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Is the New Volvo XC90 Worth the Wait?

Back in 2002, Volvo released the XC90 to an immediately charmed UK public. 4X4s (they weren't called SUVs quite yet) were getting a bad name.

'Chelsea tractors,' they said - huge gas-guzzling planet killers for rich mums to park on the pavement outside schools as they dropped their spoiled kids off. Few people may remember it, but at the time some of these types of cars were actually getting vandalised and their owners were the targets of a fair level of abuse. Then the XC90 came along and partly defused the situation.
 
The Volvo XC90 was hard not to like. It was still a big, aggressive-looking 4x4, but it had a Volvo badge and the British middle class likes Volvos. They are very safe, ideal for those spoiled kids getting dropped off, but somehow less exclusive and offensive than some of the more prestigious marques. Volvo has managed to make an expensive and exclusive car quite classless, and at the same time it has made a pretty good car.
 
The XC90 immediately became a success and provided an alternative to all those big German 4x4s and those exclusive Range Rovers. It was so good that Jeremy Clarkson (you may have heard of him lately) bought one. It was also so good that Volvo followed that sage advice and decided not to fix it because it wasn't broken.
 
Normally, car makers release a new model every six years or so, so a 13-year wait for a new XC90 is a particularly long time. But now it is here, so has it been worth the wait?
 
The early signs are that it has been. Volvo is not due to get a proper supply of XC90s into the dealers until June. Building on its reputation for clever marketing, though, Volvo released 2,000 first-edition models to an enthusiastic audience. These were loaded with extras and cost £23,000 over the base price at £68,785, but they still sold out in hours. Just 53 of these reached the UK. Clearly, some of this enthusiasm is the result of more than a decade of pent-up demand, but some of it is also due to the fact that this is a very good car indeed. 
 
This new Volvo XC90 is bigger - both wider and longer - than its predecessor, but it somehow manages to be sharper and more agile-looking too. The redesign also includes a new headlamp shape they are calling 'Thor's Hammer'. Quite what that means is open to question, but they do look rather nice. The changes for the new Volvo XC90 aren't just cosmetic, however, and a quick look under the bonnet reveals far more fundamental upgrades. The engine is one of Volvo's new Drive-e power plants, which means that it is just 2.0 litres in capacity. Gone are the big gas-guzzling units of previous models, to be replaced with an incredibly efficient new turbo-diesel engine that produces 225bhp from just 2.0 litres and can haul the big beast from rest to 60mph in a quite astonishing 7.4 seconds. Top speed is 137mph, but the car still squeezes 48.7 miles from a gallon of diesel on the combined cycle and releases just 149g/km of CO2. 
 
There are also a couple of perfectly acceptable petrol engines to choose from, but most owners will probably swallow hard and plump for the range-topping T8. This is a plug-in hybrid and has a 320bhp diesel engine with a 85bhp electric motor bolted on. Together, they result in 400bhp and can get to 60mph in just 6.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 140mph.
 
This is fantastic performance, but when you add average fuel-consumption figures of 112.5mpg, you can see how this car really does start to make a lot of sense. Despite the performance figures, the Volvo XC90 is a comfortable cruiser rather than a sporty car, but it is none the worse for that. With its excellent environmental credentials, it will probably attract a lot fewer looks of condemnation at the school gates too.

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