Familiar features survive the test of time

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 08:13 31/10/2012
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ROBERT CHARLES
VOLVO XC90 D5 R-DESIGN
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ROBERT CHARLES
VOLVO XC90 D5 R-DESIGN

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As a marketing exercise, this appeals as a rather good idea: There are four versions of the Volvo XC90 available in New Zealand, and they all cost the same.

You can purchase a 3.2-litre six cylinder version as a luxury- leaning Executive or a more sporting R-Design, and they both cost $89,990. Or you can buy both levels of specification but with a 2.4-litre five cylinder turbo-diesel under the

VOLVO XC90 D5 R-DESIGN

POWER PLANT: Five cylinder 20-valve DOHC turbocharged diesel engine, 147 kW at 3900 rpm, 420 Nm at 1900-2800 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: All-wheel drive. Six-speed adaptive automatic transmission. Coil- over strut front suspension, multi-link independent setup at the rear. Sports chassis, self- levelling suspension.

FUEL ECONOMY: Average 8.3 L/100km. Exhaust emissions 219 g/km.

HOW BIG: Length 4807mm, width 1909mm, height 1784mm, wheelbase 2857mm.

HOW MUCH: $89,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Nice spacious and highly specified interior design. Good comfort. WHAT'S NOT: Turbocharger spooling up from a standing start is far too abrupt.

OUR VERDICT: The XC90 is getting old, and the age is beginning to show. But it still remains one of the best SUVs around.

bonnet, and they both cost $89,990 too.

I suppose you can do this sort of thing with a model that has been on the market for so long that its development costs would have been amortised down years ago - in fact that's probably also part of the reason why the vehicle is more than 10 grand cheaper now than it was when first launched.

But whatever the reason, it seems a sort of practical Swedish thing to do to offer four versions of one vehicle for the same price. Luxury or sport? Petrol or diesel? The cost doesn't enter the equation.

So which is best? Dunno. But after having just driven an R-Design version of the D5 turbodiesel model, I've got to say that despite the fact the XC90 has essentially remained unchanged for close to 10 years, it remains one of my favourite European SUVs.

Word is that a new model is scheduled for release next year as the now-Chinese owned company begins an aggressive campaign aimed at building international market share. If the new model is as ground-breaking as the current model was when it was first introduced in 2003, then chances are it will be a beauty.

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Meanwhile the current XC90 has received a final facelift before the full model change, and as would be expected of a vehicle with so many kilometres under its belt, the changes are fairly minor.

The nose is a bit different and the diesel has been tweaked a little so that it offers more power while average fuel consumption has fallen.

Being an R-Design model means this XC90 boasts sportier suspension and steering, and the interior has sports seats.

The facelift has also given the big Volvo a reversing camera that rises from the top of the dashboard whenever reverse is selected. The screen also doubles as satellite navigation.

The fact that the screen does lift up makes it look a little like the afterthought that it is, but at least when retracted it does help the XC90 retain its very clean dashboard and centre console design.

And hey - here's something that hark backs to the past. Whereas every other SUV I can think of that has been launched in recent times has push-button start, this one still requires you to place a key into the ignition and turn it. The park brake is unwieldy too, requiring the driver to stomp on a foot-brake, but to disengage it by pulling on a handle.

That completely fooled my wife when she drove the XC90, because she thought she engaged the brake by pulling on the handle. Lucky she'd put the automatic transmission in Park!

I found the five-cylinder turbodiesel quite difficult to use. These days it offers 147 kW of power and 420 Nm of torque, with all that low-down grunt becoming available from 1900 rpm. I quickly discovered that if you are a little too heavy on the accelerator at takeoff from a standing start, the turbo will quickly light up and the Volvo will bound away far too quickly.

That explains why the engine can get the 2.1-tonne XC90 to 100 kmh in around 10 seconds. But you've got to be careful. Things are considerably easier at pace and when you want to pass slower cars, but overall I think a vehicle of this price and stature really does need to offer more sophisticated performance at all speeds.

The drive is quite firm thanks to the fact the R-Design specification gives this Volvo sportier steering and suspension, but I like it. I also like the vehicle's distinctive alloys and quad exhaust pipes that help give it a more aggressive look.

Criticism of the too-aggressive initial acceleration aside, and despite its age, I think this Volvo XC90 remains one of the top SUVs on the market. The R-Design specification makes it all the more appealing.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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