Cape Town - Well that was a first. Instead of handing us a set of keys as we arrived in Cape Town for the launch of the facelifted Volvo XC90 on Tuesday, the PR representatives gave us iPhones loaded with the company’s new Volvo On call app, and told us that we could use them to locate the cars that we were about to drive - and also experience the brand’s new concierge service.
Thankfully it wasn’t a game of hide and seek, and with the app logged in and loaded, we were able to locate our car easily - first you follow a high-definition map and then when nearby you can command the car to flash its headlights and hoot. With this gadget you should never lose your car again, and it can also be used to unlock the vehicle as well as control certain things like the climate control or check the fuel level, when you’re far away from the car.
Once aboard, we were instructed to test out the On Call concierge service, to direct us to our lunch stop. By simply pressing a button on the roof console, we got through to a call centre agent who actually sent directions to the car’s navigation system. Sure, most people are not going to need a call centre agent to programme the nav, but it is nice to know that help is always just a phone call away - particularly in an emergency. To that end, Volvo On Call automatically contacts emergency services if the system detects that the car has been in an accident.
Many cars are coming out with ‘virtual’ butlers these days, but these can be a hit and miss affair, and Volvo’s set-up adds a much needed human touch to the equation. Best of all, a five-year subscription to Volvo On Call is standard on all 2020 model year Volvos, including the new XC90, and customers will have the option of renewing it after expiration.
Volvo Car SA Managing Director Greg Maruszewski explains: “With Volvo On Call, a car becomes far more than just a means of travel. It becomes your personal assistant. It can tell you about the best coffee spots in town and send the destination to your car’s navigation system. It knows when you have appointments, where they are and how to get you there”.
A new look for 2020
Once we arrived at the lunch stop, there was a chance to do some tyre kicking and take a closer look at what’s changed about the design. Which is not much, actually. There is a new ‘concave’ design front grille as well as new wheels and some fresh exterior colours.
Oh, and the XC90 is also available with a six-seat configuration for the first time, which allows for easier entry to the third row and better interaction between all those in the back. As before, the third row seats are big enough to accommodate adults and when not in use they can be folded flat to create an enormous boot.
The rest of the cabin remains as before, with classy finishes throughout. Most of your ergonomic interaction is through a large portrait-oriented touchscreen, which can take a bit of getting used to as you need to swipe between pages, but it’s fairly straightforward once you get used to it.
Hitting the road
The engine line-up remains as before, with one diesel and three petrol versions to choose from, all turbocharged, 2-litre four-cylinder units. The D5 diesel is good for 173kW and 480Nm, while the T5 entry petrol engine is rated at 187kW and 350Nm. This is joined by two more potent options in the form of a T5 with 235kW and 400Nm, and a T8 plug-in hybrid that combines the latter engine with a 65kW and 400Nm electric boost (for system outputs of 300kW and 640Nm), as well as the ability to drive for up to 43kW on electric power alone, according to Volvo.
It was the T8 that my co-driver and I sampled first, and although it doesn’t feel sports car quick, owing to the vehicle’s size and bulk, it felt impressively brisk nonetheless, and also held on neatly when pushed through the Helshoogte pass at a considerable speed. We also spent a bit of highway time in the D5 version, which is certainly the best all rounder in the range, in terms of offering reasonable performance, economy and all round refinement.
On that note, the XC90 is a quiet machine, and its optional air suspension system (an extra R26 750) soaks up the bumps with ease to deliver a cosy ride quality.
Making sense of the range
The XC90 is offered in four trim grades: Momentum, Inscription, R-Design and Excellence, and the differences between them are mostly cosmetic.
Standard features include four-zone climate control, leather seats, powered tailgate, Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system with steering assistance and adaptive cruise control, Navigation Pro, Road Sign Information, Lane Keeping Aid and 19-inch alloys, to list the highlights.
With most of Volvo’s impressive gadgetry already included in the price, you might not even need to subject your bank account to that dreaded options list blow, but there are a few nice temptations on the configurator, such as a 360-degree camera (R14 250), Park Assist Pilot (R4100), a high-performance Harman / Kardon sound system (R12 500) and various wheel choices up to 22 inches.
R-Design and Inscriptions models are also available with one of the world’s best audio systems. For an extra R42 000 you’ll get to enjoy the Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker, 1476-watt premium surround sound system, complete with a ‘Gothenburg Concert Hall’ mode.
Volvo’s full-sized SUV might not look all that different on the outside, but with the new six-seat option and the Volvo On Call service, and already desirable package has just become just that bit more appealing. It’s classy, practical, packed with tech and cheaper than a BMW X7.