First drive: Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

The all-new XC90, Volvo's premium seven-seat SUV, is hugely important for the Scandinavian car manufacturer. It represents the first step in the company's rejuvenated product range and has been designed to deliver a 'new kind of luxury car experience'. To us, it exudes a distinctly Volvo vibe – it feels more relaxed than some of its rivals from further south in Europe. At the same time it's on an equal footing in the areas of engineering excellence, build quality and technology.

What is it?

A visually-striking and characterful four-wheel-drive SUV that exudes Swedish style – although Volvo realises that it won't be seeing much off-road action. It's the first car to be constructed on the company's brand new platform and is clearly a car that has a lot riding on it as far as the company is concerned. Volvo boasts that it has thought through safety and convenience features, luxurious comfort levels, adaptable drive settings and stunning design. It's hard to argue.

What's under the bonnet?

The diesel D5 – set to be the most popular option – develops 225bhp; achieves 48.7mpg (combined) and emits 149g/km of CO2. Its petrol sibling, the T6, boasts 320bhp, will achieve 35.3mpg and expels 179g/km of CO2. The T8 hybrid is equipped with a 318bhp petrol engine and an 82bhp electric motor. Claimed fuel economy is 113mpg on the combined cycle and the car emits just 59g/km of CO2.

What's the spec like?

Impressive – but of course the car isn't cheap. We drove the expected bestseller, the D5, and it really is pretty special. Three trim levels are available: Momentum (entry level); R-Design (with a sporty feel) and Inscription (luxury). Standard across the range are Volvo's Sensus navigation system, delivered via a very clean-looking tablet-style touchscreen, LED active headlights with 'Active High Beam', hands-free tailgate opening system, keyless entry and drive, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors and DAB digital radio. The Inscription's interior really is a thing of beauty – wood-effect trim, immaculately-stitched leather and ergonomically pretty much the perfect set-up. You feel cocooned in comfort and very safe too, thanks to Volvo's IntelliSafe package which delivers two world firsts – Run-off Road Protection and Auto Brake at Intersections.

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

Any rivals?

Plenty. German opponents include the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class, Audi Q7, Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne. Volvo aims to sell around 5,000 XC90s a year in the UK, but they'll struggle to topple Land Rover. The Range Rover Sport alone sold more than 10,000 examples here in 2014. However, if any car is going to tempt buyers, the XC90 is it.

What's it like to drive?

We loved it. We got the chance to put all three cars through their paces and our pick was the one destined to be the best seller, the aforementioned D5. There are no complaints with the T6 and T8, but when accelerating at speed, it just felt a little more at ease with itself than the T6 in particular. It was a consummate performer – with supremely comfortable ride comfort and a sure-footed stance in the corners.

The AOL Cars verdict

The XC90 is such a refreshing car to drive. You can tell instantly that you're entering a world of relaxation and refinement when you board a new XC90 and it's the little details that have been thought about that make it something special. The words 'Since 1959' are inscribed into seat belts to emphasise Volvo's work in the field of safety and in the T8 twin-engine version, there is even a handmade crystal gear knob. Our favourite thing, though? The tiny Swedish flag stitched into the passenger seat. If you've just ordered a Mercedes ML you may wish to reconsider.

The knowledge

Model: Volvo XC90 D5 (Inscription)
Price: £50,185
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel
Power: 225bhp / 470Nm
Max speed: 137mph
0-60mph: 7.6secs
MPG: 48.7mpg (combined)
Emissions: 149 g/km CO2

Author: Dave Brown