Taking the XC90 route: good start on SUV quest
Volvo's seven-seater has something special
Sorry if this sounds like a bit of an Irish joke, but I'm going to start with the glaringly obvious.
Anything else with this multi-dimensional Volvo XC90 could have both of us lost by the time I get to the next sentence.
So here goes: This luxury SUV seven-seater (standard) is big. I mean big. That's the word used by everyone who came near, or were driven in, the white beast I had no test.
Even a colleague said he knew I was at the airport because he saw it at Quikpark. No bother picking it out from hundreds and hundreds of other cars.
Not that Volvo necessarily are trying to get that sort of notice. It's just such a stand-out vehicle despite being, to my way of thinking, not what you'd call an attractive car (it has a big, long blunt nose on it that reminds me of those wonderful trucks they drive across America).
But it stands tall and striking, especially in my verion's Crystal Metallic white. I also think it is heads and shoulders above rivals in other senses. I am not aware of a better interior in the SUV category; seriously comfortable, acres of room across front, back and third-row seats, exceptional driving position, good-quality surfaces and materials all through and loads of equipment.
If you don't feel at home in this, then I'm at a loss about where to direct you. It is the best interior in its class (and many others).
And it has perhaps the best interchange infotainment system on four wheels as well as a virtual-cockpit-type display behind the steering wheel.
Here is the sort of car that embraces you. I looked forward to driving it even if it was only to the shops, gym or airport.
Five adults sat in comfort on the latter drive; each feeling like they were being ferried in a limousine. And there were still two seats at the back.
I don't normally enjoy a car this much - don't worry, I have reservations too.
However, I do believe the billions Volvo spent developing it, and the platform that will launch many more new siblings, has enabled it to make a car that breathes new life into the genre.
Speaking of life... they claim it is the safest car in the world. I couldn't begin to list the amount of reactive and proactive safety elements on board. Not to mention all the other technologies to keep you in lane, a safe distance from the car in front and so on. I think it is a great car all round.Now, maybe this is as good a place as any to start with a few reservations.
Some might find it too big (though I easily slipped it into narrow parking slots and tip-toed through heavy traffic).
And maybe the price will shock owners of old models, even though it is totally new car.
And maybe some elements of the infotainment interface were a mite feckity. There is a lot of reliance on that great centre-dash display for everyday functions: have we entered the era of digital clutter?
Neither is it designed, nor does it try, to emulate the handling of the BMW X5, though with all-wheel-drive and the electronic means to take more dynamic settings that is an area where differentiation is rapidly closing.
And I didn't always find Drive, Park or Reverse with the auto-shift lever as easily as I would have expected.
But I believe most of those reservations are of a minor nature in the grand scheme of things.
In many ways, the D5 diesel (1,969cc and quiet) under the bonnet summed up the car for me. It develops a serious 225bhp (and would want to given the size of the motor) but the 8spd automatic gearbox made it feel like it was lively all the time.
And that's how the car came across in so many areas. It always felt so much better than the sum of its considerable parts.
I reckon the XC90 is a good starting point if you're on the trail of a large seven-seat AWD luxury SUV.
You may not buy - and rivals have their allure too - but it will make for an interesting journey.
Facts & figures
Volvo XC90 SUV, D5 diesel AWD (1,969cc, 4cyl, 225bhp, 8spd, €390 road tax). Range from: €70,950. Test car (Inscription Geartronic) from €76,950 had white metallic (€1,550), ventillated charcoal leather upholstery(€1,000); Intellisafe Pro Pack (€2,000): adaptive cruise control/distance alert, queue assist, lane keeping/blind-spot systems, rear-collision mitigation. Xenium Pack (€3,000): panoramic sunroof, 360º view, parking assists, electric front seat cushion extension. Heads-up display/winter pack €1,800, electric front-seat side support €300. Total cost: €86,780
My side of the road
My daughter reprimanded me the other day. "T and T," she said. Oh! the vigilance of the young. She reckoned I was too close to the (sloth-like) car in front. Her warning was timely. I believe we all drive too close to each other. You should be able to see the other car's rear tyres (T) and plenty of tarmac (T). That way we reduce the chance of a rear-end shunt. I'm a TTeetotaller now. Join me?