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Volvo XC90 D5

Broadcast date : 18th April 2004

One 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 turbocharged form.

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 similar speeds.

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.

It works okay for difficult undulating dirt roads, but for seriously rocky trails you'd best buy something like a Toyota Land Cruiser.

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 off-road.

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.

This is our choice in the diesel soft-roader market right now.

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