of the features of the XC90 range launched last year by Volvo
is its very refined operation. In fact it has set new
standards for the entire Volvo range in terms of build
quality, panel fit and styling.
The trademark Volvo features such as the bonnet lines
converging into the purposeful grille and the defined wing
areas merging with the tail lights seem to work to best effect
in this on-off-roader.
The petrol engines in the XC90 range include a straight six
and a straight-five-cylinder design, the latter in
These are both very refined units and it comes as a pleasant
surprise to experience similar levels of refinement in the
diesel-engined version. The motor displaces 2 401 cubic
centimetres and produces 120 kW at 4000 rpm and 370 Newton
Metres of torque at 1 750 rpm.
Key to this usefully low torque peak is a variable nozzle
turbocharger, which accelerates air speed over the turbo
blades at lower speeds and widens the turbo intake at higher
speeds to promote good flow at higher engine speeds.
Thus the engine exhibits very good pick-up at low revs
although it does chop the power off fairly sharply from 4 000
onwards. In fact if there is a criticism of this diesel
version, it is that it runs out of steam at higher speeds
Performance is reasonable, though, for a vehicle weighing
nearly 2 200 kilograms. It will accelerate to 100 km/h in just
over 13 seconds at the coast, and being tubocharged it will
achieve those sort of times at the Reef's power-sapping
altitude as well.
Top speed is around 190 km/h, which is more than enough for an
SUV, these type of vehicles all suffering from a high centre
of gravity and thus less stable than a conventional sedan at
Using an automatic gearbox with this diesel-engined XC90 makes
good sense, as the progress is smoother than it would be with
a manual gearbox. There is also less temptation to ride the
boost band on the turbo, as many drivers of manual turbodiesel
vehicles tend to do.
The XC90 is up against some serious competition in this large
urban-off road class, known as the "soft roader"
division. Like its most serious rival, the BMW X5, the Volvo
doesn't employ a low ratio transfer case for serious off-road
work, but rather relies on electronic traction control devices
to minimise wheelspin in more serious off-road driving.
The system used is known as a Haldex transmission, which sees
the XC90 operate as a front-wheel-drive vehicle in ordinary
conditions. As soon as the Haldex sensors detect wheel slip on
either of the front wheels,
a multi-plate clutch system transfers between five and
65 per cent of the available torque to the rear wheels.
works okay for difficult undulating dirt roads, but for
seriously rocky trails you'd best buy something like a Toyota
The plus side of these soft-roader vehicles, like the BMW X5
and the now slightly long-in-the-tooth Mercedes-Benz M-Class,
is that they are more car-like on tarmac.
Steering responses are sharper thanks to suspension and
dampers configured more with tarmac in mind, rather than
bounding over rocks. Generally bodyroll is better contained
than it would be in a purpose-built off-roader, which employs
long suspension travel to take on large rocks and deep ruts
This is the family vehicle for a trip to a game park with
slightly poor roads, but not one for the Richtersveld.
Coming in at R480 000 in seven-seater form, the Volvo XC90 D5
is excellent value for money. The equivalent BMW X5 diesel
sells for R500 000, but only has five-seats, while the
Mercedes-Benz ML270 suffers from an inferior interior and a
more lumpy ride on-road.
is our choice in the diesel soft-roader market right now.