The launch of Volvo's XC90 in 2002 was a game-changer for the Swedish brand. For 75 years Volvo had been amassing an army of devotees and detractors alike. Soccer moms were drawn by the Swedish marque's focus on safety, while detractors found them dull beyond endurance. The XC90 transformed them from sensible and safe to an innovative premium brand and sparked a renaissance at the firm.
At a time when SUVs were considered off-roaders, Volvo built a vehicles that was a comfortable, safe, family car with room for seven and they were among the first car-markers to recognise the new and growing demand for high-riding luxury with limited off-road ability. The XC (Cross Country) line was their response to the increasing appeal of SUVs as 'family' haulers.
The XC90 is the first car developed by Volvo since the Chinese company Geely took controlling interest in 2010. Built on an entirely new platform, the exterior is still unmistakeably Volvo with clean and purposeful styling and oversized grille.
The larger bonnet and distinctive new rear lights are all design signatures that will be mirrored across the range. With an imposing road presence, the XC90 stretches almost five metres long.
Inside, the family-friendly interior is beautifully appointed and is awash with soft leather and Scandinavian wood. A portrait-style touch-screen similar to a tablet computer in the centre console controls all of the key features, making it virtually button free and simple to use. The cabin is modern, spacious and uncluttered. Unlike many rivals, it is also a genuine seven-seater. The third row of seats can comfortably accommodate adults and will more than adequately separate squabbling siblings.
On-road ride comfort remains as good as in the previous version and it is beautifully hushed and refined, capable of soaking up bumps like mere air bubbles on the road. Although it feels smaller than its actual size it is still a big car and you will notice some roll on corners and bends. The steering is a little light and the automatic gearbox is not the fastest to respond, but overall it is supremely smooth.
There is only one diesel engine available the D5, a 2-litre with 225bhp and 470 Nm of torque. Rivals may have better engine options but the D5 is impressive and with emissions of just 149g/km and a fuel economy figure of 5.7 l/100km (49.5 mpg), the XC90 is also a very frugal off-roader.
Safety is important in the Volvo pedigree and the XC90 is crammed with a host of aids including Head-up display for Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure warning, Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent control. There are also two world firsts in safety technologies: a run-off road protection package that is designed to respond if the car leaves the road - in this event the safety belts are tightened to keep the driver and passengers in position - and an auto-brake system that features automatic braking if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car. On the road the systems do take a little getting used to, though, and can be quite intrusive.
Three trim levels are available, Momentum, a sporty R-Design, and the range-topping Inscription and all are well equipped.
Even going for the entry level Momentum trim gets you 19-inch alloy wheels, Cruise Control, hill start assist, leather seats, Bluetooth, DAB, Roof Rails and rear-parking sensors - all for €70,950.
There are also a number of optional packs, our test car included an additional safety pack, the Intellisafe Pro Pack, an Xenium Pack, with a range of parking aids, and a Heads-up Display Winter Pack. The list price of the AWD Inscription Geartronic test car was €76,950. The optional equipment and packs added almost €10,000 to the overall price, bringing the total to €86,780.
The Volvo XC90 is one of the most impressive cars I have driven this year. It is comfortable, classy, yet extremely practical, and the seven-seat cabin is MPV-like in its versatility. Space in the front two rows is plentiful and unlike rivals, space in the third row is just as good.
As with the original version, Volvo has set new standards for safety, versatility and interior space. With a starting price of €70,950, the XC90 is expensive but if you are one of the lucky ones to have a generous budget it would be hard to recommend a better family car.
It's been a busy year for Audi who have already registered 3,354 cars. New for 152 is the arrival of the second generation Q7. Launching with a choice of two 3.0 litre engine models, the 3.0TDI 272ps and 3.0 TFSI 333ps. The 3.0 TDI 218ps variants will join the range later in year. A new R8 will arrive in October and in November an all-new A4 will be in showrooms.
Compared to many rivals the Volkswagen Touareg is positively discreet, so appropriately the latest version is a subtle refresh. Apart from some minor design tweaks front and rear and a reworked four-bar grille, it looks pretty much the same as the previous version outside but inside it's even more up-market, with lots of soft-touch materials and electronic wizardry.