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Road tested in Kent: Volvo XC90

PUBLISHED: 21:44 04 February 2016 | UPDATED: 21:44 04 February 2016

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

Archant

Volvo has created another big and versatile seven-seater that's good to drive and doesn't offend other road users

Confession time: I don’t like big SUVs/4x4s much.

Of course they appeal to those living out in the sticks and needing something to get them out of a bind, or tow a trailer or horsebox.

But let’s be honest, most owners are townies who buy them for the swank and the lofty oh-so-superior driving position. They certainly don’t buy them to enjoy driving, at least not the big models: cornering can feel like a fairground ride.

And yet, I always respected the Volvo XC90 and its buyers. The original lasted 12 years on the market: impressive when a car’s production life is typically five to seven years, but not so surprising when a car just hits the spot so well.

Spacious yet nimble and able to seat seven, it was also relatively affordable; some say Volvo unwittingly under-priced it.

Unlike some rivals it was also never marketed as a pseudo rapid-response wagon for a SWAT team – although hot versions were available, if you looked hard enough – so it seemed to offend nobody.

But, after a long reign, it did finally give way to a successor last year, which has not only picked up the baton but also raised the pace.

It might look squarer in style, enhanced by what Volvo calls ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights, but the new XC90 has presence and the more upright look underlines the pragmatic space efficiency of the interior; notably by boosting the usefulness of the third row of seats, catering for adults up to five feet seven in height.

Folding all five rear seats fully flat, unlike some SUVs, also creates a capacious load area of 1,899 litres, so the big Swede can be both a luxury motor and a workhorse.

Amazingly, this is helped by thinner seat cushions that somehow surpass the benchmark comfort of the old XC90 and enhance Volvo’s reputation in this field.

It means even entry level Momentum trim and spec delivers enough to please half of all UK customers; it’s all the luxury most will need. The rest opt for sporty R-Design (30 per cent) or luxury Inscription trim (20) as tested here.

There can be no argument about the XC90’s bulk, but it is amazing how lightly it sits on those four big wheels, for this long-awaited model is pioneering how Volvo will design and build a whole new generation of cars, such as the sleek S90 and V90 executive saloon and estate expected later in 2016.

Back to the XC90 and you first find that the key powertrains are two-litre four-cylinder petrol or diesel units, offered with various turbo and supercharging packages. Hybrid options are arriving soon too.

Fact is, however, the Volvo uses such light yet high-tensile construction that it doesn’t need a big lump under that imposing bonnet: there is a pleasing nimbleness and, while there is some body lean on the bends, it is not onerous and you soon forget the XC90’s bulk – even on more challenging roads.

And all the while, you are marvelling at the ease of driving (my wife didn’t want to return the test car) high levels of refinement, excellent streamlined cabin design, and thoughtful arrangement of stowage and controls – including a big iPad-style touchscreen

If you hate big SUVs, then you’ll like this one.

Volvo XC90

Price from: £46,250

Model featured: 2.0 D5 AWD Inscription 4wd Auto £50,685

Power: 225PS (223bhp) and 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds

Engine: 1,969cc four-cylinder turbodiesel

Fuel consumption: 48.7mpg combined cycle

Road tax: £225/year

Best rival: Range Rover Sport

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