Beauty on the road, Beast off road

Beauty on the road, Beast off road

Roddy Mackay, director LD Mountain Centre puts the Volvo XC90 through its paces and falls in love.

Volvo very kindly let the LD Mountain Centre team and me have a new XC90 for the weekend. From the exterior, you could say you are overwhelmed by its size. However, the XC90 is not an “in your face” 4x4.

It has sporty, yet subtle, styling, and with its elegant mixture of chrome and polished paint work is something to behold.  Inside, you find sumptuous leather and more technology than the Star Ship Enterprise.  The sports seats are beautifully designed and incredibly supportive. This quality isn’t limited to the front, either. Deep pile carpets, mixed with a full leather interior and what can only be one of the best sound systems provided by Bowers & Wilkins, gives an air of both quality and luxury.

My sons Eddie and Ivan (aged nine and seven respectively) linked up my phone, set up the Sat Nav and worked their way through pretty much all of the digital radio stations on the planet with absolute ease.

Volvo XC90 Rear LightI took the car to our store on Dean Street and picked up four of the team, two of whom were with mountain bikes and the others with rucksacks. All this kit easily fitted into the car while still providing space and luxury, and our destination was Thrunton Woods in Northumberland. 

The XC90 has a powerful engine and makes an excellent ride. I was able to overtake with confidence, using the kickdown on the smooth and responsive gear box. Road noise is low, an area that had been a problem with 4x4s of old.

The Sat Nav is displayed on the centre console as well as in mid-dashboard between the speed and revometre - a great feature, since the passenger can operate the system, leaving the driver to follow the easy-to-read display within a natural eye position. The car is an absolute pleasure to drive.

Driving through the winding back roads of Northumberland, I detected very little body roll, and the cornering experience is further enhanced when using the manual gear box option. The active suspension seems to iron out the many potholes we encountered, giving a smooth and forgiving ride.  The high driving position allows you to see ahead safely, with the sports supportive seating holding you firm.

After Thrunton Woods, we headed off in search of some offroad testing. We headed deep into the hills of Northumberland, a mixture of steep inclines, uneven surfaces and bumpy descents.  The Volvo confidently picked its way through the tracks, regardless of the rock, earth, and at some points small boulders, under the tyres. 

Several of the sections were so sheer, I had to engage the Hill Descent Control System. Our final obstacle was a hilly ford with a steep approach and equally sharp exit. The XC90 calmly tackled the approach and methodically picked its way through the rocky riverbed, finding traction and enough grip to pull herself out from the river bed. Wet and muddy, we headed back to winding roads, where the XC90 metamorphosed from a powerful off-road beast, back in to a luxurious elegant cruise ship, turning heads as we passed through Alnwick and back to the LD Mountain Centre to drop off the team.

Volvo XC90 Interior

Again, unloading the kit was as easy as the loading earlier, due to the vast load capacity of the car. My next port of call was to collect my stepfather, Keith Hall, a man in his late 80s, having won at Le Mans in the 1950s for Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus Grand Prix. He was as impressed as me by the car: For a big car, he suggested, “it is remarkably stable when cornering. There is plenty of power in reserve for overtaking and performance driving, and the ride is pretty much silent and comfortable with the seats offering excellent support to both driver and passengers. The automatic gearbox seems very stable and easy to use, with great off road potential.

The clean air system is a real bonus - a great idea for those with allergies. An impressive car altogether, it rounds corners like it is on rails and the braking is also exceptional. The steering seems nice and direct and the car is easy to get in and out of.”

Keith’s observations all came from the comfort of the passenger seat, but he knows his stuff.  We then tested the braking system and found the ABS system cuts in, along with the seat belt pretensioners, pulling your body into the supportive seats in case of impact.  Along with all the other safety trickery, this must be one of the safest vehicles on the planet.

I have driven several competitors’ large SUV type vehicles. The XC90 is far superior and costs significantly less, making it top of its class.  This car can do everything - a great luxury family cruiser with more space than you will ever need.

It is both nimble and sporty, with ability to handle some significant off road and outdoor abuse with great miles to the gallon. I have a genuine passion for cars both new and old, and I certainly fell for the Volvo XC90 - I was loath to hand it back!

The car Roddy drove was an XC90 D5 AWD Inscription 225 BHP from £50,185.
The XC90 Starts from £45,750.