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Volvo's flagship XC90 gets subtle nips and tucks along with new and revised powertrains.
19in alloy wheels, all-wheel-drive, leather seats, heated front seats, two-zone climate control, rear parking camera, Bluetooth, DAB radio, cruise control, LED headlights and daytime running lights, remote central locking, electric windows, city safe active brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, parking assist, powered tailgate
Let's face it, big SUVs have always polarised opinion.
Even the Volvo XC90 - with its celebrated seven-seat practicality, and eminent safety and security virtues - can qualify as a target for some, due to its perceived gas-guzzling antics and the sheer amount of space it takes up on our over-crowded streets.
It is true that, despite its new facial treatments, which include subtle revisions to the front bumper and grille, the latest XC90 is still a pretty intimidating vehicle, especially if you have to squeeze past one on a narrow back street.
Anyone driving it will find it a pretty straightforward affair though, thanks to the sheer volume of glass to the front, rear and sides, the elevated king-of-the road driving position and the lightly weighted steering.
Granted, even when specified with the optional electronic dampers and air suspension, those big alloy wheels are prone to clatter a wee bit over rougher surfaces, but once the pace increases the combination of low wind noise and increasingly assured suspension set about creating a casual cruising experience.
Under the bonnet
Performance is not overly taxed by the XC90's substantial bulk either, thanks to the latest range of Volvo engines. Along with a couple of tweaked four-cylinder petrol engines, there is also a stronger battery for the plug-in hybrid version, which can cover up to 28 miles before it needs to burn any petrol. It is officially rated at just 55g/km, so is perhaps not as attractive from a BIK perspective as it might be - and it is not cheap.
Without question, the prince among the line-up is the all-new 48V mild-hybrid diesel. For the uninitiated, 48V hybrids employ beefed-up electrical systems that use a secondary battery pack to power an electric motor secreted within the gearbox. This motor then supplements the four-cylinder diesel engine's power, which correlates directly to a reduction in CO2 emissions and increased mpg. Volvo claims a combined WLTP figure of 156g/km of CO2, which is very tidy for a vehicle weighing over two tonnes.
In practice, the two power sources work very effectively. Although you will still be aware of some diesel combustion rattle when asking for some meaningful acceleration, because the electric motor is simultaneously putting its shoulder to the wheel, the engine feels and sounds significantly less stressed than it would if left to its own devices.
Refinement is also enhanced by the electric motor's secondary role, which is to conduct stop-start duties, meaning restart coughs and any abrupt engine jolts are tangibly reduced when trundling along in slow-moving traffic.
The electric motor also plays a role in filling in the gaps as the diesel engine draws breath between gearshifts, and in conjunction with Volvo's latest eight-speed automatic transmission, delivers impressively seamless shifts.
As with any hybrid, the brakes are also employed to recoup kinetic energy to help recharge the battery pack and this remains somewhat of a thorny issue as it tends to blunt brake pedal feel. More fundamentally, it also undermines initial stopping power, so a hefty shove of the pedal is required to get the XC to slow. Not something you really want in a vehicle capable of carrying seven souls.
More encouragingly, the XC90 feels exceedingly aristocratic inside. Almost every component you look at or touch - including the satin chrome air-vents and sparkling gear-shifter, starter twist-device and drive mode controller - are manufactured from premium quality materials. This air of sophistication is enhanced further by acres of swooping gloss panels set against warm veneers and fine leather finishes.
The centre of the dash is dominated by a large infotainment screen that features large fonts and easy-to-hit icons. Additionally, the left and right swipe menu function ensures it is a relatively simple device to engage with when driving.
Seat quality has always been a Volvo USP and as well as looking fantastic, thanks to precision stitching and fine grade leathers, the seats also provide superb comfort and excellent lateral support. There is also vast space in the middle row and enough room for a couple of surly teenagers in the rearmost pair of seats. You know they are going to moan no matter where you put them, so the further away from you, the better.