Petite four

Thereís more to this big Swede than acres of space and practicality

GED BULMER

WHETHER itís an oversight or a deliberate ploy on my part to save the best bits for last, like that cherished final bite of a sweet treat, it occurs to me that nigh on half a year into our journey with the XC-90, Iím yet to dedicate a column to how the big Swede drives. Thatís because thereís been so much other stuff to write about, but we canít look past those key quantifiers of vehicular excellence: ride, handling and performance.

The sheer verve of the 2.0-litre fourcylinder twin-turbo diesel never fails to impress. Frankly, it strains credibility that an engine of such modest capacity can shift the Volvoís near two-tonne mass with such alacrity, but it does.

Like ugly men with glamorous partners, small engines punching above their weight are by no means new, or indeed exclusive to Volvo. Yet the XC-90 stands out as an impressive piece of engineering. Its vital stats are compelling enough Ė 165kW/470Nm and 0-100km in 7.8sec Ė but they canít adequately explain what an effortlessly excellent powertrain this really is.

Hitched to a sweetly calibrated eightspeed auto, the engine serves up an astonishing amount of turbocharged grunt from ridiculously low revs, and does so in an overwhelmingly smooth and refined manner. Crack the throttle at urban speeds and it responds with impressive zeal, the auto serving up its collection of well-spaced ratios in near seamless fashion, the resultant acceleration ensuring Black Betty is usually at or near the front of any traffic-light pack.

Out on the open road and thereís more than enough underfoot to tackle caravans or other slow-moving chicanes, without the fear and/or humiliation of running out of road. Thatís still the case when loaded to the gunnels, as we discovered on a recent family holiday. With a brimmed 71-litre fuel tank, four passengers and a load of gear, the Volvo barely raised a sweat as we surged over hills and cantered down dales.

Impressive as the engine is, the clever auto proved equally stellar. Rarely found wanting for the right gear, it delivers crisp, welltimed upshifts under acceleration, and deft downshifts when needed, adding a dash of engine braking on descents and into corners.

Crucially, the suspension also handled the extra weight without any issues, maintaining good ride comfort and body control while still managing to avoid the bump stops over lumpier stuff.

The laden driving experience leads me to think that the XC-90 would also be a good choice for towing Old Paint to Saturday pony club. Rated as it is to tow 2250kg, and with that sparkling diesel four-pot beneath its snout, itís just one more handy attribute in a vehicle that lives up to its Sports Utility moniker admirably.

VOLVO XC90 D5

Date acquired: November 2015 Price as tested: $93,085 This month: 1491km @ 8.0L/100km Overall: 5425km @ 9.7L/100km

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URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY

Wring out your smalls

Back in 1990 Nissan came up with what now seems an ill-informed plan to slot the terrific RB30 3.0-litre petrol six into the GQ Patrol. A free-spinning non-turbo that had seen stellar service in the Skyline, its application in the hulking Patrol was optimism in the extreme. Cue the unedifying sight (and sound) of goggleeyed drivers buzzing their lumbering behemoths to the cut-out before slamshifting the chunky gearbox in a desperate attempt to maintain momentum.

No such issues with the XC90, thanks to technological advances that ensure it trumps the 1990 petrol Patrol by 33kW and 176Nm, with a litre less capacity.