Volvo XC90 T6

Tweaked Volvo flagship still impresses

We were lucky enough to have a variety of driving needs to fulfil while we had the latest Volvo XC90 T6 on test recently. You may not see the subtle differences without being shown the headlamp, grille and other little tweaks, but the big Swede has benefited a subtle mid-life nip and tuck and our blend of open road, city and even a bit of dirt driving would prove an adequate test for a car that continues to star in most areas, but has slipped a touch in others.

That recent metamorphosis brings subtle detail styling and trim advances, fesh ’Thor’s Hammer’ DRL headlights and a modernised grille. Other tweaks include new wheels, exterior colours and this car's interesting new six-seat cabin configuration alongside the expected 5 and 7-seat options.

A very good looking car inside and out, XC90 T6 boasts a tasteful, refined and uncluttered cabin that is elegant, roomy and simplistic. But we did find a few niggles and frustrations in it. The power leather front pews proved most comfortable and there's more than enough space for rear passengers, especially in this one’s new six-seater set up, which drew both criticism and praise.

Some said the 2+2+2 get-up is a cool and clever solution, while others said it was uncomfortable in those two middle seats, especially without armrests to lean on in the bends, and that the gap through to the boot left open by the missing centre seat, allows items left untethered in the boot to slide forward into the cabin under braking. Its an interesting option, but the six-seat set-up has not been fully thought through. Never fear if you don't like it — you can still choose those traditional five and seven seat solutions too. 

Then the tech — there are some aspects like this car’s 360° cameras that bring life changing manoeuvrability advantages in tight spaces, while this car’s great sound system really impressed. But XC90 falls short in other areas. The originally re-imagined portrait-orientated touchscreen infotainment continues as it was with its ‘intuitively' tiled menu, but Volvo has slipped behind in the rampantly advancing area of executive in-car infotainment, where the likes of Mercedes and Audi have taken giant leaps ahead in the same timeframe.

So much so, that some of our crew went as far as to term the car’s allegedly simplified, yet in reality, over-complicated infotainment system terrible. It proved difficult to operate on the road, especially from the driver’s seat and complex to find one’s way around on the screen. Never mind no AM radio? Or at least that proved impossible to find, so we gave up. 

Still, even though it is a generation older, Volvo is still probably cooler than say the busy BMW X5 inside and out, so we were left surprised to say the least, that Volvo did not take advantage of this step in its development to upgrade XC90’s touchscreen-based infotainment to at least try compete with its German rivals’ voice, touch, steering touchpad, gesture and other means of control.

We enjoyed XC90 T6 on the road — delivering adequate power with smooth delivery, the healthy 235kW 400Nm 2-litre turbo-supercharged petrol 4-pot did not really need any attention or improvement and continues to channel drive to all four wheels through a super smooth 8-speed autobox to propel it from standstill to 100km/h in just under 7 seconds and on to a lofty 230km/h top end.

T6 is also frugal for a 235kW 2.7-tonne SUV at an entirely believable claimed co nsumption number of just over 8 litres/100km and 186g/km CO2 thanks in part to Start/Stop tech and engine braking energy regeneration. You can adapt XC90’s engine characteristics to the driving conditions via the shiny center console roller switch to choose between Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Off-road and Individual modes too.

The XC90’s state-of-the-art Scalable Product Architecture chassis likewse remains impressive as it delvers a smooth, effortless and engaging drive and a great ride from the drivers seat. Handling, while not overly sporty, is confidence-inspiring, steering light yet accurate to deliver an overall driving experience that is more relaxed than that of its German counterparts, while top class safety is as it is to be expected from a Volvo flagship.

The Volvo XC90’s combination of design, safety and convenience, comfort and solid drivability is as good as ever. It’s fast, frugal enough and entirely convincing, even if its infotainment now lags against its obvious rivals, but this contentious six-seat option adds and intriguing extra option to keep the big Swede sharp enough to still call itself a GLE, X5 or Q7 competitor. - Giordano Lupini

Images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription
Engine: 235kW400Nm 2-litre turbo & supercharged petrol I4  
Drive: 8-speed manual AWD
0-60km/h:                3.34 sec
0-100km/h:              6.78 sec                      
0-160km/h:              16.23 sec       
400m:                       14.8 sec @ 154km/h            
80-120km/h:            5.52 sec
120-160km/h:          7.62 sec          
VMax:                       230km/h                               
Fuel:                          8.1 l/100km                         
CO2:                         186 g/km
Warranty/Service:   5y 100K/5y 100Kkm 
LIST PRICE:                R1.14M           
RATED:                       7