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Volvo XC90 R-Design
MIDDLE England does not like change. It enjoys the cosiness of tradition and stability, knowing who lives where, who does what, who did what to whom.
You try changing a village lamppost and you will spark petitions, public meetings and lynchings of council officials.
The XC90, chosen large luxury workhorse of many a middle- Englander, has remained largely unchanged for more years than I can remember. Its buyers like that. They feel comfortable in the knowledge that this is a vehicle that not only gets the job done without any fuss but is likely to age like Richard Gere or Helen Mirren. There’s a sort of grace and ageless aesthetic quality.
The XC90 is ten years old this year and, despite not having changed all that much, it looks none the worse for the time gone by.
It is Volvo’s most successful model, and for 2012 it has been freshened up, ahead of a completely new replacement scheduled for 2014.
Over the years, sales figures have indirectly pared the XC90 range down to just one engine.
More were offered for some years but the vast majority of people never looked past the D5 diesel, so these days that’s all you can have. Nobody seems to mind.
The latest version is smooth, although prone to growl when asked to press on, and well up to any task that life will throw at it – be that in a rural environment where the all-wheel drive is a big selling point, cruising down motorways or edging through city streets.
Volvo is very good at building safe, comfortable, big cars, and the XC90 is a prime example.
But it is beginning to show its age. The six-speed automatic gearbox simply doesn’t have a tall enough top gear, and 70mph equates to well over 2,000rpm. It feels like there should be an extra gear.
The handbrake is another bugbear. You press a lever with your foot to engage it, and then pull a separate one with your hand to release it. But when you do the latter, the loud thunk as the foot-operated lever flings back to its original position is initially quite alarming.
The robust dashboard is due for an overhaul, too. It lacks the premium feel of its German rivals and the revised Land Rover Discovery, and desperately needs to adopt the cool and modern Scandinavian look seen in the smaller XC60.
The practicality on offer is more impressive. The seven seats and flexible configuration mean that the seating arrangements can be set up just how you most need them to be.
A split tailgate provides a perch for sitting and getting your walking boots on and off, and the load-carrying credentials are excellent.
The XC90 has an understated, inoffensive class that tends to inspire respect and appreciation, rather than automatically getting people’s backs up as other large 4x4s do.
For 2012, it has a new dayrunning light configuration using LEDs in the lower bumper, giving the front more character. The redesigned silver metallic bumper bar as well as silver roof rails are now standard on all variants.
There is also a new lower door moulding, and all XC90 specifications are now fully colour-co-ordinated.
A number of refinements have been made to give the XC90 interior an even more luxurious feel, including the three-spoke steering wheel, aluminium décor as standard and the watch dialinspired instrument design with white lighting.
The XC90 is also available in an Executive specification which features a number of exclusive options such as soft leather seats with ventilation and massage, as well as a number of details with a more exclusive finish.
The R-Design version – tested here – boosts the XC90’s sports appeal and gives the car a more driver-focused character. On top of the special chassis, the new Rdesign version also features redesigned upholstery, inlays, door panels and new Ixion 19- inch wheels.
It won’t be too long before we see further revisions to the XC9O.
Reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are certainly needed, yet this car remains much-loved and respected.
Volvo XC90 R-Design
PRICE: £40,775 (XC90 range from £35,175)
ENGINE: 2.4-litre turbodiesel producing 200bhp and 310lb.ft
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic gearbox driving all four wheels
PERFORMANCE: top speed 127mph, 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds
ECONOMY: 34mpg combined
CO2 RATING: 219g/km