 may just be the flagship car that Volvo needs, a return to its roots that reinvigorates the brand and makes people love Volvo again.