Tall dark stranger

It may be mistaken for other SUVs, but our XC90 is unmistakeably a Volvo

GED BULMER

Garage

ďOOH, Daddy, itís a Mercedes!Ē These words, uttered with the shrill delight of a sevenyear- old on first sighting of the Volvo XC90, could be music to the ears, or a dagger through the creative heart of the Swedish SUVís designers.

To be fair, it was dark and my poor kid has never quite got over the loss of our previous ML350 long-termer. But I still might get her eyes checked as, while our XC90 bears a passing resemblance to several other large, black and blinged-up SUVs, the Merc isnít one of them.

While itís possible to pick elements of Jeep, Range Rover and even BMW in the XC90ís statuesque silhouette, it ultimately comes together into something that is uniquely Volvo. I like that itís not overly embellished, that the designers knew when to lay down their crayons. To me, the styling is emblematic of the car itself; big, roomy and ever so practical for its primary task of hauling large families in comfort.

Weíre not a particularly big family but our kids seem to have this ability to attract dirt and friends in roughly equal measure, so seats six and seven are utilised more often than our humble brood might suggest.

Access to the third row is easy, thanks to a simple flip-and-slide mechanism on the second row. Itís decently roomy back there but longer-limbed-types can plead for extra legroom via fore-aft adjustment on the second row. There are individual air-con vents and cupholders in the cheap seats, and folding headrests that allow the third row to be left in situ without compromising rear visibility. Fold the third row flat into the floor and the XC90 flaunts one the floor and the XC90 flaunts one of the best and biggest cargo bays in the business. Minimal wheelarch intrusion ensures maximum luggage space, and the electric tailgate makes life that little bit easier. A trio of bright LEDs shining from both sides and above are appreciated when loading at night.

Back in the 40-20-40 second row, the centre seat can be folded flat to create a load-through space, or to put space between the inevitably warring parties.

Seat comfort is excellent whether youíre in the first or third row, with nicely sculpted and supportive pews clad in soft and lightly aromatic leather. For families still in the booster stage, thereís also the winning trio of inbuilt booster seats across the second row.

Decent size door pockets and secondrow seat-back nets complete an excellent comfort and convenience package, the one glitch being a glovebox the wife has declared too small. Iím no expert on such things, as thereís always the centre console, but I did take perverse pleasure in watching her fumbling about trying to locate the discretely mounted (read, almost invisible) electronic switch that opens the thing. Nice one, Sven.

MASKED MARAUDER

You donít need to be off your face to recognise the benefits of Volvoís big luxury SUV

VOLVO XC90 D5

Date acquired: November 2015 Price as tested: $93,085 This month: 662km @ 11.1L/100km Overall: 2772km @ 10.2L/100km m

Extra, extra!

Auto industry PRs wouldnít be doing their jobs if they passed up the opportunity to option to the hilt their media demonstrators. Our friends at Volvo chose a middle path with Black Betty, adding just enough bling for it to be appreciated, yet not enough for it to be ostentatious. They added metallic paint ($1,750), heated front seats ($375), tinted rear glass ($850) and drive-mode settings ($160), for an all up price of $93,085. For the record, thatís about $11K less than the similarly sized but significantly more powerful Audi Q7.