Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Brent Co | posted June 01, 2016 08:09
In spite of its lack of presence locally, Tesla Motors is quite familiar to many consumers. This impressive brand awareness could be chalked up to clever marketing and key features in the vehicle itself that most conventional car companies have overlooked or never thought to consider. While we may still be far seeing Teslas officially sold locally, the experience at least may come sooner than we expect. Volvo hopes to win back some precious ground in the luxury market by taking a few pages from the Tesla playbook with its latest model, the XC90.
First offered locally in 2004, the first XC90 rode on the trend of new SUV lines coming from manufacturers we least expected, like the Cayenne from Porsche, the X5 from BMW, and the ML from Mercedes-Benz. While the others went the sporty route, the XC90 opted for the more comfortable and practical route, offering the same levels of safety in a more sedate yet eye-catching offering. It could seat 7 too, care of two more seats that popped up from the flat cargo floor.
After a long shelf-life of 12 years, Volvo has finally brought over the all-new 2016 model. It's easy to dismiss it as just a larger and more techified update, yet a drive in one reveals so much more.
The XC90 dazzles at first glance, with slim headlights, a massive grille, and a minimal amount of flourishing much like the luxury models of Audi and Volkswagen. This is the first model to bear the new 'Thor's Hammer' daytime running lamps. The LED headlights themselves could give Honda's Legend a run for its money, with multiple LEDs that turn with the wheel. Towards the side, the size of its 19 inch wheels are made insignifacant by the sheer size of the vehicle. A tastefully slim line of chrome outlines the windows while roof rails run above it. Behind, Volvo has retained the tall, bright LED taillights. The split tailgate of the predecessor is gone, though the new mufflers integrated into the rear diffuser are a welcome addition.
Its sedate exterior may underwhelm some, but it's in the Tesla-like interior where the XC90 truly impresses. Volvo's trademark stylish interiors are taken to a new level with the clever and tasteful integration of technology. Volvo Philippines opted for the monotone treatment with brushed aluminum accents, though this plain interior might have benefitted more from the adventurous interior schemes offered abroad.
In front of the driver is a fully digital instrument cluster. The tachometer dial changes depending on the driving mode, or can be customized with 'themes'. The center space can display which doors are open, trip info, consumption, audio settings or even GPS Navigation with up-to-date local maps. The wheel itself has all the usual cruise control and remote entertainment controls. It can also adjust the displays on the instrument cluster.
Getting in one's favorite driving position is easy with a power adjustable steering wheel and seats with memory, 4-way lumbar support (even for the passenger), and extendable seat cushions.
In the center of the dash is the best feature of the car — the iPad-like center display. Anyone that's ever handled a tablet will feel instantly at home and it responds just as smoothly and quickly too. This grants access to Navigation, the Bowers & Wilkins entertainment system, climate, any connected phones or devices, safety settings, and even a built-in vehicle manual to figure things out on-the-go. Like any iPad, just hit the home key to return to the main menu.
Driving controls are all grouped on the divider between the seats. The knobs and buttons are even decorated like jewelry — something we've only seen in an Aston Martin before. Sliding shutters hide the cupholders and power jack. Behind, rear passengers also get dual-zone climate control, adjusted by touch-screens.
Finally, the cargo area features two more seats that can deployed with reasonable room to fit adults. Even with the seats up, there's still a lot of space for bags. There are also some clever dividers to keep cargo from flying around. The spare and tools are also kept out of sight underneat it.
Propelling this all forward is a 2.0-liter twin turbo turbo diesel D5, generating 228 metric horsepower and 470 Nm of torque. This is sent to all-four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission, with manual mode.
Fully independent suspension on all four wheels keeps it aloft. This model rides on the traditional shocks and springs setup, though there is an air-suspension option.
Technicalities aside, it's the little things in the drive where the XC90 excels at. Keep the keys in your pocket and simply hold the handle to unlock the car. It can even be remotely started from afar, cooling down the vehicle on a hot day, (if you've left climate settings on). At night, lights illuminate the ground around the vehicle.
Twist the start knob and the vehicle comes quietly to life. There's more than enough torque to roll it along in traffic by barely touching the pedal. There's a lot of power on hand, but the on-board drive-by-wire system prefers to deliver it more smoothly and proggressively, rather than by neck-snapping aggression, even in sport mode.
Keep the stop-start system on and you won't even notice the engine shut off by itself. Starting up again is just as gentle. There's also an auto handbrake feature that activates at stoplights. Just a tap on the throttle and it disengages again. Both features are incredibly convenient but can be annoying if you're in a rush and can be turned off.
The ride itself is balmy for the front passengers but can be slightly stiffer for those in the second row. Nonetheless, its heft is hardly felt when cornering. The steering adjusts from light to heavy and quick at higher speeds, and the manual gear shift response is quick when you opt to drive more aggressively. It's no sportscar, but for its size, the handling and response is very commendable.
Outside of the city, and in darker roads, the Active Bending Lights truly show their usefulness, turning into the corner in sync with the steering wheel. They can even be paired with the Auto Dimming feature, which automatically dims your lights as another car approaches or you come close to another car in the same lane. It will stay bright on your lane or around the car in front.
Naturally, this vehicle also comes with Volvo's trademark suite of extensive safety features. There's City Safety which includes the full auto brake feature and adaptive cruise control. There's also the automated parking feature which can handle both parallel and perpendicular spaces. It also adds a “Drive-out” feature that can drive itself out of the same tight space. It has Lane Keeping Assist that vibrates one side of the steering wheel and gently counter-steers to keep you in the lane.
In spite of the vehicle's size and seemingly small 2.0-liter twin turbo engine, the XC90 still netted an impressive 11 km/L in the city and 18 km/L in the highway, with help from the stop-start system.
Many vehicle manufacturers in the past have claimed to produce the “car of the future” yet so few live up to that claim quite like the XC90. Its clever integration of technology and understated style, truly useful high-tech features, and a drive that is just as relaxing whether in heavy traffic or out of town, combine to challenge what many expect of a luxury car.
It's not a conventional choice, and at 6.5-M Pesos, it's no steal either. It's not particularly sporty, and may not impress when driven off-road. Yet much like the Tesla Motors strategy, the XC90 can potentially win over discerning buyers just by the unique everyday experience it offers.