Increasingly, the battle for buyers takes place in a car's cabin. And Volvo takes that fight to a whole new level with the latest XC90.
The model succeeds a car that pioneered the seven-seat SUV genre 13 years ago and it is apparent that Volvo has made good use of that time to endow the second- generation model with a big wow effect.
It is not an easy thing to do, since brands such as BMW and Audi have come up with convincing multi- seaters with some 4x4 capability.
But once you climb onboard the new XC90, you will be blown away. The cabin is beautiful, luxurious and high-tech - not in the bling-bling fashion favoured by the Germans, but in a minimalist manner only the Scandinavians know how.
The T6 model in top-tier Inscription trim tested here has swathes of Nappa leather (the key is similarly encased), a panoramic glass roof that lights up an already bright and airy interior, and a cockpit with far fewer switches than a TV remote.
SPECS/VOLVO XC90 T6 (INSCRIPTION)
Price: $360,000 with COE
Engine: 1,969cc 16-valve inline-4 twincharged
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual override
Power: 320bhp at 5,700rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,200-5,400rpm
0-100kmh: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 230kmh
Fuel consumption: 8 litres/ 100km
Agent: Wearnes Automotive
Instead, controls and functions are all accessible via a tablet-like centre console. It works exactly like a tablet or smartphone, with "pages" that can be flipped sideways as well as up and down.
The XC90 is the first car here to have this feature and it could well be to Volvo what iDrive was to BMW 13 years ago (automotive revolutions seem to take place every 13 years).
It is user-friendly, visually pleasing and allows the big Volvo to be neat and uncluttered - the way all cars should be.
The XC90's technological advancement goes beyond form. The car is packed with gizmos you would previously associate only with a Mercedes-Benz S-class.
It warns you if you are too close to the vehicle in front, it warns you if you veer off lane, it warns you if you are exceeding a speed limit and it warns you of vehicles coming from the side.
And if you do not heed the warnings, the car takes matters into its own hands. It controls the throttle, the brakes and even the steering. It parks for you and, in bumper-to- bumper traffic, can switch to a semi-autonomous convoy mode.
Drivers who like to drive, and who drive reasonably well, might be put off by all the intervention. Especially the lane-keeping system, which goes into action the moment a wheel comes close to a white line.
Along a road with narrow lanes (such as Lornie Road), the system goes into overdrive as it corrects itself every few metres. To someone following the XC90, it might at times look like the Volvo driver is drunk or having a fit.
Thankfully, you can switch off all the driving aids. But if you find piloting the huge SUV a tad daunting, it might be wise to keep them on.
The new XC90 is a big vehicle, measuring almost 5m front to back. It is 143mm longer and 28mm wider than its already sizeable predecessor.
It is 9mm lower, although it does not look it. Despite being lower, it has 20mm more headroom inside because of its sunken floor. Its wheelbase is almost 3m long, so you get decent space in all three rows of seats - plus a reasonably spacious boot.
As before, seats can be folded flat to free up more stowage.
The car is about 130kg lighter than before, but is still rather hefty, tipping the scales at almost 2 tonnes.
Which is probably why you cannot quite feel the 320bhp and 400Nm that its twincharged (turbo and supercharger) 2-litre engine produces. The all-wheel-drive behemoth is not sluggish per se, but you feel that it should be quicker and more effortless with so much juice at its disposal.
In the ride and handling department, the XC90 is competent but unremarkable. For such a large and tall car, it acquits itself rather well when confronted with a sharp corner.
Its ride can be a little harsh when the asphalt is less than perfect; and engine and road noises tend to intrude a little more than what you expect of a car its stature.
All in all, though, the multi- purpose, multi-terrain Volvo is still an attractive proposition, if nothing else, for its imposing silhouette, class-leading technology and mouth-watering interior.
Still, I would opt for a car with air suspension and active chassis ($10,000 option) in place of Volvo's array of driving aids. I believe the best driving aid is still plain old-fashioned common sense.