FIRST DRIVE | The new 2019 Volvo XC90 is the same, but different
Brenwin Naidu headed to Cape Town to sample the new subtly tweaked Volvo XC90
In 2015, the second-generation XC90 rewrote the script. Not only within the context of the Volvo brand, but for its segment as a whole.
I remember first laying eyes on a pre-production example of the model at the Cape Town stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014.
Resplendent in black, it was undeniable that design chief Thomas Ingenlath had worked aesthetic sorcery. It was the first model to wear the current Volvo design language, preceding the S90 and subsequent latest-generation XC60 and XC40. Blockish edges, an assertive countenance and the impression of pumped-out shoulders appeared to define the overall template. It would be remiss of us to overlook the hallmark headlight LED strips, purported to resemble the hammer wielded by Norse mythological character Thor.
And you will agree that it all worked well in making a statement to the ever-popular German competitors — a battle that always has and always will face the Swedish manufacturer. Last week, Volvo launched the enhanced version of its well-accomplished, large sport-utility vehicle. We travelled to Cape Town to get better acquainted. Polished expectation management skills are an asset to any motoring scribe. And before meeting the newcomer, one was already imbued with a sense of positivity.
We are, after all, talking about a model with a decorated trophy cabinet housing awards garnered both abroad and on home soil. It clinched the title of 2016 Car of the Year, during a period of years in which the honour seemed to favour a certain crest emblem from Stuttgart.
At first glance, not much has changed on the 2019 model. In fact, not much seems to have changed when you examine this XC90 more closely. This is what I gleaned. The grille is new, apparently, but making the distinction between that of the outgoing car required intermediate-level squinting. Easier to identify, however, are the revised alloy wheel choices. Buyers can pick from additional shades as well. The tweaks are extremely subtle.
Not a problem, because as stated earlier, the XC90 was gifted with outstanding physical genetic features from the get-go. Inside, the changes were made sparingly, too. Depending on the model, you might notice a greater acreage of leather across the doors and upper fascia section. But the entire range now benefits from a feature dubbed Volvo on Call. One component of the system enables control of certain functions via your mobile device.
This is in addition to having access to a dedicated call centre, whose agents act like personal assistants. Dial them up. Ask where the nearest coffee shop is, for example, and the location will be dispatched, digitally, to the navigation system. Off you go. Indeed, competitors have already availed similar online concierge services in their products. But the technology remains novel. Driving through the verdant hills on the outskirts of Cape Town, we were reminded just how endearing the texture of the XC90 is to occupants. Cosseted in soft leather, making unfettered progress on the bountiful torque wave of that D5 derivative (173kW and 480Nm), the experience remained plush.
As before, the engine range consists exclusively of two-litre, four-cylinder units in petrol and diesel guises. An eight-speed automatic works across the board. Next up, we drove the T8 hybrid version, with its combined system output of 235kW and 640Nm. While equipped with all-wheel drive, we were amused by the sizeable spoonful of torque-steer it dished-up under hard acceleration, turning right at an intersection. Even before these negligible changes, the XC90 proved a worthwhile option in this premium, large sport-utility vehicle segment. Perhaps that attests to how forward-thinking it was already, when it made its appearance in our market in 2015.
Pricing starts at R1 029 300.