Based on a whole new platform, the biggest SUV from Volvo has also got a much-needed shot-in-the-arm to increase its street red while talking tech. We get under its skin during an exclusive first drive around the scenic Sahyadri mountains of Maharashtra.

Numbers don’t lie as they say. The Volvo XC90 is poised to send engineers from Munich, Stuttgart and Ingolstadt scurrying back to the drawing boards wanting to extricate more from their machines. It has the best third row of seats, is almost a tech overlord and packs in the smallest engine with the cleanest emission results. If you’re in the market for a top-notch SUV or just in the market to browse, the XC90 cannot be ignored. India is getting just the Inscription trim for now which is the top-end of the three-variant range while the base Momentum will join in a couple of months. In this form, its packed to the rafters with smartphone and concert hall inspired technology.

Fit (and finish) for a king!

The 9in portrait oriented screen controls virtually every aspect of the car, yes, even its snob value. Nothing else this side of a Tesla has ever come close to incorporating such a display in the centre console. It’s entirely fluidic in its response and much like the iPad running iOS. Even the familiar dots to signify multiple screens are present on the home screen. Thankfully some key functions are still also controllable via familiar knobs and buttons. The beautiful diamond knurl finish makes it both tactile and traditional in this otherwise hi-tech cabin. In fact, Volvo has peppered the cabin with touches that hark back to its heritage of design, safety and functionality above all else. The seats wear tiny Swedish flags on their sides, the engine start/stop button needs to be twisted like a key instead of just a cold push, the rear-view mirror has a frameless design, the headlight has elements that resemble the sails of a Viking ship…the list is endless if you really start looking hard. It’s hard to fathom that this vehicle was conceived from the ground up in five years and is already being shipped globally!

Bold new avatar

The external styling is stoic, with an upright stance that looks like it means business, without looking like an accountants ride. The front grill now wears a suppressed Volvo shield and the face is made even more distinctive by the Hammer of Thor headlights that work as LED daytime running lights and also turn indicators. Its proportions are classic Volvo but its body language is new with more confidence and a level of craftsmanship thats more in tune with the high-end Brits than the mainstream Germans.

Bangin’ Bowers & Wilkins

It’s when you step inside though that you really get a sense of the detailed design work the Volvo engineers rightly take pride in. The Sensus system includes a 12.3in driver display that can also be used along with the Head-up display and the main 9in centre display. Together they work in either splitting or supplanting information in such a way that its easiest for the driver to get to a certain function in minimal steps possible. When you so want to dig deeper into the, lets say, 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system settings, the system also shows you the picture of the famed Gothenburg Concert Hall to remind you of the innumerable measurements conducted here to simulate its acoustics in a cabin the size of a private listening booth. We played Duran Duran’s Danceophobia as well as Ben Howard’s Conrad and the results were stunning both times. Other settings like Studio and Individual Stage allow you to tone down the reverb effect which will work better for electronic music but if your tastes run into Chopin, this could be the place you end up going to after work. The tube-loaded tweeter that has been adapted from B&W’s high-end line of home speakers is the first speaker of its kind to fire directly at the listener from the centre of the cabin and this works wonders for clarity and timing of the music, instantly captivating your senses by sounding perfectly in phase. Getting into other cars may suddenly highlight the supremacy of this system even more and cause acute depression if you aren’t lucky enough to own an Inspiration.

The wake of the barge

It’s great that the hi-fi is as good, because you definitely won’t be rolling down the windows to savour the engine note. The 2.0lt turbodiesel engine generates an adequate 225bhp and a whopping 470Nm of torque but it doesn’t want to get anywhere in a rush. Achieving ludicrous speeds isn’t difficult mind you, just more relaxed and sedated than its price tag would indicate. The 8-speed Geartronic transmission keeps the power progressive but the lack of paddle shifts and laid back nature of the powertrain means it lacks a certain verve in the drive. Around corners though, it’s nimble enough to wrap itself around you and the 180 kilos of weight shaving over the previous generation shows on the tight twists around the Pavana area. Only during fast slopes which have camber changes do you feel the weight transfer but understeer is never an issue and the 4WD system ensures the barge still stays in the desired corridor. This is performance for the real world, not the BIC and there’s no shame in that. Volvo has matured beyond the rat race and when you stop by at the fuel pumps, it will certainly have its rewards. The CO2 numbers are by far the best in its category and again, this is the Swedish way of looking at things and they seem to make more sense in the Indian context.

Nimble giant

The various drive modes can be selected by the diamond-knurled dial and these include an Off Road mode that raises the air-suspension by upto 30mm, perfect for those occasional jaunts to capture the perfect sunset. Thoughtfully, the suspension can even lower itself by 50mm only at the rear to make loading heavy items easier. Shove it in Dynamic and the new steering rack displays its prowess at turning direction accurately and the deluge of active safety systems work silently but reassuringly in the background. On the broken roads around the Pavana lake, I encountered a sudden dip in elevation and the seat belts immediately tightened to the extent of almost choking me, but all in good nature preventing me from being thrown about. The subtleties of this car are many and don't express themselves entirely until you’re faced with a critical situation.

Full and fat

Since these cars are all CBU, there’s only one variant as of now and no real choice for customisation, unless you’re willing to wait a quarter of a year to get behind the wheel. It isn’t cheap but in its European spec, it gets full fat 21in wheels shod with massive 275 section tires, auto parking, Sat/Nav (Nokia Here sourced maps), Bowers and Wilkins premium hi-fi as standard and a laundry list of other goodies. Is it worth it? Probably not. But that’s not Volvo’s fault but more of our Government and their extreme import duties. Yet, even for its inflated price tag, it is immensely tempting for its sheer elegance and execution. This is the new Volvo and its compass is rightly pointing northwards.

Initial Verdict

Not a lot of luxury SUV owners would take their hefty investments off-road but the XC90 is supremely capable of doing and going place where no sedan could. It has the most extensive feature list of any car in its segment and the craftsmanship is something of a new revelation from Volvo. This could be turnaround vehicle for the brand in India and going by initial response from potential customers, it certainly looks like it.