It’s a knockout

February 1, 2016

Twice British rally champion and owner of KNE (Karting North East) Guy Wilks test drives the all-new XC90 to see if the rave reviews of Volvo’s seven-seater SUV has been receiving are deserved

Volvo is perhaps not the obvious choice when looking for a new car.

Its bygone image attracted the sensible chequered-shirt, short-trousers-wearing outdoor types who may have sported a beard and cycled to work when not out with the Mountain Rescue Team.

I could be talking about the modern day ‘hipster’ but actually Volvo owners in the 70s and 80s were, more often than not (and tongue firmly in cheek, here), geography teachers.

It’s a stereotypical view… but of whom? The hipster or the geography teacher?

Confusion reigns, or does it? Not for Volvo.

Interior dash detail images, Charcoal Nappa Leather with Metal Mesh Trim

Interior dash detail images, Charcoal Nappa Leather with Metal Mesh Trim

Scandinavian style

The XC90 is the latest jab in Volvo’s quest to land knockout blows to its previously superior competition.

This car has had rave reviews and I have to admit I’ve wanted to try one since being asked to pen this column.

A premium SUV, the XC90 has seven seats with the usual varying levels of trim option and technology.

From the outside, it really is a good-looking thing from every angle and I’m starting to feel the attraction!

Just like sharks (stay with me on this one), most varieties look similar; but a hammerhead is completely distinct – while still being part of its species.

Back to the car: its flat nose is different, bold and cool, yet still distinctly Volvo.

This thing dares to be different and it carries its size very well.

I was intrigued to see if the Swedes had peaked with the outside design, or whether the usual practical and sleek Scandinavian traits continued inside the car as well.

Climbing inside, I found that the clean, bold lines are reflected on the dash and door cards. I sit ‘in’ this car and not ‘on’ it as with many SUVs, which makes a welcome change. No doubt this will be due to the safety principles that Volvo applies to every car it’s produced. The technology is also cleverly hidden within a touch screen, leaving the dash clutter-free and giving the sense of sophisticated organisation.

Of all the SUVs I’ve been in or driven, I have to say this has the best seat of any. What an absolute stonker! I drove three hours to Birmingham for a meeting and then straight back again in the car. I only moved my position once. And that was because my jumper creased across my back! It really is testament to the ergonomic research of Volvo; being 6 ft 4 in, 90kg and with ‘glutes’ work-hardened in racing bucket-seats for thousands of miles around the globe, I am not the easiest to please.

The Momentum spec level is the entry level in the UK but I use the word ‘entry’ loosely.

For example, standard items include – to name but a few – LED bending headlights, rain-sensor wipers, power-operated tailgate, rear-park assist, city safety (collision warning with full ‘auto’ brake), nine-inch touch screen centre console with sat nav and a sound system that you can actually choose to blow your own eardrums with, if you so wish! It even has Apple’s CarPlay as a software update. Cue lots of James Corden-style karaoke games with the family.

My point is: these are standard features on the XC90, whereas they’d normally be ‘options’ with other manufacturers. It’s not a thump on the nose to the other car makers, it’s a killer punch! Especially with the XC90 being a smidgen over £46k on the road.

As for the list of safety/security equipment on this vehicle, it’s the longest I’ve seen.

Rear, dynamic image of the all-new Volvo XC90 in Ice White

The Drive

I drove the D5 225hp version, the only diesel Volvo does in the XC90. It offers a 2.0 ltr four-cylinder engine that doesn’t growl when you put your foot down but adequately gets a shift on with an impressive 0-60mph time of less than 7.5 seconds. The petrol version takes 6.1 and the hybrid 5.3 seconds!

I loved the fact that you have a stick to select ‘drive’ and that’s it; no silly paddles to get in the way. You can just drive.

I imagine the gearbox designer sitting having his coffee asking, ‘Okay, when was the last time anybody changed gear with those paddles?’. He saved money on the unnecessary to make the necessary ‘standard’ and not optional. What a legend.

The chassis is surprisingly positive in change of direction, exuding confidence and calm, as do most things in this vehicle.

You don’t hanker attention while driving it; instead, you’re at ease with the outside world while being content in your cocoon of the near perfectly engineered Scandinavian carriage.

It snowed while I was test driving the XC90. And while the wet slushy snow tracks that make the majority of drivers uncomfortable travelling anywhere other than in the exhaust fumes of the vehicle in front, those inventive Swedes have cracked this too, with the vehicle feeling sure-footed in all weather conditions.

The XC90 feels so planted that if I ever go back to compete in the Monte Carlo or Swedish rallies, I’ll be pointing my engineer’s nose under the wing.

Before I drove this car, I had read such positive reviews but I was still dubious about how good it would actually be.

The truth is, geography teachers were onto something. This Volvo is #RAD!


A fantastic car for geography teachers, hipsters … and everyone else!


Volvo XC90

  • Engine: Four-cylinder twin turbo-charged diesel engine
  • Power Train: All wheel drive
  • Engine Capacity: 1969 cc
  • Max Engine Power: 165 kW

Horsepower: 225 hp

  • Torque: 470 Nm
  • Cargo capacity: 1868 litres
  • Height: 1776mm
  • Length: 4950mm
  • Width: 2008mm

Guy Wilks tested the all-new Volvo XC90 at Mill Sunderland, 2 Hylton Grange, Wessington Way, Sunderland, SR5 3HR

KNE is located at Warden Law Motorsport Centre, Sunderland, SR3 2PR


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