What, you may ask, is the purpose of a seven seat car given the time honoured statistic that the average British family has 2.4 children? The data from Eurostat, the European Statistics Agency, shows that the UK is now home to more families containing four or more children than at any time since the early 1970’s. Perhaps car manufacturers spotted a trend long before the rest of us were aware of it.
Competition for Volvos XC90 R-Design is stiff – Audi’s Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery being but two. I hesitate to mention other manufacturers, and their vehicles, having been invited by Volvo to test drive their car. But to do it justice you need to know what the alternatives are, and how it compares.
On a slightly damp autumnal morning I collected a gleaming white behemoth that dwarfed my own average size SUV. I didn’t think I would get it off the forecourt without crashing into something; not, let me say straightaway, that it lacks any kind of safety or driver assistance feature, far from it - more my own fear. But, as the very helpful Rachel of Mill Volvo advised me, the car drives less like a large SUV and more like a saloon.
I drove the D5 – a two litre, four cylinder twin turbo charged engine generating 222bhp. The claimed top speed is 137mph although, of course, I didn’t manage more than 70mph. Transmission is by way of an eight speed, auto, four-wheel drive although for those who like the manual approach, there are paddles on the steering wheel.
The R-Design has, as the bumph tells you, “a sporty and dynamic aura”. Yes, it looks a bit like several boxes with rounded corners but it is difficult to see how you avoid that for a vehicle of this size. I have to say I like the look and I would happily park it on my driveway.
Interior wise, it is a marvel. It does a great job of combining luxury, comfort and space. The first thing you note is the quality of the finish. Nappa leather seats, console and wood surrounds and the seats themselves, wow - comfort personified; there are a fair few airlines who would do well to talk to Volvo. What is more, the seats adjust in just about every way and direction possible with a memory function to assist when there is more than one driver.
Noticeably there is the lack of the “aeroplane” bank of switches, knobs and buttons; instead, the new “Sensus” control system. In essence it is a tablet like touch screen linked to the steering wheel and a voice control system. Between these mechanisms you can access the entirety of the car’s function and adjust it at your fingertips or by talking to it. It looks and sounds a bit daunting at first but I suspect, like any tablet, once you get into it you will start to wonder how you ever managed without.
Here you can find the myriad of information, navigation, media, phone, application, climate control and driver assist ‘icons’ that come together to cater to your every whim. Add in 19 speakers, a 1400 watt amplifier and a car that is itself a subwoofer and you have an extremely loud home cinema experience. Driver assists includes auto braking (City Safety) run off road protection, adaptive cruise control and the now as standard 360° park assist.
It is equally comfortable in the second row of seats and while the seat to floor depth might disadvantage the taller passenger, there is more than sufficient room to stretch your legs out to overcome this potential issue.
The two seats in row three are also very comfortable and are easily accessed as the second row of seats slide forward. None of this folding down and folding over as in competitor cars. At 6ft 1in the leg room was no good for me but Volvo claim class leading comfort for passengers with a height up to 170cms.
There is generous boot space even with the seven seats in use. But here’s the thing, if I want to use the extra space I am going to access the boot via the tailgate. The back seats are easily folded down. Once I have unloaded whatever I needed the extra space for I want to bring the seats back up. Now unless you are as tall or taller than me you are not going to be able to reach from the rear but via the passenger doors moving the seat forward and then pushing the rear seats back. Surely it wouldn’t have taken much to add some form of strap (assuming an electronic mechanism was an unnecessary weight addition to the car) so you can pull the seats up from the rear? As with all Volvos, by reputation you feel incredibly safe in this car; solid and sure, but not in a negative way.
I declined the opportunity to be shown the car’s features before starting off. I wanted to see how easy they were to find myself. All the essential features are exactly where you would expect although I did stop and spend a half an hour finding out where some of the other features were but through the Sensus system that is easily done.
I took the car on three different drives – around town, out on the open road and up and down some hills. There are four settings; eco, comfort, off road and sport/ dynamic. I hated eco - it was far too sluggish for my liking and having tried it, I abandoned it. Comfort mode around town is the obvious one to use but the gear change around town, in traffic was a bit “clunky”.
Once moving, however, the gear change was almost seamless. On the open road it’s a different ball game altogether. The gear change in dynamic is quicker and smoother and despite two tonne in weight and a slightly under powered engine acceleration is more than adequate. For such a big car, it is a very light drive and very responsive. It coped well with hills although, regretfully, I didn’t get a chance to test its off road capabilities. And therein lies a point. If this is intended as a genuine all-wheel drive, off roader for the out of towners, is it really suited to trundling around town with little opportunity to show off its attributes?
I got back to the garage half an hour earlier than agreed. An opportunity to sit down and record all the technical information I might need for this article. Instead I carried on the drive for another half an hour. Therein lies the truth of it. You feel that safe and that cocooned in the car you don’t actually want to get out of it. It is not for me to say whether this, compared to any other, is the car for you. All I know is I would not be disappointed if Santa Claus left it on my drive this December.
Jonathon drove a Volvo XC90 R-Design D5 on the road from £50,450. This was supplied by Mill Volvo, Scotswood Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE15 6BZ. Tel: 0191 274 8200