Bulmer pens a final ode to a Nordic warrior.
First published in the August 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.
STUDENTS of Norse mythology, or simply fans of the bawdy and bloodthirsty SBS TV series Vikings, will know that the Norsemen of medieval Scandinavia burned their dead chiefs in a ship-like funeral pyre, en route to their final destination of Valhalla.
I considered showing the same respect for the XC90 but soon realised Volvo would probably prefer it back unsinged, even if the funeral pyre is the ultimate sign of respect for a Scandinavian warrior.
Respect is very much the appropriate descriptor for emotion accrued over the six months Black Betty has graced our driveway. During this time, there hasn’t been a lot of pillaging, but plenty of packing, plodding and perambulating.
Of course, the Vikings were known for more than just sacking and pillaging; among their skills was the ability to craft lightweight vessels that combined speed and durability. While this land-based descendant of that Nordic bloodline may not be particularly svelte or rapid, it’s surely a masterpiece of durable design, evidenced by the fact it’s still in one piece after a hammering from a voracious horde of tiny horned warriors.
Life was undoubtedly hard for the Vikings as they bobbed about the Baltic, but consider the battering this Volvo XC90 copped at the hands (and feet) of the rampaging Bulmer brood and their ferocious little friends.
I’ve no idea how car companies calculate a lifetime of doors being slammed with the ferocity of Thor’s hammer, of seatbacks being furiously pummelled by angry little legs in dirty little sneakers, and of touchscreens prodded with the sensitivity of an angry inquisitor. But as I watch the handsome black XC90 emerge gleaming from its ritual cleansing at the hands of the Druids at Sprinkles car wash, I marvel at how well it stood up to the rigours of this particular campaign.
With footwells finally clear of wrappers, receipts and rubbish, windows wiped clean of olfactory offerings, and a mysterious smear on the back seat sent to forensics for identification, I can once again admire the big Swede’s handsome lines.
The XC90’s dash and cabin exude an air of sophisticated Scandinavian-ness.
Minus road grime and pigeon poop, the XC90’s honest, muscular design still looks fresh and distinctive. It may lack the dramatic headlights, plunging rooflines and raked pillars of some rival SUVs, but its elegant surfacing and fine detailing lends it a suitably premium Euro air, while that box-like body delivers the space a modern Viking crew requires.
That restrained pragmatism continues on the inside. Deceptively simple but undeniably elegant, it locates various vehicle system controls within the (prone to smudging) 12.3-inch touchscreen. With its swipe up or across interface, the screen proved a little frustrating at times as it isn’t entirely intuitive, but we’ll forgive it that sin for the obvious decluttering benefits.
Clutter is something the roomy Swede easily accommodates, thanks to its generous 651 litres of boot space, or a still-respectable 291 with the third row in use. Fold both second and third rows and there’s room for 950 litres of stuff you don’t need from Ikea, accessed via an electric tailgate worth its weight in Aldi coupons.
The high seating position found favour with my vertically challenged better half, while the rug-rats in the cheap seats had nothing to complain about, with individual ventilation controls and ample space between to avoid fisticuffs.
The stylish leather-clad pews provide excellent support and comfort for short or long trips, while the versatile configuration and ease of folding the other rows meant loading a raiding party was ever easy.
Refined, roomy and utterly practical, the XC90 is a superb family wagon, and surely one of the best of the breed.
While full burial rites for this Viking warrior may be out of the question, there is another Norse tradition that’s arguably more appropriate, involving ritual drinking. And that’s surely something Swedes and Aussies can agree on. Skål!
The glitch is back
As a poverty stricken student I did my share of running-out-of-fuel stunts, so these days rarely allow a tank to get near vapour. But The Wife likes to live dangerously and swears that the Volvo’s trip computer is errant, randomly recalculating from 70km remaining to 0km in the blink of an eye. The seat heater on the passenger side has also started switching off of its own volition recently, which begs the question whether an earlier electrical glitch that threw out systems and required a visit to the dealership to flash and fix has paid a return visit.
Dare to believe
If you’re a bit old-school and struggle to see how a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel can possibly propel 1970kg of Sweden’s finest down the road with anything approximating alacrity, then do yourself a favour and take an XC90 for a spin. In combination with its excellent eight-speed auto, the Volvo’s 165kW/470Nm four-pot is a revelation, proving easily capable of hauling a full payload of passengers and luggage in impressive style.
Read part four of our 2016 Volvo XC90 long-term car review.
Price as tested: $93,085
Part 5: 2043km @ 9.5L/100km
Overall: 7468km @ 9.6L/100km
Date acquired: November 2015