Car review: New Volvo XC90 is a premium people carrier with room and vroom

New Volvo XC90 offers more room and vroom despite smaller engines

Soccer mums, rejoice. After a 13-year wait, the replacement for the Volvo XC90, the car which pioneered the seven- seater SUV, is here.

Free from Ford ownership, this is the first Volvo built under new masters, Geely of China, and the first to be entirely developed and built in-house in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Utilising Volvo's new modular chassis - which will underpin all future models - the all-wheel-drive is equipped with four-cylinder engines only. While some may scoff at the absence of additional cylinders for such a big car, there are benefits to the compact configuration, such as more cabin space and better fuel economy.

Unlike its predecessor, the new XC90 also does not attract penalties under the new Carbon Emission-based Vehicle Scheme that starts in July.

The car's design is typical Scandinavian - understated, clean and logical. Its predecessor's boxy lines have been smoothed out, lending it a more confident and elegant silhouette flanked by headlights shaped like Thor's hammer.

Inside is an airy, luxurious cabin with various combinations of wood trim and soft leather to please even the fussiest driver. It feels decidedly premium; if you compare it to the previous model, it is like stepping up from Economy to First Class.

Nowhere is this transition more evident than in Volvo's new Sensus infotainment system. A large, tablet-like touchscreen interface dominates the centre of the dash, letting the driver tap and scroll to adjust everything from climate to navigation.

While this leaves the rest of the cockpit uncluttered and free of unnecessary switches and buttons, the system does take a bit of time to master. The interface may be intuitive, but it requires the user to access numerous menus just to perform seemingly simple functions.

The good news is that the test cars were pre-production units, and Volvo says the system is being fine-tuned.

The turbocharged and supercharged 320bhp T6 petrol variant is expected to be the bestseller here, but the pick of the bunch has to be the D5 turbodiesel. Both models offer a fabulously refined drive, mixed with a wonderfully plush and compliant ride from the car's air suspension (found in all variants) and delightful steering feel.

The characteristic of the diesel engine is best suited for a car of this size. Besides being more frugal (5.7 litre/100km to the T6's 7.7 litre/100km), it is smooth and quiet as well. Its superior torque figures at low revs (479Nm compared to 400Nm) means the car wafts along the road with minimal effort and in near silence.

Best of all, its accessible torque means you are spared the trashy roar of the T6's four-cylinder motor when you put your foot down. Again, Volvo says it is working on improving the sound frequency- cancelling system in the car to better drown out the four-cylinder drone for production.

For those looking for bigger thrills, the flagship T8 combines the T6's four-pot with a 82bhp electric motor (400bhp in total) to produce what Volvo claims is the world's most powerful and cleanest premium SUV.

The plug-in hybrid has a claimed fuel economy of 2.5 litres/100km, making it a compelling proposition for those who value power as much as green credentials.

In terms of space, the new XC90 is clearly roomier than the previous model. While the old XC90's third row can accommodate only children, the new car allows adults not taller than 1.7m to be seated there without developing cramps.

What is a Volvo without safety features? The XC90 comes with two new ones: Run-off Road Protection and Auto Brake at intersections.

The first tightens seatbelts, engages an energy-absorbing, spine protection beam within the seats and retracts the brake pedal in a crash. The second applies the brakes if it senses an imminent collision with another vehicle at a junction.

Between 2012 and last year, the outgoing model, despite being introduced in 2002, was the second best-selling premium SUV here, beating cars such as the BMW X5, Mercedes M-class and Audi Q7.

With the new Volvo XC90's subtle good looks, comfort on the move and unbeatable list of features, it takes a brave man to bet against the car going on top of the pile when it arrives in the third quarter of the year.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.