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MOTORNET: New Engine = New Life For Solid Swede

New Engine Means New Life For Solid Swede

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

Disclaimer: Please note that the pictures in this item are of the Volvo XC90 T6 which is a petrol car, not a diesel.

With the way fuel prices are going – around the $1.50 a litre mark last time I checked – trying to sell new, large SUV’s in New Zealand could be akin to promoting Iraqi tourism. In other words, very hard work.

Disposable income aside, no one likes the idea of having to pay $150 odd to fill up a tank from which you might only get 400 kilometres – which is why Volvo’s new XC90 D5 diesel couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Known for their luxury and refinement, Volvos are desirable cars and the XC90 is no exception. When I first drove it a little over two years ago, it became apparent that it had virtually revolutionised the way manufacturers’ approach the packaging of SUVs. Until the very recent arrival of the Land Rover Discovery, it was virtually the only genuine seven-seater European SUV on the market.

Getting behind the wheel of the XC90 D5, it’s clear that owners won’t be exactly roughing it. In SE spec trim, expect leather upholstery, dual zone climate air-con, a top-spec stereo system, and electric everything and that’s just touching the surface – all this for the current entry price of $91,900 (normally $99,900).

It’s also very accessible. The wide doors give way to a low floor and limousine like seats. Like a well-crafted piece of Scandinavian furniture, everything in the cabin feels well put together. Your hands fall naturally to the well placed easy to use controls, while the fit and finish of the interior materials is first rate. The multi-adjustable seats fold every which way, and while getting all the seats flat required a quick check of the manual, done once is all it will take. With the rear seats flat, there’s a good amount of cargo room, while the split tailgate opens easily.

Much more important for this model though, is what’s under the bonnet. Typically for a Volvo, the D5 features a 2.4 litre five-cylinder, common-rail, turbocharged engine which produces a reasonably healthy (for an SUV) 120kW and 340Nm of torque from a useful 1750 rpm onwards. With the twist of the key, there can be no mistaking that this vehicle is an oil burner. Frankly, it’s noisy which is a little unusual considering the refinement of the vehicle and Volvo’s generally. It’s not unpleasant, but nevertheless is noticeable. Under full acceleration on any reasonable incline the engine has an eerily familiar quality to it. It was a day or two before I realized it was more than a little reminiscent of a howling Chewbacca, the wookie character from Star Wars!

All noise issues aside, the diesel puts in a pretty respectable 0-100 km/h time, with NZ Autocar recording it at 12.92 seconds. Keep in mind too that it weighs a little over two tonne, so hardly a lightweight. And while it’s not going to turn heads for performance, punters should still be able to pass slower drivers out there on the highways and byways.

Notably, the D5 slurps precious liquid sparingly with a claimed fuel figure of 9.1L/100km compared with over 12L/100km for its petrol counterpart. Even taking into account road user charges, there are clear savings to be had.

On the road, it also impresses. Given how compact it looks on the outside, it’s almost a shock to realise that this is still a big vehicle. Once underway though, the Volvo shrinks around the driver. Put simply, the XC90 drives just like a car. Steering is neutral – even benign – and it attacks corners with all the sense of purpose that you might expect from a much smaller passenger vehicle. I had genuinely forgotten that this was a vehicle that likes to be driven and it is clear that while the diesel might not have the get-up-and-go of its turbo, petrol powered brethren, it still likes to boogie.

Much of its car like attributes can be traced to the fact that for most of the time, it drives through just the front wheels. In the event that one of the Volvo’s wheels start to spin, the all-wheel-drive system kicks in virtually instantaneously, and, if a wheel spins on one side, more power goes instantly to the opposite wheel. It’s a system that works well and ensures great stability, but it has its limitations – especially in demanding off-roading situations. The lack of a dedicated low range gear-box pretty much confines the XC90 to soft-roading only.

While on the subject of car-like tendencies, one could wax lyrical about all the XC90’s added safety features, but put simply, it’s very comprehensive. The United States New Car Assessment Programme gives it five stars – one of only two SUVs to ever get such a high rating.

After a pretty successful couple of years on the market, but with the competition getting ever closer, the addition of the diesel definitely breaths new life into the XC90 range. If an XC90 is for you, and a slightly rowdy engine – some would say charismatic – doesn’t worry you, or the slight performance trade-off, then the D5 has to be right up there. After all, what could be better than an SUV that is both practical and desirable yet doesn’t break the bank at the fuel pump?


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