For decades Swedish automaker Volvo has earned the dubious reputation for creating quality vehicles, yet it was seen as a car for Grandfathers.
In the last few years, the automaker has gone through a renaissance, with its latest offerings much more visually appealing and aimed at a "younger" generation.
Dare we call modern Volvos sexy?
Along with design changes, Volvo has also leaped into the future of mobility when it comes to technology, specifically autonomous programmes, leading the charge with its Pilot Assist.
In 2015, Volvo released its now-famous T-shaped "Thor's Hammer" DRL lights, inspired by the Norse God of Thunder, and the automaker reckons the iron mark introduced an entirely new, distinctive and "confident face" for Volvo's new generation of vehicles.
The same styling has been carried through in the 2020 XC90.
Volvo Cars has refreshed its suave range-topping SUV with a host of upgrades. It has new wheels, new body paint colours, and a redesigned grille. My favourite new addition has to be the new six-seat configuration, and the Volvo on Call service button which is linked to your mobile device via an app.
It might be hella-pricey but it's opulence and luxury at its finest. The thing is, it's loaded with modern technology, is incredibly spacious and plush. It's fuel efficient and it floats on the road while you're sitting in lavish, extremely supple seats.
Greg Maruszewski, Managing Director of Volvo Car South Africa, says: "The overall impression, both exterior and interior, has a strong connection to the key elements of the Swedish lifestyle: the generous space, the celebration of light and the focus on well-being."
Under the bonnet
The new range offers 2.0-litre, four-cylinder powertrains, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The turbocharged diesel engine in the D5 Geartronic AWD delivers 173kW and 480Nm. Fuel consumption is claimed at 5.7 litres/100km.
I love the punchy diesel unit in the D5, it has that little grumble but much more gentle on the ears. You can feel that extra torque doing all the work, which makes the huge SUV an easy drive.
I particularly preferred the D5 on a more beaten track, as it absorbed any bumps and undulations in the road. It quietly sails over potholes and dispatches bumps and undulations with ease. Its 480Nm of torque comes into play on a lekker gravel road.
The T5 AWD packs 187kW/350Nm from the petrol engine, which features a high-pressure turbo. Combined fuel consumption is rated at 7.6 litres/100km.
The supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine equipped to the T6 Geartronic AWD delivers 235kW at 5 700 r/min and 400Nm at 2 200 – 5 400 r/min. Its combined fuel consumption is claimed at 8.0/100km (combined).
The range-topping T8 Geartronic AWD has a 300kW (235kW + 65kW) petrol engine that is also supercharged and turbocharged.
It works in conjunction with an electric motor, which Volvo says is now more powerful than before, delivering torque of 640Nm (400Nm + 240Nm).
You can certainly feel the increase in power when you're driving in Pure mode. Fuel consumption is remarkable: A claimed 2.1-litres/100km (combined) while emissions are a low 49g/km.
The Pilot Assist is still one of the best semi-auto driving systems in the market.
You can take your feet off the pedals and have the car take over driving duties to an extent; you'll still have to keep your hands on the steering wheel and pay attention to the road ahead.
You can also set the speed you want the car to drive at as well as the following distance to vehicles ahead. The system is intelligent enough to maintain following distance, apply brakes smartly and even handle moderate sweeping bends.
Volvo was also the first automaker to produce a tablet-esque touch screen centre console, which forms the heart of the in-car control system.
The automaker says: "This system is virtually button free and represents an innovative way for drivers to control their car and access a range of Internet-based products and services. It also helps create an interior that is modern and spacious."
What I love most about any Volvo is how uncluttered the interior is, stemming from its Scandinavian design heritage.
The interior is draped with soft leather and wood inlays with handcrafted details, including a gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors (the famous Swedish glassmaker), on the T8 Inscription and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. There's a new slate grey upholstery, as well as new décor inlays.
Two USB ports have been added, and also a telematics unit with a P-Sim card slot. The boot is enormous with 1 856 litres of space.
The refreshed XC90 can now be ordered with a range of different seating configuration boasting a new six-seater configuration for a more posh setup, as well as the seven-seater configuration.
