The Swedes are wonderfully entrepreneurial socialists. That might sound like a contradiction, but Sweden somehow manages to make things we all want, are willing to pay for, but nobody judges anyone for using.
In a world where consumption and the ownership of luxury goods are at risk of triggering judgment and public shaming, brand Sweden rules supreme. Spotify. Skype. Ikea. All Swedish brands and universally admired.
That ability to build brand value without judgment has transcended into Sweden’s automotive industry too. Volvo is a technologically advanced luxury vehicle brand that does not carry the same burden of public scrutiny that its German rivals do.
A case in point is Volvo’s XC90. It is a huge luxury SUV, but nobody will hate you for owning one. This is very much the antithesis of Audi’s Q7, the BMW X7 or ownership of Mercedes-Benz GLS. All the aforementioned are fine luxury vehicles, of similar size to the XC90, but none which are deemed as socially acceptable.
Volvo XC90: Proud to be Swedish
The XC90 has been a saviour for modern Volvo. After Ford sold Volvo back in 2010, it was recapitalised by China’s Geely. Since then, Volvo has produced a terrific range of new vehicles, the most symbolic of which is the XC90.
Unlike its German rivals, the XC90 is elegantly styled without aggressively angular details. Volvo does not bother fitting it with an overly powerful engine either. Our D5 R-line specification test unit was powered by a two-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, a nearly unthinkably small engine for a vehicle of its size.
Whereas the German brands offer huge twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8 engines for their luxury SUVs, Volvo is all about adequate performance, instead of crushing acceleration.
Brilliant cabin comfort
Ikea does not have any physical retail stores in South Africa. As such, your best contact point for experiencing tactile Scandinavian design is a Volvo.
Inside the XC90’s cabin, everything is understated and cooperative. Although the design is now five years old, it has managed to remain very current in terms of digitisation – which is a tremendous achievement.
Volvo’s large vertically orientated Sensus infotainment screen is still a remarkably intuitive system, allowing for vertical and horizontal menu swiping.
Passenger comfort is so good, you will nearly always wish to take the longest possible route to any destination, for the benefit form some additional time in those outstandingly padded leather seats. In fact, you might even wish that Volvo sold its XC90’s seats as standalone home furniture for your living room.
Smoothness instead of speed
The driving experience is soothing. Although the steering can feel momentarily heavy at low-speeds, as the electrical systems managed the demands for assisted those huge wheels to turn, everything about the X90 D5 is effortless once on the move.
With engine outputs of 173kW and 480Nm, it is brisk enough to never feel lethargic, despite its substantial size. Although it rolls huge wheels and comparatively low-profile tyres, the XC90 has outstanding ride quality, credited to its optional R26 750 air-suspension system.
Before you start adding all manner of luxury features to the cabin, or shiny bits to your XC90’s exterior styling, I’d tick the air-suspension option box. It absolutely transforms the way this large SUV rides.
Ride on a cloud with the Volvo XC90
A weakness of any vehicle as long, tall and heavy as XC90, is that its centre of gravity will generate bodyroll. Engineers can counter that, by using punishingly stiff suspension components, which then ruin the overall ride quality, especially on rural roads.
Volvo’s air-suspension gives you a plush ride quality, and adequate bodyroll mitigation through tight corners. It makes for a superb gravel-traveller for adventurous South African families, that is also confident as a high-speed cruising vehicle.
Volvo is aware that it can never compete with the presence or sheer speed of German high-performance SUVs. Its masterstroke with XC90 has been resisting any attempt at benchmarking Q7, X7 or GLS. This is a thoroughly Swedish vehicle, where safety, efficiency, and ergonomic comfort meet a gracefully understated design.
- The list price for Volvo’s XC90 D5 R Design is R1 222 100 and our comprehensively optioned test unit, came to R1 366 350.