A high-profile carmaker’s top official was recently asked if his company wanted to turn to making SUVs, because, you know, it’s more viable and everyone seems to be making them. His reply, in pure click-bait headline style, was something that could ‘blow your mind’ — that you would have to shoot him for that!
So what is it that makes luxury/premium SUVs such an interesting proposition for carbuyers? We got our answers by living with what’s easily one of the most compelling SUVs on sale in the country — the Volvo XC90.
First things first, the car’s class
The XC90 is a clear departure from the mundane styling that Volvo followed till now. Not only is the design more energetic, it is clearly more distinct. Design elements like the Thor’s Hammer headlamps and the equally nice-looking pair of tail lights give the XC90 a lot of character. But the clean, well-proportioned silhouette stands out. But in reality (that it easily hides), the XC90 measures 4.95 meters in length, 2.140 meters in width, and 1.776 meters in height.
Park it next to a similarly priced SUV and the XC90 is sure to get more attention, without making the slightest of an effort.
Covered in leather, wood, and high-quality plastic, the XC90’s dashboard is luxury in its truest form. What that means is that, apart from the space, the XC90 makes you feel special, irrespective of the seat you take, almost.
The touchscreen infotainment system is a revelation for both buyers and rival carmakers. The controls are easy, and while some may find turning knobs easier than flicking through screens, the infotainment system’s interface is one of the best out there.
The Bowers and Wilkins audio system ensures that you get the best sound quality, not just to please your ears but also to silence the rather audible diesel clatter from the unit under the bonnet.
The ventilated seats also offer decent support — adjustable for lumbar, under-thigh, and even the side bolstering. Move to the second row and there’s a lot of leg-, shoulder-, and head-room. The added vents — not just on the transmission tunnel but also on the door and B-pillar ensure air-circulation is effective.
The last row of seats is, as expected, a bit cramped. Although it’s no less luxurious, so for short drives this and the middle seat in the second row aren’t likely to be a problem.
Additions like the panoramic sunroof keep it airy when you’re in the mood for it. Untimely drizzle in Delhi meant we kept the shade off but the roof closed, so it was indeed a pleasure seeing rain drops fall on it.
How is it to drive?
The XC90 comes in two trim levels in India but is only available in the D5 diesel-powered, AWD version. So while there’s the reassurance of AWD, the diesel engine isn’t the strongest performer out there.
One needs to understand that while the XC90 might not pirouette on demand, it keeps it classy on the move. The 2-liter diesel engine makes 225 hp and 470 Nm, and comes mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Under full throttle, the XC90 can have a decent pull but that’s not the best way to drive it, either.
The multiple drive modes (Comfort, Economy, Dynamic, and Off-Road) have a considerable effect on the way the vehicle behaves. Off-Road can be activated below a certain speed and is for getting out of tricky situations while Dynamic is best used by changes gears manually, otherwise it keeps redlining in every gear.
In the basic Comfort/Economy modes, the XC90 exhibits some roll — but what else do you expect from a full-size SUV? The good part about Dynamic is that it lowers the vehicle a bit, so that ensures the dynamics improve, too.
Another noticeable thing while driving the XC90 was that while it occupies a substantial amount of space when parked, it doesn’t do so while on the move. View all around is good, but the vehicle very kindly lets you know as soon as there’s any object in the vicinity, hence minimising the chances of rubbing the XC90 against something, let alone crashing into it.
In addition, the Heads Up Display (HUD) ensure that you keep your eyes on the road, and since it’s adjustable, too, you can set it according to your seat’s position.
What we liked:
It’s targetted at the premium segment, so it’s loaded with useful features.
The way it drives (Dynamic mode with manual shift) has to be one of the strongest points. The roll is well controlled and it has useable performance. The top-speed is said to be limited to 230 km/h, but at usual highway speeds, it’s very stable. The steering weighs up under power.
The choice of materials in the cabin (Nappa Leather, Walnut) is beyond words, and so is the design.
Volvo is known for safety, and the XC90 comes loaded with safety features, too.
You can lower the vehicle if you want to load something heavy in the boot, by using the buttons behind the last row of seats.
The third row can be folded to make room for luggage.
But that’s not to say there’s not enough space with it in place.
What we didn’t like:
You would want to push the XC90 but given its size and lack of outright performance, it’s not best suited for the job.
The Park Assist feature — which can be turned off — is certainly a saviour but if you’re planning to drive on a crowded road, just prepare yourself for too many beeps.
The Dynamic mode ensures the engine redlines but without making great progress.
Leaves get accumulated in the scuttle easily.
What we think of it
The Volvo XC90 is available in two variants: Momentum Luxury and Inscription Luxury. The former is priced at Rs 69.90 lakh while the fully specced version retails for Rs 77.90 lakh.
It’s one of those cars that will make you work a tad harder than usual, just walking a mile extra, to ensure that you acquire one. Because once you do, it’s the kind of vehicle that will get you enough appreciation for your choice, not from others but yourself, too.
Here’s hoping that carmakers understand that SUVs need to look and feel special, too. This is in fact the antithesis of Bentley Bentayga: beautiful, not exactly the fastest, and very charming!
And if Sergio Marchionne (Ferrari’s Chairman who made the said statement) had travelled in one, he might have reconsidered his decision to not make a Ferrari SUV. Not that we want him to, though. Just look at it: