What are you driving?
The updated Volvo XC90 SUV. That, in case you don't know your Volvo nomenclature, is the Swedish company's largest SUV, a seven-seater. On sale since 2015, it's time for a midlife refresh for the range-topper, and the facelifted car is already on sale in Ireland.
Admittedly, the XC90 has been barely 'facelifted', though the new bumpers and smoother radiator grille up front help keep it fresh, as do a few new colours and wheel designs. We're testing the sportier looking R-Design variant, which is more distinctive than before, too, thanks to more gloss black detailing. The interior is barely changed either, though we have no problem with that. Owners of Android smartphones will be glad to hear that the XC90's touchscreen infotainment is now compatible with Android Auto (it has had Apple CarPlay for a long time), while the active safety functions have been updated to the latest technology Volvo offers elsewhere in its line-up.
The most significant change to the XC90 is the addition of mild hybrid assistance to the diesel engine. Look closely at the picture gallery and instead of the usual 'D5'-like badge at back, you'll see one that has 'B5' on it. That indicates the use of a new 48-volt electrical system comprising of a separate battery, kinetic energy recovery system and integrated starter generator. Volvo claims this leads to a 15 per cent improvement in efficiency.
At the time of writing, pricing starts at €77,970 for the XC90 Momentum. The other core trim lines are called R-Design and Inscription, with 'Pro' derivatives of each on the price list, too. Buyers choose between the B5 powertrain or the full plug-in hybrid T8 alternative.
Name its best bits
The integration of the mild hybrid technology is seamless, so drivers reap the rewards without putting any extra effort in. It helps fill in performance gaps in the diesel engine's delivery in a smooth manner, too, making it feel like there's something larger than a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet. And while we didn't manage to replicate the official fuel consumption figures shown above, over 700 kilometres of mixed (quite quick) driving, we averaged 8.8 litres/100km, which is about a litre less per 100km than we'd expect of a diesel SUV of this size.
That's not all the XC90 B5 has going for it, I might add. The powertrain is smooth, as mentioned, but the automatic gearbox is also so well-judged that, even on a challenging road, you'll rarely feel the need to override the transmission with the gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel. What's more, for such a large car, it makes short work of such roads, keeping unwanted body movements in check and feeling competent and in control, while still playing the role of long distance cruiser on the motorway with aplomb.
Anything that bugs you?
It's a shame that the large R-Design wheels detract from the low-speed ride comfort, as the car looks great on them. The chassis absorbs bumps better at speed, thankfully.
The only other demerit of note, and one we've levelled at plenty of cars that rely a little too heavily on their touchscreens, is that the driver has to take their eyes off the road to do most tasks on the XC90's touchscreen. We'd prefer manual controls for the air conditioning at the very least.
And why have you given it this rating?
There's big competition in the seven-seat luxury SUV segment right now, especially from the German marques. The Volvo certainly warrants comparison with those cars - and is arguably 'cooler'. The XC90 has a great interior, too, is competent on the road and also more efficient than ever.