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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Secret swede

Volvo is not a name you would normally think of when shopping for an SUV. But with the XC90, the company that used to be known for safety first, fun second, is causing more than a few problems for the opposition.

Volvo used to be one of those brands that you either loved or hated. But with some great new models and some smart marketing, it’s now becoming a luxury brand to rival the usual players. Luckily for the car industry and the consumer the old days of Volvo producing a selection of armoured boxes is well and truly over. The entire range is now well designed and good to look at, whilst retaining that all important extra bit of safety.

The big luxury saloons are great to drive and powerful enough to keep up with the opposition, whilst the sporty C70 now has a folding hard top! On a Volvo? However, despite the earlier XC70, which was really a raised up 4x4 station wagon, the XC90 is the company’s first attempt at the lucrative full size 4x4 market, making it a direct shot straight at the X5, Cayenne and Q7. So far the car has been very well received and many new customers are being tempted over to a brand that has struggled in the past to attract younger customers.

The edgy styling and good PR have seen strong sales in Europe, but it has also proved popular in the Middle East, where luxury 4x4’s rule the roost.

The design of the XC90 is one of its greatest assets. The whole car is really chunky and looks ready for some serious off-road driving. The nose is very nicely done and has a sporty look to it, especially with the bulging bonnet and pointed grill area. The lower front spoiler has a black section which cleverly looks like a nudge bar from a distance.

Unlike some of the opposition Volvo did a really good job of the car’s rear end. It’s neat and tidy, and incorporates full height rear lights running up the rear pillars. It also has a small roof spoiler coming out of the top of the tail gate and twin chrome exhaust pipes, again giving it a really sporty feel.

Along the sides the bodywork muscles out along a full length mid-height line giving the car a strong stance. The sills are again finished in black, along with the rear, ready for the inevitable brush with nature when off-roading. The split six spoke alloys look great and work well with the chrome grill and chromed roof bars, which are standard on the car.

Inside the Volvo, the interior trim is excellent and the dash is very clearly laid out. The seats are some of the most comfortable in a 4x4 you will find and are very well made. The whole interior feels like it will last a very long time, which is an important consideration in this market. Volvo has also gone for a smaller screen on the dash, which is a welcome relief from the Nintendo interiors many of the other luxury car makers have gone for. All the information you need can be accessed easily, but it’s not in multi colours and doesn’t have a special joystick or a novel-sized instruction manual.

The steering wheel feels great in the wood finish and all the driver’s main controls are easy to use and well placed. The dials are clear and easy to read, but quite plain. The stereo system is excellent, especially if you go for the optional ‘Premium Sound with Dynaudio’ set up. But one of the greatest things about the XC is the versatility of the seats. The three rows can be arranged backwards, forwards and folded away, creating 64 different seating combinations. What’s more, they are easy to fold as well. The engine is extremely willing and works well in such a big car. It also sounds good, which is surprising for a four wheel drive. Accelerating hard at any speed brings the V8 alive and gets the car up to speed very quickly. Rolling on the power when cruising gives you a very smooth ride and brings up the speed limit rather quickly. In fact, the XC90 is easily quicker 0-100 than both the X5 and the standard Cayenne, and pips the Q7 by a whisker. The torque is also very strong throughout the rev range, giving the XC great pull on the road, as well as excellent off-road ability.

The gearbox is very smooth, with no jerky or delayed gear changes. Shift into tiptronic mode and you can really use the engine to its full advantage. In fact the car becomes a bit of handful if the road is greasy or wet and you tend to drive with your foot to the floor. Importantly, the Volvo is fun to drive and has excellent road presence with its shaped bonnet.

Cocooned inside the comfortable interior, you can push the big XC hard into corners and come out the other side without major drama. Sudden lane changes at high speed are also hardly a worry, making the XC feel very similar to the X5 on the road. At slow speeds it’s easy to manoeuvre and has great vision, and at a crawl it’s simple in traffic and easy to park. The suspension soaks up the bumps and lumps well, but isn’t soft enough to wallow in corners. Quite how they get it to be so neutral without making it boring is quite amazing. The brakes are also good, but lack feel, which can lead to some interesting stopping moments, when you suddenly notice that the stationary traffic in front is closer than you realise. In all it’s a bit difficult to find anything negative to say about the Volvo XC90. It really is one of the best four wheel drives on the market at the moment. Some of the opposition have far more luxurious interiors, whilst others boast better performance if you’re willing to spend the money, but as an all round package, it really is one of the best.

The worrying thing is that it probably won’t be on most people’s shopping list. With BMW and Porsche dominating the luxury end of the market in the GCC and Volvo’s late start in the sector, many people will not even think of it, let alone consider it as an option.

That’s a real shame, as the car is better in many respects than the others and deserves a fair shot at the title. One thing is for certain, the other manufacturers will be fighting to make sure you don’t even think about test driving one. If they fail, then the big Swedish secret will finally be out.

Verdict:

Volvo took its time to enter the SUV market and has obviously done its home work. The XC90 is really very good. in fact it’s probably one of the best cars in its category.

Engine:

4.4 V8

0-100 kmph:

7.3 secs

Top speed:

210 kmph

BHP:

315

ME price:

US$51,184 (AED187,994)

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imad kaddoumi 13 years ago

IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO KNOW THAT WHEN YOU RESEARCH A CAR AND DECIDE YOUR PREVIEW,DO YOU CONSIDER THE QUALITY OF THE SALES AND SERVICE BACK UP NECESSARY. DOES THE CAR SELL BY ITS OWN REPUTATION REGARDLESS OF THE CUSTOMER FRIENDLY SALES AMD SERVICE PEOPLE BEHINDE IT?