The new Volvo XC90 was recently launched.
Opening my notebook now, I find the first line I wrote at the product presentation was “The Human Machine Interface”.
I look at those words with utter bafflement. What on earth can they mean? Has there ever been a more perfect specimen of car company marketing bollocks – grander in its sonority and, at the same time, emptier of meaning?
The most blameworthy aspect of this tripe is that nobody will have forced Volvo do it. They must have come up with it of their own free will. The XC90 is the first completely new car to emerge from that noble automotive house since they were freed from Ford’s ownership and taken over by Zhejiang Geely Holdings of China. Geely have piled billions of investment into Volvo and, no doubt, they will have very particular and definite ideas about how Volvo should advance commercially; but they seem to want Volvo to express themselves as Volvo – to make cars that bear that highly individual and matchless Volvo stamp.
To that end, the XC90 is the first to be developed using a new platform and powertrain that will be common to coming Volvos; and both of these crucial elements have been engineered, designed and manufactured solely by Volvo for Volvo. Instead of having to pick up components from Ford’s spare-parts bin, Volvo have had a free hand to make the XC90 the way they wanted it to be. So the words “Human Machine Interface” are as much their own creation as the new Drive-E engines in the XC90 which are all lightweight four cylinder two litre units (all with eight-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmissions).
Opening the press pack for the XC90, I am reminded that “The Human Machine Interface” is, in fact, code for the satnav/audio/information controls through the nine-inch central touchscreen which looks as if a tablet has been docked in the dashboard. In other words, it’s the instrument that makes the mechanism work. Next time you put a key in a lock, perhaps you should think of it as the Human Machine Interface.
All marketing pish-posh aside, the new XC90 is a fine piece of work – though you can’t help but wonder if it was made with people like us uppermost in the minds of its creators. Something about that massive body and that uncompromising snout speaks to me of open prairies and Rocky Mountains. Geely may not have instructed Volvo on the name for the information system but it looks as if they might have insisted that the new XC90 should appeal, in the first place, to residents of Iowa and Colorado rather than the Yorkshire Dales where the recent launch event was held.
That’s fine: there’s something to be said for being in the position of the poor transatlantic cousins if what we get as an afterthought is a car as good as the XC90. The original seven-seater XC90, dating from 2002, was a poor man’s Range Rover, Discovery or BMW X5. This new one is right up there in the top bracket.
It certainly isn’t going to be dwarfed by any rival for physical presence. The wheelbase is longer than the outgoing model but the body’s overhangs are shorter so the combined effect is one of hulking mass. Nearly five metres long and more than one and three quarters tall, the XC90 won’t be shouldered aside by anybody at the polo field or the sailing club. On the narrow and twisty dales roads of the test route, that bulk sometimes felt unwieldy and over-bearing; but the same would be true of any Range Rover.
At the same time, nowhere is more luxurious than the interior. Where the inside of the 2002 XC90 was a dour place to be – furnished with dowdy plastics and dull leathers – the new car radiates the modernist glint and cool confidence of a Danish furniture shop. Its leathers and woods are more like the cool Copenhagen apartment of a randy politico in Borgen than the stuffy Pall Mall gentleman’s club to which so many upper-class British marques seem to aspire.
Operating the original XC90 was also an uncomfortably puzzling experience because it was cursed with a mountainous stack of buttons, knobs and switches to operate the audio/satnav/information system. Even after days of driving the car, you could still make mistakes and get lost in this technological maze. The elegant new touchscreen tablet system is as simple to understand and operate as an iPad: you could get used to it in 10 minutes – though you might not quite go so far as to call it a human machine interface. The 19-speaker audio system is a total blast, mercifully free from that nannyish restraint on the volume which so manufacturers impose.
Being a Volvo, however, the new XC90 naturally has to fret and fuss over your safety and well-being. The D5 AWD version I drove at the launch had an autobrake function which nudges the brakes if you haven’t noticed that you about to cross the line at a junction. This would be very welcome if it helped to avoid a T-bone crash from an oncoming car but is slightly less welcome when it mistakes a side-road at a slight angle to the car for a junction and nips the brakes unnecessarily. No doubt Volvo will work this out in time.
That D5 is likely to be the most popular choice. The lineup will also include two petrol engines: a turbocharged, supercharged 320 hp T6, producing 400 nm of torque and a turbocharged 254 hp T5, producing 350 nm of torque, two diesel engines. The other diesel is a turbocharged 190 hp D4, producing 400 nm of torque. The top-of-the-line model will be the XC90 Twin Engine, a plug-in hybrid which will produce 400 hp and 640 nm of torque.
Volvo claim 49.6 mpg for this model. This looks as far-fetched as the human interface flimflam. I got 27.5 mpg.
They give the price range for the new XC90 as £45750-£68000. My test car, with all options including 360• camera, was £59580.