Image: Volvo Cars SA
Bowers & Wilkins sound
There's no doubt that Bowers & Wilkins sound system is just banging in the XC90. It offers crisp sound unravelled by many with a 1 476-Watt Class D amplifier and 19 speakers. The subwoofer is located in the right rear wheel well and the air for the speaker element is taken from the wheel well.
There are three room modes:
1. "Studio" for an excellent, dry and precise listening experience,
2. "Individual Stage" that allows you to control the acoustics and create your own sound using the centre display, and
3. "Gothenburg Concert Hall" which recreates the amazing acoustic experience of this legendary concert hall.
As safe as a Volvo
The 2020 XC90 comes with an arsenal of safety features including: Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, Lane Keeping Aid, Run-Off Road Mitigation/Protection, Driver Alert Control, Road Sign Information, Electronic Stability Control, Emergency Brake Light, Brakes with Hill Start Assist and Automatic Hold.
There's also Automatic braking after a collision, Roll-Over Protection System, Roll Stability Control, reinforced passenger compartment, SIP side impact protection system, collapsible steering column, side and dual-stage airbags (for the driver and front passenger), inflatable curtain, WHIPS whiplash injury protection system and City Safety with Autobrake (which recognises pedestrians, cyclists and large animals).
R-Design model up for grabs
Volvo Car South Africa says its launching a new R-Design version of the XC90. These models are the "sportiest" in the range featuring various upgrades different to the standard line-up.
Distinctive characteristics include 20" diamond-cut alloy wheels, black door mirrors and a gloss black mesh front grille.
The interior features leather/nubuck sports seats and a perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel complete with gearshift paddles.
There's also front powered seats with memory function, sports pedals, black headlining and upgraded interior lighting. Even the key fob gets an exclusive R-Design leather-clad trim.
R-Design models come standard with Drive Mode Settings and Adjustable Steering Force to customise settings for the engine, transmission, steering and the optional air suspension.
Image: Volvo Cars SA
Volvo On Call is standard
The 2020 XC90 comes standard with Volvo On Call, this is the automaker's app-based service that helps motorists to communicate with their cars.
At the launch, journalists were handed a mobile phone loaded with the Volvo App which is paired with the vehicle - and this was used to locate the vehicle we were due to drive for the day.
At the touch of a button, we could lock/unlock the doors, check fuel levels and even cool or heat the car via the air con - this is all possible via a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet or from your desktop using the app. It also allows you to find you car in a vast car park, in case you have forgotten where your parking bay is, by turning on your car's lights, or sounding the hooter.
Touching the On Call button along the roof, located next to the SOS call button, we were immediately connected to a gentleman on the phone who sent through our destination location to the car. It appeared on the nav screen while we were still chatting.
Volvo's Greg Maruszewski tells us more about it:
According to Maruszewski, Volvo on Call is a key to the digital world: "One app gives Volvo drivers control over their car's functions. It also provides access to a world of convenient services. A car becomes far more than just a means of travel.
"It becomes your personal assistant. It can tell you about the best coffee spots in town and send the destination to your car's navigation system. It knows when you have appointments, where they are and how to get you there."
South African motorists will particularly appreciate the associated safety and security benefits.
"Motorists who forget to lock their car will get a notification message. And Volvo On Call automatically contacts the emergency services if you are involved in an accident and tells them where you are," Maruszewski explains.
Other capabilities include the ability to provide an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, which can be accessed by everyone in your car.
"The signal is so strong that you can even stream music and films without having to worry about buffering," says Maruszewski.
An added benefit is the fact that the batteries of portable devices are not drained, leaving them ready for use when they are needed.
Anyone who has ever lost track of their car in a huge parking lot will also welcome Volvo On Call with open arms: "The app will show you the location of your car on a high-definition map, and then provide directions how to reach it. You can even ask your car to hoot and flash for five seconds to identify itself and guide you to its location," says Maruszewski.
The model year 2020 version of the XC90 will be available on dealer showroom floors from mid-August 2019.