We've waited 13 years since the first Volvo XC90 to see a new model and last year we had to put up with endless teases of the second-generation car over a period of months. Still, even when Volvo seemed hell-bent on trying to erode all of our goodwill towards its flagship car, the all-new XC90 turns out to be not just a competent big SUV capable of bloodying the noses of its German rivals, but so amazingly excellent in every area that it could be considered in the same category as the Range Rover - something that's about 50 per cent more expensive than the Volvo. Yes, the new XC90 really is that good.
In the Metal:
Externally, the new XC90 looks like a sleeker, slighter crisper version of the old car. That might sound like we're not that impressed with it, but as a piece of automotive design it works perfectly when you're looking at it in the metal. Beautiful details - such as the 'Thor hammer' LED daytime running lights at the front and the S-shaped upright lamp clusters at the rear - merge with clean lines and curves in just the right places to create something that looks seriously premium and expensive. It doesn't matter whether the XC90 is on standard 19-inch wheels or optional 21s, the alloys always look just so in the wheel arches and crucially, despite being a large vehicle (one of the reasons for this being that the XC90 remains a proper seven-seater within), it doesn't come across as scarily huge when you're standing next to it. It's certainly prettier than anything comparable from Porsche, BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
However, the exterior is blown into the weeds by the interior, which is a majestic triumph. The sheer quality of the fixtures and fittings is remarkable and reminiscent of cars costing twice as much money. There's not a dodgy plastic nor shoddy bit of switchgear to be seen and the new infotainment system, controlled via a big, tablet-like touchscreen in the dashboard, is bang up to date and works in a simple swipe/pinch manner of a good smartphone. Like all Volvos, the seats are supremely comfortable, everything looks really classy as well as feeling it and there are still seven chairs within - with the back row supposedly now capable of seating people up to five-foot-seven in comfort. The XC90's cabin is every bit as impressive and luxurious as that found in a Range Rover, which is an extraordinary achievement from the Swedes.
Trim lines globally are being homogenised, meaning Momentum is the entry level and then there's a choice of Inscription (luxury) or R Design (sporty) above, but all cars get satnav, head-up display, a digital instrument cluster and many other toys besides, making the Volvo not only competitive on purchase price but typically better specified model-for-model compared to rivals.
There was a danger that, on the launch, the 225hp D5 model would be outshone by the two more powerful petrol-powered machines - the 320hp T6 and the 400hp T8 Twin Engine (see Worth Noting below). However, Volvo expects that in many markets the D5 will cream the majority of sales and we see no reason to doubt that - it's an exceptionally quiet, smooth and muscular diesel engine mated to a super-slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. Maximum torque of 470Nm blesses the XC90 with an abundance of go at pretty much any revs and so performance-wise there's little to fault with the D5.
Yet, like all these new XC90s, it's not the engines that stun you but the astonishingly high levels of refinement. Wind and tyre noise are simply never an issue, even driving along Spanish autovias in blustery February conditions and running on 275/45 R20 tyres. Its ride is also utterly serene, filtering away surface imperfections long before they can affect passenger comfort - meaning that for the vast majority of the time, the XC90 feels like a car from several classes above its already exalted position.
True, given its size and focus on luxurious comfort, the Volvo isn't ever going to be the greatest car on a twisting road, but nevertheless it's no shambles here either - chiefly because it has marvellous body control, resisting roll far better than you might expect of something with such a pillowy ride. The steering is at least quick and accurate, if not the last word in feel, while the brakes are strong and easy to modulate. Also, that visual shrinking trick the XC90 can play is matched by the way the XC90 drives; it's very car-like and easy to place on the road, so it doesn't feel tall, heavy and intimidating from behind the wheel if you decide to go a bit quicker.
What you get for your Money:
You're buying a big, beautiful, seven-seat SUV laden with technology and a cabin that would make even Bentley owners look twice, at a cost that undercuts all of its rivals save the elephantine Audi Q7, a car due for replacement later this year. Some of the higher models do command fees that might get some people asking 'how much? For a Volvo?!', but that really is to do a disservice to the high-quality product you're getting for your outlay. Any way you look at it, the XC90 is something of a bargain.
Despite being physically big cars and weighing in excess of two tonnes, all XC90s will be powered by four-cylinder engines. This is part of Volvo's Drive-E engine line, which sees one 2.0-litre petrol and one 2.0-litre diesel (both available in various power grades) handling the whole of the Swedish company's road car range. However, all Drive-E engines and the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) chassis were designed from the off to accommodate electrification - hence the top-of-the-range XC90 is the T8 Twin Engine, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid making massive figures of 400hp and 640Nm. Not so fussed about the lack of pistons now, eh?
The all-new Volvo XC90 looks superb from the outside, has an interior that defies belief given the class it is competing in, is spacious, practical and comfortable, possesses the sort of refined driving manners that you'd normally find in an S-Class Merc and is blessed with excellent Drive-E engines, the D5 being a particular gem. There is precious little to fault with this car and very, very much to praise. We're so impressed by the XC90 that we'd say it is easily the new class leader in the big SUV marketplace - it's a sensationally brilliant car from Volvo.