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On-test: Volvo XC90's distractive tech compromises concentration

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Sweden’s high-tech rival to Land Rover’s Discovery has been a long time coming. And this new version of the XC90 represents a very modern, ultra-high tech example which could shake the Discovery’s existence to the core. Geoff Ashcroft reports.

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Sleek, modern styling for Volvo’s latest XC90.
Sleek, modern styling for Volvo’s latest XC90.

It starts well. The XC90 looks a classy piece of kit with smooth styling, a luxurious interior with plenty of space, and seven seats.

 

With a D5 moniker, you could be forgiven for thinking there is a silky-smooth five cylinder hidden in the nose. That is, until you start the engine, and a gruff, four-pot thrum rattles into life, taking the edge off the XC90 experience. It is no match for a silky-smooth V6 diesel that seems to be the power unit of choice at this price-point, among the XC’s competitors.

Seven seats and load space. This must surely have Land Rover worried?

But the Swedes are chasing efficiency and as a result, down-sizing rises to the top of the pile. You do get 225hp, and 48mpg capability - but the two are mutually exclusive, so you decide what you want. Brisk performance, or generous economy for a such a large SUV?

 

On extended trips, I could stretch the Volvo to 38mpg. While the engine works very well with the eight-speed automatic, and makes the most of available torque - there are times when only a few gears are needed to shove the Volvo along. And if you work the engine, it’ll break the interior silence with a typical four-cylinder rattle.

 

Inside though, is where the Volvo begins to shine. Its interior - on this Inscription specification - is sublime.

Beautiful interior oozes class, modernity and space.

The cabin is beautifully assembled, is comfortable and exudes a modern, minimalist approach to ergonomics.

 

The optional panoramic sunroof does wonders to lighten the interior, and the £2,150 optional electronic air suspension cossets, pampers and glides over bumps, to ensure your passengers arrive from what seems like a magic carpet ride.

 

But, making the most of the XC90’s climate control, audio settings, navigation, heated seats, is where things do get tricky for the driver. Now, I’m a fan of technology, but for a firm so steeped in safety, I’m not convinced that Volvo has got it right by using an iPad-style 9in touch screen for the hub of all things electronic inside the XC90.

The 9in touch screen is clever, but like a tablet, needs to be looked at to use properly.

And that’s because the firm has traded individual buttons for a large screen with menus that you need to access for almost all of the car’s functions.

 

Yes, it’s very clever. And it makes the interior very neat. But I’ve never found a touch screen to be intuitive - you have to look at it every time you want to make an adjustment.

 

In this instance, it’s a swipe, squeeze and tap for every move. And that means looking at the tablet. While you don’t need to take a teenager with you who can understand the tech, you might need someone who can take care of making all the car’s adjustments while you concentrate on driving.

Need to know:

  • Model: XC90 D5 AWD Inscription
  • Price: £50,185 (£68,850 as tested)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, turbo diesel, 225hp @ 4,250rpm, 470Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
  • Transmission: eight-speed Tiptronic, with four-wheel drive
  • Performance: 7.8sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 48.7mpg combined, 152g/km
  • Towing capacity: 2,700kgs
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