It could have been worse. Volvo could have ended up like its Swedish compatriots at Saab: bankrupt and gone, just a fond memory fading fast.
Volvo suffered through lean years under Ford ownership. The old XC 90, for example, was forced to stay on the market for 12 years – much longer than the natural lifespan of other SUVs. Without significant new products, the Swedish company dropped off the radar.
But then it was bought by Geely in 2010, and the Chinese auto maker is pumping $11-billion into Volvo, enough for the Swedish brand to create a lineup from scratch.
The 2016 XC 90 is the first fruit of that labour, and yet it will be the oldest model in Volvo showrooms four years from now, say company officials.
To call this XC 90 is important to Volvo is a gross understatement. Everything is new – platform, interior, volume knob – and it all needs to be good, right out of the gate. Volvo has a lot to prove to its corporate overlords in China, and to customers in Canada.
Sitting in the cabin, surrounded by large windows and wood and leather and metal, dispels any worry. The car is made in Sweden. Everything feels good: the Napa leather is soft and the metal is real, cool to the touch. The edges of the starter knob have a subtle crinkle finish. The graphic design of the touchscreen is something most auto makers do poorly but here it’s excellent: a refined palette of colours, well-chosen fonts, elegant layout. And it’ll work even if you’re wearing gloves.
That’s not to say everything’s great. The driving mode menu stays on-screen too long, the heads-up display adjustment is hard to figure out and, in one of the test cars, the panoramic roof cover didn’t work properly. But these things feel like early-adopter problems; minor quirks that should get ironed out quickly.
Worth highlighting, too, is the ingenious engine: a tiny 2.0-litre unit with a monster turbocharger to bring power output up to 320 hp, and a supercharger to compensate for the turbo’s lag at low rpm. It sounds rattly until around 4,000 rpm, but it delivers the required shove for a seven-seat SUV. An optional plug-in electric hybrid unit brings the power up to 400 horses.
There is a precedent for Volvo’s ambitious turnaround. Look to Jaguar/Land Rover, which was bought by Indian auto maker Tata Motors in 2008. Today the British brands have nearly completed their strong all-new lineups. If Geely/Volvo can pull of the same thing, we should see some more good cars coming from Sweden. It may just be the happy ending Saab never got.
The 2016 XC 90 will arrive at dealerships in May.
You’ll like this car if … you’re bored with the usual SUV suspects.
Bodes well for Volvo’s comeback, should worry German and British rivals.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail