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Latest Volvo salvo: Big, bold, XC90 wagon

2015-07-15 17:23

PASS TEST PASSED: This is the new Volvo XC90 T6 - pausing for breath on the Theewaterskloof side of the Western Cape's Franschhoek Pass. Image: LES STEPHENSON

Les Stephenson

  •  Future of Scandinavian car design
  •  Most powerful, cleanest 7-seater
  •  High-tech user interface
  •  World-first safety and convenience
  •  First on Volvo’s ‘scalable architecture’

You don’t have to go far out of Cape Town to put a new car through its paces and Volvo was spot-on with its choice of route to show off its all-new XC90 – a genuine seven-seater station-wagon.

Sport utility vehicle, if you prefer.

Only two models for now in various specifications ranging in price from R853 200 to R907 600 before options are added and with a choice of T6 or D5 engine – the former a quad-valve petrol two-litre super and turbocharged four-cylinder capable of 235kW/400Nm, the latter a quad-valve two-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder packing 156kW/470Nm.

BIGGER THAN X5

An eight-speed Geartronic gearbox and all-wheel drive are standard, though front-drive only will be available on the XC90 D4 when it arrives in November 2015. Click here for full specifications.

But back to the route... a straightforward freeway cruise from Cape Town airport’s valet parking garage, along the N2, R300, N1 and R45 to the glorious Franschhoek Valley – and the foot of the snaking 13km of the Franschhoek Pass.

IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Volvo XC90

The pass, of course, was the bit that counted to show off the XC90’s power and agility despite its bulk and height – 4950m long, 1776mm tall and 2008mm wide, excluding external mirrors. I took the AWD T6 for my 26km-worth and the handling was flawlessly accurate.

Potential arch-rival BMW’s X5, by comparison, is 4887mm long, 1936mm wide and 1762mm tall.

Still to come are the D4 and T5 in November and, in the first half of 2016, the XC90 T8 Twin Engine, a hybrid that, Volvo says, will deliver  300kW/470Nm (235kW from the engine and 65kW from the hybrid drive) yet emit only 49g/km of CO2/km -  “the most powerful and cleanest premium SUV on the market”. Twin Engine gallery.

It will be Volvo’s first hybrid car in South Africa and, the automaker says, is at present (2015) the only SUV in the world with seven seats.

ELECTRIFYING HISTORY

All XC90 units will be built on what Volvo calls its ‘scalable chassis’ -front and rear drive/axle assemblies and, between them, a length-variable section. It’s been designed to accept the hybrid drive without affecting cabin or luggage compartment space.

Volvo, the company says, has a long history of electrification – the first hybrid concept car was produced back in 1992 and the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid was a V60 wagon in 2011.

Volvo has also long been a pioneer in vehicle safety/protection systems and there’s new tech with the XC90, including an umbrella surround-view camera system and ‘IntelliSafe’ which includes automatic braking for road hazards, including the ability to identify pedestrians and cyclists – day or night – and should all wheels leave the road the car will automatically haul in the occupied front seat belts – and keep them that way until the vehicle ceases to move..

The seat’s cushions and frame, Volvo adds, have been designed to absorb much of the following ground impact to help protect the spine.

Then there are lane-keeping, driver alert and ‘take a rest” systems and rear cameras that detect a potential shunt and automatically flash the rear lights and apply the brakes to cushion the probable impact.

ULTRASONIC CURTAIN

If the car is about to roll the side curtain crash-bags will inflate; also each of the seven seats has explosive seat-belt pre-tensioners. Blind-spot warning tell the driver to heed an approaching vehicle, ‘Queue Assist’ will keep the XC90 moving and automatically follow the vehicle ahead.

A dozen ultrasonic sensors can find an adequate parking slot – parallel or perpendicular – then guide the driver into it with a screen animation supporting the surround-view cameras. Leave the parking space and the car will monitor approaching vehicles and warn the driver.

The new XC90 also excels with seat excellence; multiway adjustment for the front and fully flat folding for the rear five – the two at the rear with sufficient headroom for a 1.7m adult. No question that the cars are built for seriously long-distance comfort.

Five stars also for the XC90’s information centre with its screen the size of a vertical iPad and possibly the most comprehensive range of information I’ve yet seen in any vehicle. It has four stacked panels, each covering its own aspect of the car from seats to satnav using clear type and graphics.

The screen interface, a head-up display and steering-wheel mounted thumb controls, the automaker explains, replace most of the buttons common in a large and expensive sedan. Less fiddling, basically – and it can replicate the display from an iPhone.

TUNE YOUR 'MUSCLE MEMORY'

Volvo has called the interactive system Sensus. “It incorporatesthelatest touch-screen hardware and software to allow drivers to build an instinctive understanding of how the system works, where the controls are located and how to operate them,” the company says.

“Using the screen is so logical that it will quickly become part of the driver’s ‘muscle memory’.”

The layout on the portrait screen, Volvo explains, is a stack of flexible ‘tiles’, each displaying a key functionality. Navigation is on top, followed by media and phone. A thin notification band is located above the tiles, while the digital climate controls form the ‘foundation’ of the pile.

If you’re in the market for a luxury car, get a dealer to show you the system – it’ll probably sell you the car. Though the XC90 is so good, you’d probably buy one anyway!

Sensus, Volvo says, also delivers “true connectivity” with a range of useful cloud-based applications and services which can be operated via the touch screen, through steering-wheel controls, or via the advanced on-board voice control/

WHOLE NEW TRIM LEVELS

Volvo says: “We’ve created a premium SUV with thought-through safety and convenience features, true luxurious comfort, solid and adaptable drive settings and stunning Scandinavian design.

“The XC90 is just the start. Within the next four years we’ll have replaced every car in our portfolio and the XC90 will then be the oldest car in a Volvo Cars showroom.”

The XC90 also introduces a whole new trim-level system. Kinetic is the base, followed by Momentum. “Inscription and R-Design form the two branches on the tree. The Inscription package is designed for customers who want elegance and luxury, R-Design has a sporty and dynamic aura.

The South African line-up will consist of Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design derivatives.

Volvo SA is planning to sell about 300 units during the rest of 2015, pointing out that the cars are being launched almost simultaneously in Europe and so putting strain on the Swedish production lines.

Numbers are expected to rise during 2016 to 450-500 units a year with “the well-specced D5 expected to be the big seller”.

BASE PRICES

Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription a/t - R907 600
Volvo XC90 D5 AWD Momentum a/t - R853 200
Volvo XC90 AWD inscription a/t - R893 900
XC90 Premium pack (heatable front seats, head-up display, surround cameras, adjustable seat bolsters, Bowers and Wilkins audio, blind-spot alert, keyless entry - R55 000

Speak to a dealer about other single options.

WAITING FOR THEIR TURN ON FRANSCHHOEK PASS: Volvo had a selection of its new XC90 wagons on tap in the Western Cape and chose the awesome stretch of mountain road above the town to show off their capabilities. Image: LES STEPHENSON


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