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Volvo XC90 R-Design


I mean no disrespect, honest. However, the phrase 'oldie but a goodie' springs to mind with the Volvo XC90.

The big crossover has been around for the best part of decade now, which is a long model cycle in anybody's automotive language. It's starting to show.

But the XC90 has always been a favourite of mine and many of my colleagues. For those of us with families, it's a car that almost always crops up in conversation as a great blend of desirability and practicality. Even in 2012.

It has evolved along the way, of course; not always for the better. The XC90 was launched with a 4.4-litre V8 model as the flagship. Under the bonnet was a Yamaha-developed engine and it was absolutely fantastic, both in the way it performed and (especially) the way it sounded.

That's no longer offered in New Zealand. Instead, there's a choice of 3.2-litre petrol-six or 2.4-litre turbo diesel-five powerplants, offered in a choice of two specification levels. That's four models in total, all at the same $89,990 price. But no naughty V8.

For sportiness, instead of a V8 engine you can now have an R-Design package, which is the louder (metaphorically) alternative to Executive specification. Executive has more creature comforts, whereas R-Design serves up different trim inside and out (including the grille and dashboard inlays), sports suspension and dual exhaust pipes.

Our test car was the D5 turbo-diesel. Refined it ain't – in fact, the neighbours will be wondering who in the street has bought a tractor – but it's pretty punchy for a small-capacity unit pushing a 2.1-tonne wagon along. It makes 147kW/420Nm and can haul the XC90 along to 100km/h in 10.3 seconds. So it's not a lot slower than the petrol (9.5sec), a lot more driveable in the real world with all that torque and more than three litres per 100km more economical (Combined 8.3l).

Just as unsporting as the engine is the chassis, which has always been a bit wobbly. It is in fact a tribute to the wobbliness of the chassis that even with the stiffer suspension of the R-Design, it's still a very soft-riding car that is not too keen on corners. Know what? That doesn't matter, because the XC90 is such a likeable machine in the ways that matter for a family express.

The interior design is a bit old-school compared with newer Volvos like the V60, but it still boasts an elegantly simple layout, outstanding build quality and clever touches like the integrated booster seat in the back (a single arrangement in the centre, not twin as in some other Volvo wagons).

I could do without some of the unfortunate attempts at modernisation – like the sat-nav, which is housed in a pop-up screen that's angled awkwardly downwards when raised (obvious a stock unit used in other models with different dashboard shapes) and operated by clumsy add-on buttons on the steering wheel, or a separate remote control.

But so much of this car still works so well. It's a seven-seater of course, and all passengers are treated to high seating positions and a great view out through generous glass areas. The third row is a bit of brainteaser to stow and release (another area in which the XC90 betrays its age), but once you work it out it's a very capable pseudo-people mover.

I do like the XC90 D5 R-Design. But given the age of the thing and Volvo's reputation for reliability and excellent build quality, if I was shopping in this area I'd be tempted to click onto and find a good used example of the Yamaha-powered 4.4-litre V8 petrol model. It's an awesome powerplant – throaty and sonorous – and actually quite thrifty on the open road. The XC90 is still a pretty smart car, but a used V8 version would be a very smart buy.

Auto Trader New Zealand