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ROAD TEST

Mild-hybrid Volvo XC90 is a heavy drinker

Thrusty but thirsty SUV makes Denis Droppa lament the demise of Volvo’s diesels

The XC90 B6 model uses both a turbocharger and supercharger to bring 220kW and 420Nm to the party. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The XC90 B6 model uses both a turbocharger and supercharger to bring 220kW and 420Nm to the party. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

With the automotive world in the throes of electric fever, Volvo is transitioning towards full electrification by phasing out cars with only internal combustion engines.

Diesel engines are being ditched as part of the strategy and you can no longer buy an oil-burning Volvo in SA. Instead, the Swedish brand now pursues fuel parsimony with new mild-hybrid petrol versions in the XC60 and flagship XC90 ranges. Topping the range, as before, is the hybrid XC90 T8 Twin Engine, its supercharged and turbocharged petrol four-cylinder paired with an electric motor to deliver combined thrust of 300kW and 640Nm.

The two mild-hybrid newcomers feature 2.0l engines with a petrol-saving Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) that recovers brake energy to charge a 48V battery. An integrated starter generator uses this energy to support the combustion engine, and fuel saving is further aided by a stop-start system.

The mild hybrids arrive in two flavours: the turbocharged B5 with outputs of 183kW and 350Nm, and the B6 which uses both a turbocharger and supercharger to bring 220kW and 420Nm to the party. Both are all-wheel drive models with an eight-speed drive-by-wire Geartronic transmission.

On test here is the B6 model of the XC90, Volvo’s full-sized SUV range which has been on the market since 2015.

In terms of performance there is little to complain about. Despite its hefty weight this big Volvo has good spring in its step, accelerating with lively and mostly lag-free gusto. It cruises effortlessly and makes short work of overtaking long truck as long as you’re within the new self-imposed 180km/h speed limit applied to all Volvos.

But it’s a heavy drinker, and the test car averaged a thirsty 14.3l / 100km during its week with us. Admittedly much of the driving was stop-start urban, and better fuel economy may have been possible with more open-road driving, but the factory-claimed 7.6l/100km seemed excessively optimistic no matter how the vehicle was driven.

The understated cabin has business-class vibes. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The understated cabin has business-class vibes. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The fuel thirst put a dampener on an otherwise pleasantly punchy and refined drive. The four-cylinder engine is soft-voiced and adds to the all-round quietness, with passengers well insulated from external noises.

It’s a solid-feeling vehicle that does justice to its premium badge and price tag, while the optional air suspension delivers a comfortably plush ride. The height-adjustable suspension offers between 212mm and 252mm of ground clearance, and combined with all-wheel drive it provides decent off-road ability.

Traction is in good supply, and this Volvo can be ushered through fast bends without upsetting its composure, and the driver can select a Dynamic mode to liven things up.

The seven-year-old XC90 has aged fairly well though there’s nothing about the design that pops out any more; it gently blends into the automotive scenery.

It’s much the same for the interior, which lays on premium vibes in a sober and businesslike execution. There are few physical buttons, with most features controlled via a large infotainment touchscreen. It’s mostly user-friendly, though I’d have preferred old fashioned quick-access buttons for commonly-used features instead of navigating a digital labyrinth.

The cabin is roomy and has a configurable seven-seater interior with middle seats that adjust for legroom and backrest angle, while the back row (which is spacious enough only for children) folds flat into the floor. There’s up to 1,856l of boot space with the second and third rows stowed.

There are a number of revised interior features including a new CleanZone system which improves cabin air quality. It removes tiny particles that are 100 times smaller than human hair, and the air can be pre-cleaned via the Volvo On Call app before entering the vehicle.

The optional air suspension delivers a comfortably plush ride. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The optional air suspension delivers a comfortably plush ride. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The simple yet practical parking ticket holder on the edge of the driver’s side windscreen has made a comeback in response to customer demand.

With a five-star EuroNCAP rating, the XC90 comes with a full suite of safety features including active cruise control and a lane keeping aid, and the self-steering function works well even when road markings aren’t clear.

As much as there is to like about the XC90, this mild-hybrid petrol powertrian misses the mark. Though diesels are becoming the black sheep of the motoring world for their harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, they are far more economical in real-world driving. It’s an issue that looms large with near-record high fuel prices in SA.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged and supercharged

Capacity: 2.0l

Power: 220kW

Torque: 420Nm

Transmission

Type: Eight-speed auto

Drivetrain

Type: All-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: 180km/h

0-100km/h: 6.7 seconds (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 7.6l/100km (claimed), 14.3l / 100km (as tested)

Emissions: 170g/km

Standard features

Six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, rain sensor wipers, auto on/off lights, electric tailgate, parking aid, adaptive cruise control, touchscreen infotainment withe Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB ports, remote central locking, leather upholstery, lane-keeping aid, LED daytime running lights, climate control, electric front seats

Ownership

Warranty: Five years/100,000km

Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R1,365,050

Lease*: R29,098 a month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

XC90 B6 Geartronic AWD R-Design

WE LIKE: Refinement, pace, ride quality

WE DISLIKE: Heavy fuel consumption

VERDICT: Thrusty but thirsty, bring back the diesel

Motor News star rating

Design * * *

Performance * * * *

Economy *

Ride * * * *

Handling * * * *

Safety * * * * *

Value For Money * * *

Overall * * *

COMPETITION

BMW X5 xDrive 30d xLine - 195kW/620Nm — R1,515,282

Audi Q5 45TDI quattro, 183kW/600Nm — R1,409,500

Lexus RX 350 EX, 221kW/370Nm — R1,148,500

Mercedes-Benz GLE 300d 4Matic, 180kW/500Nm — R1,526,592

Land Rover Discovery P360 S, 265kW/500Nm — R1,548,070

VW Touareg V6 TDI Luxury, 190kW/600Nm — R1,279,700


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