DRIVING IMPRESSION: Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription Geartronic Polestar


When you look at the number of international styling and technological awards rapidly filling the trophy cabinet of the second generation Volvo XC90, you cannot help but admire how the Gothenburg-based marque has managed to take fight in the luxury SUV segment to its arch-rivals from Germany and England in the most jaw dropping way possible.

From its arresting looks topped by those signature Thor’s Hammer T-bar shaped LED lights, to one of the most modern interiors on sale today and a clutch of new safety features that raises the bar even for a company that has built its reputation on this very subject, the XC90 has arguably succeeded in its task of changing the minds of those who knew Volvos from old.

 With an average of 40 units leaving dealership floors around the country each month, not bad considering the starting price of R841 800, the XC90 added another significant gong to its list of achievements last month when it took home the 2016 South African Car of the Year title after garnering a reported 50% of the 26 member-jury’s final approval.

Prior to its naming as a finalist however, the XC90 caused a considerable stir when a Twilight Bronze Metallic range topping D5 Inscription arrived for a day’s stay. Words, of which quite a few are not allowed to be repeated on this platform, were not enough to best describe it; staggering perhaps coming the closest.

Not long after, a Crystal Metallic White petrol-powered T6 Momentum provided for a similar reaction, despite its take on Volvo’s 2.0-litre Drive-E engine, incorporating turbo-and supercharging, lacking the mid-range clout of the D5’s twin-turbo setup.

It therefore rated as somewhat of a surprise when another XC90 arrived for a day’s stay recently, as the chromed badges on the tailgate once again identified it as the D5 Inscription. The presence of a conspicuous third decal however, which will come back to later, turned out be one of the many differences that was to set this D5 apart from the others.

On first glance, even though it has been said before multiple times, the XC90 just about rates as one if not the best looking SUV in its class today.

Backed by those much vaunted lights, flowing lines, prominent chrome grille, outstretching bonnet and deep air intake, our somewhat curiously titled Luminous Sand Beige tester also came fitted with Inscription exclusive 21-inch eight-spoke diamond cut alloy wheels wrapped in 275/40 section Pirelli Scorpion rubber.

As striking as it is outside, the XC90 continues to play its biggest trump when you open the door. Ditching most of the usual array of buttons, the beautifully uncluttered facia is dominated by Volvo’s tablet-like nine-inch Sensus Connect infotainment display that allows for the choosing of setting by a simple swipe of the fingertips.

Finished in a combination of thickly padded black Nappa leather, lashings of chrome, real wood inlays, gloss black inserts and soft touch plastics on most surfaces, the interior not only oozes luxury, but also elegance in the simplest way possible.

In additional to its vast list of standard equipment, our D5 also came fitted with the optional (R55 000) Premium Pack that adds heated front seats, surround view camera system, keyless entry/go, electric tailgate, ventilated Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker sound system, graphical Heads-Up Display, electric seat side support and Blind Spot Detection with rear Cross-Traffic Assist.

Standout regular items include (deep breath), electric front seats with powered lumber support, front and rear park assist, satellite navigation, auto folding and heated mirrors, swivelling active headlights with High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Drowsiness detector, City Safety auto braking, Vehicle Distance Control, Road Sign Recognition, Vehicle Deceleration Control, ten airbags and Hill Decent Control.

Continuing where its predecessor got the jump on many of its rivals, the XC90 is again offered with seven seats but now with individually adjustable chairs for the middle row. In keeping with its “family first” approach, Volvo claims a total cargo capacity of 314-litres with all seven seats up, 692-litres with the middle row down, and a capacious 1 057-litres with the five rears down.

While most of its comfort and technological innovations have remained the same as before, the main difference over the previous D5 can be found underneath bonnet.

Although still making use of the same twin-turbo Drive-E engine as the standard model, the mill in our tester, as illustrated by a little blue badge on tailgate, has been breathed upon by Volvo’s in-house performance division, Polestar.

Responsible for originally running C30s and now S60s in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, as well as helping with development of the S60s used in the Australian V8 Supercars series, the Polestar influence on the XC90 has resulted in an increase of six kilowatts and 30 N.m of torque over the standard D5.

Small this may seem it certainly shows when you turn the start button, slot the stubby gear lever of the eight-speed automatic gearbox in Drive, and floor the accelerator. With hardly any lag, the XC90 shrugs its 2.7 ton weight off by unleashing what can only be described as such a surge of torque that you are literally pushed back into the comfy and supportive surrounds of the driver’s chair in no time.

The extra torque has however had little effect on the performance of the aforementioned auto box, which offers slick and seamless shifts even when you really take the XC90 by the scruff of its neck.

Aside from the Polestar upgrade, our demonstrator also came fitted with the optional (R26 800) adaptive air suspension that works in combination with the standard Drive mode selector, to alter the vehicle’s ride height depending on the mode selected.

Offering a choice of five settings; Eco, Comfort, Off-Road, Performance and Individual, the suspension proved its worth by serving-up a comfortable yet informative ride quality that never felt offset by the low profile 21-inch rubber.

While it remains unlikely that most XC90 owners would take theirs off the black stuff, selecting Off-Road mode increases ground clearance from a claimed 238 mm to 268 mm with wading depth rated at 450 mm.

It might still be somewhat of a left-field choice, but a third stint behind the wheel of the Volvo XC90 has only reinforced the notion that it no longer wants to play second single fiddle to its rivals. Rewriting the book on what a luxury SUV should be like might rate as a step to far, but there is no doubt that it has come within close range.



ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4 twin-turbo
MAX POWER 171 kW @4250 rpm
MAX TORQUE 500 N.m @1750-2500 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; All-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic
ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H] 7.8 sec*
TOP SPEED 220 km/h*
EMISSIONS 152 g/km*
PRICE R933 500**

*Standard D5
** Base vehicle price