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Test Drive: Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription – Oh so Swede

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Ostentatious flaunting of wealth and opulence is not the Scandinavian way. Their society ostracises blatant displays of luxury and wealth, forgoing the smug lifestyle for humility and modesty that is ingrained in them from young.

Their inventions and creations are a perfect reflection of that notion, relinquishing lavishness for technologically-sound solutions and understated elegance. Ikea pieces are hardly luxurious but they work, do not leave you eating bread for the rest of the month and are easy on the eyes.

Same goes for Volvo. Playing its trade in segments that are defined by the grandiose Germans, the Swedish influence ensures that the Volvos are the humblest offerings yet manage to hold their own.

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The all-new XC90 is a textbook example of that.

Many would label it the alternative but the seven-seater SUV is anything but, proving itself instead to be a strikingly intriguing take from a different angle on the large premium SUV segment.

It sits on the marque’s new modular platform, dubbed SPA (Scaleable Product Architecture) that is produced with a higher percentage of hot-formed boron steel; more than any other manufacturer it claims. The resultant SUV is larger yet lighter, safer and with a better weight balance.

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Furthermore, the generation of Drive-E engines meant that the platform was designed from the start with a need to accommodate inline-four engines only. This frees up space between the wheels, stretching the wheelbase for more interior room and shorter overhangs.

The XC90 will only be available here in T8 Inscription guise as the EEV exemptions for local assembly allow it to be priced well below its competition. What we should also mention is that besides being Malaysia’s first plug-in hybrid, Volvo’s Shah Alam plant will be only the second place in the world to assemble the XC90 outside of Sweden, both great sources of pride for Volvo Car Malaysia.

A turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre engine; basically a T6 mill with 320hp, is linked to the front axles only via a polished eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive capability is achieved with an 80hp electric motor at the rear axle, meaning there is no direct mechanical link between the axles.

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An additional smaller electric motor is sandwiched between the transmission and petrol engine that functions primarily to start the engine, capture electricity from regenerative braking and provide an extra hand during hard acceleration.

It also absorbs much of the vibrations when the powertrain switches to the petrol engine, making for a seamless transition that contributes plenty to interior comfort.

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With no longshaft required for the rear axle, the transmission tunnel is home to the lithium-ion batteries. Being a plug-in hybrid, it takes just under for hours for a full charge that is good for a claimed 43km of pure electric range although something around 33km is more realistic according to Volvo Cars Malaysia due to our hot and humid weather. Bear in mind that regenerative braking will only charge the packs up to 33 per cent so you need to plug it in to make full use of the electric assistance.

All in, the XC90 T8 is good for a combined 400hp and 640Nm of torque.

A twist of a knob marked “Engine,” just being the crystal gear lever brings the car to life minus the usual aural indication. It starts on the electric motor, moving from a standstill up to relatively high speeds before the internal combustion engine kicks in.

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There are seven driving modes to select from; AWD, Safe, Pure, Hybrid, Power, Off-Road and Individual. The notable ones are Safe that emphasises saving the battery charge and charging it for use later and Hybrid that is Volvo’s recommendation for everyday driving; leaving the system to function as it sees fit. The rest are pretty self explanatory.

In all modes except Power, the T8 drivetrain takes on a rather nonchalant character that can be a bit laggy in overtaking or building up speed at a moment’s notice. Dropping a gear is mandatory for even a quick burst of speed, something the eight gears were cut out for.

Scroll to Power and the XC90 takes on an altogether more eager and responsive character that befits the mode’s title and helps the over-two-ton behemoth feel a little sprightlier on its toes.

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Air suspension and adaptive dampers are standard with the XC90 here, allowing changes in ride height according to the drive mode selected.

The ride is compliant but not as supple as we had hoped for, especially given that it rides on air. Large bumps and potholes extracted some metallic clatter from the chassis although that was partially due to the large wheels and low profile rubber combination as well. Overall, the ride was a pinch too busy for liking but does not in any way take anything away from this impressive piece of kit.

Even with the lighter SPA platform, the XC90 is no featherweight, weighing in around the 2.3-ton mark. Nonetheless, the handling is creditable with very little body roll that left the car level and planted on corners. We can leave the sports car like handling to the Germans though as Volvo is quite comfortable being synonymous with comfort rather than sporty performance.

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If there was something to gripe about, it would be the electric steering. Overly light and uncommunicative, the steering’s only redeeming feature was the wheel’s design that fit the hand like a glove. With the short overhangs and impressive turning circle though, the XC90 steered like a much smaller vehicle and was easily manoeuvrable with the bird’s eye view camera the perfect assistant.

The cabin is something to write home about. It is a perfect testament of the understated elegance the Swedes have mastered. It makes do without the cosmetic bells and whistles that the Germans have preached to us as luxury, yet feels every bit as comfortable and welcoming.

Describing the XC90’s interior would be calling it home whereas the Germans would like you to believe theirs is a luxury hotel. In the end, home is where the heart.

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The leather is sumptuously soft to the touch, cosseting all seven occupants in comfort. With the batteries in the central tunnel, rear legroom for the third row is generous to swallow six-footers and above although road trips would be a bit of a stretch on blood circulation.

Volvo has taken a leave out of Tesla’s playbook and gone with a large touch screen that is the command centre for almost all of the vehicle’s settings. The Sensus infotainment system is easily familiarised with, with three main panels that give you control over all vehicle settings. Using the navigation system is just like it would be on your smartphone, pinching or double tapping to zoom.

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Simply put, the XC90 is the most sensible premium SUV you could plonk your money on. Refinement, efficiency, cosy interior and the one thing Volvo is synonymous with; safety; everything you could ever want or need from a large SUV comes with the XC90.

It may not make a statement of success like the Germans but then again, if you understand the Swedish philosophy of humbleness, then you would understand why the XC90 is the perfect choice in its segment.

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Specifications of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription
Engine: 1,969cc, inline-four, DOHC 16V, turbocharged, supercharged + electric motor + lithium-ion battery pack + plug-in charging
Max power: 400hp
Max torque: 640Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Safety features: Seven airbags, ABS, EBD, BA, stability control, lane-keeping assist, active cruise control, BLIS, active bending lights, bird’s eye view camera, cross traffic alert, distance alert, autonomous braking, automatic parking
Price: RM453,888 OTR

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