Blink and you’ll miss the exterior facelift, but the Volvo On Call feature, which helps you find your car in a busy parking lot, is pretty handy. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Blink and you’ll miss the exterior facelift, but the Volvo On Call feature, which helps you find your car in a busy parking lot, is pretty handy. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Volvo XC90 blew in a fresh new wind for the Swedish carmaker, particularly in design, when it was launched in 2015.

Its swanky new cabin and edgier styling added sex appeal to Volvo’s traditional sensible-and-safe theme, earning the luxury SUV the 2016 SA Car of the Year title.

Now the XC90 has received a midlife facelift and technology update to keep it fresh against German rivals such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. The visual work is minor and comprises new wheels, additional exterior colours and a slightly restyled grille.

It’s also available for the first time with a new six-seat configuration, with a pair of middle-row seats instead of a three-seater bench. This creates walk-through room between the middle and rear rows and makes for a less claustrophobic environment in the two rearmost seats, although the third row is still cramped for adults and best suited for children. The rear seats fold down to create up to 1,856l of boot space.

A technology tweak sees the XC90 adopting Volvo On Call as a standard feature. It’s an app-based service that helps motorists communicate with their cars. They can lock or unlock the doors, check the fuel level, and cool or heat the car via their smartphone, smartwatch, tablet or desktop.

According to Greg Maruszewski, MD of Volvo Cars SA, Volvo on Call is a key to the digital world. “One app gives Volvo drivers control over their car’s functions. A car becomes far more than just a means of travel. It becomes your personal assistant,” he says.

Pressing the On Call button mounted in the car’s ceiling connects you to a call centre agent who can tell you about the best restaurants in town and send the destination to the car’s navigation system.

If you forget to lock your car it sends you a notification, and Volvo On Call also automatically contacts the emergency services if you’re involved in an accident and tells them where you are.

Other capabilities of Volvo On Call include the ability to provide an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot for all occupants.

Formerly available as a seven-seater only, the SUV now also offers a six-seat configuration. Picture: SUPPLIED
Formerly available as a seven-seater only, the SUV now also offers a six-seat configuration. Picture: SUPPLIED

The days of losing a car in a big parking lot are over, as the app guides the owner to the car on a map, and you can also ask the vehicle to identify itself by flashing its lights and hooting.

Volvo On Call is a free service for the first five years, after which it can be extended for a fee.

As before, the XC90 is available in a range of petrol and diesel models all powered by four-cylinder 2l turbocharged engines.

The turbocharged diesel in the D5 Geartronic AWD delivers 173kW of power and 480Nm, and has a rated fuel consumption of 
5.7l/ 100km.

Next up is the T5 AWD model with a 187kW/350Nm petrol engine, with a said 7.6l/ 100km.

Power hounds will gravitate towards the T6 Geartronic AWD with its supercharged and turbocharged 235kW/400Nm petrol engine, which consumes 8.0l /100km, according to Volvo.

Topping the range is the hybrid XC90 T8 Geartronic AWD, its supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine paired with an electric motor to deliver combined outputs of 300kW and 640Nm. Fuel consumption is said to be a remarkably low 2.1l/100km, which I’ve found to be an achievable target if the vehicle is driven in a subdued manner on urban roads, with the electric motor supplying most of the power.

With about higher-speed cruising thrown in, which chiefly uses the petrol-powered part of the thrust, our T8 Test car was averaging 10l/100km at last week’s media launch in Cape Town.

The much-lauded cabin of the XC90 has aged well with its premium finishes and swish design. A tablet-like touchscreen bundles most of the features together in a digitised setting, ensuring an uncluttered dashboard, although I would prefer to have quick-access physical buttons for the climate control.

As per expectations in this market segment, the XC90 comes with a full suite of safety features including active cruise control and a lane keeping aid. I find Volvo’s self-steering function to be a cut above the competition in that it works well even when road markings aren’t clear.

The XC90 puts on a better-than-average audiophile experience with the top-of-the-line audio system offering 1,476W and 19 Bowers & Wilkins speakers.

The XC90 is also available in a new R-Design version, which is jazzed up with a sportier look and upgraded equipment.

It includes 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, black door mirrors and a gloss black mesh front grille. Leather/nubuck sports seats, black headlining, upgraded interior lighting and a perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel give the cabin a sportier vibe.

The R-Design pack also adds a powered front passenger seat, and Drive Modes that allow drivers to adjust settings for the engine, transmission, steering and the optional air suspension.

The XC90 remains the brand’s flagship model, positioned above the more recently launched XC60 and XC40 ranges that have carried forward Volvo’s renaissance.

In a local market of declining car sales Volvo has weathered the storm fairly well, growing its market share in the premium segment from 2.9% to 5.6% against the segment being 16% down this year.

Maruszewski says Volvo would be selling even more cars if there weren’t a worldwide shortage of XC40s, for which local demand outstrips supply. That leaves the XC60, the 2018 World Car of the Year, as the brand’s top seller in SA.

Maruszewski also aimed to quell perceptions that Volvos have poorer resale values than rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes, pointing out that Volvo cars have a guaranteed future value higher than the German marques.

The 17-model XC90 range is priced from R1,029,266 to R1,668,500, included with a five-year/100,000km warranty and maintenance plan with roadside assistance.

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