Australia:Volvo launches new challenge
By MIKE DUFFY
A LUXURY seven-seat "soft-roader", designed to put Volvo Australia back on track after the worst sales slump in its history, has hit the market.
The XC90 is designed to challenge the best in the class BMW's X5, Lexus RX330, Honda MDX and the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. Volvo chief designer Peter Horbury describes the new vehicle as "masculine, but not macho, muscular, but not aggressive". Pre-launch orders suggest the new sports utility will grow the brand's sales in Australia by 700 units this year and by 1200 in 2004 sales restricted by demand elsewhere in the world which have overwhelmed the Swedish car maker.
But Volvo Australia's new managing director, Steve Blyth, says: "We want to use the XC90 to overcome a lingering attitude of 'not another bloody Volvo driver' which has inhibited sales in Australia."
The XC90 sets out to combine the best features from premium passenger cars and SUVs.
The vehicle is the first home for Volvo's road stability control, seat pretensioners on all seven seats, a child booster cushion, inflatable side curtains in all three rows and a clever system which converts noxious low-level ozone into oxygen.
The XC90 will be sold alongside the XC70 formerly the Cross Country and will be available in two power packages (2.5T and T6) with four-speed automatic transmission which allows the driver to override the system and change gears manually without the need to clutch.
The 2.5T is powered by a 2.5-litre, light-pressure turbocharged, in-line five-cylinder engine which puts out 154kW of power and 320Nm of torque. This gives the vehicle 0-100km/h performance in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 210km/h.
The T6 shares the 2.9-litre V6 with the Volvo S80. The unit is fed by twin turbochargers, working in parallel, to produce 200kW of power and 380Nm of torque. The standing ton comes up in 9.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 210km/h.
Both the 2.5T and T6 can be ordered with five-seat or seven-seat configurations costing $69,950 and $75,050 for the smaller engined unit and $82,950 and $88,050 for the range-topper.
For this, buyers get Volvo's electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system and the brand's latest traction control devices plus all the on-board luxuries expected from the prestige vehicle.
Styling cues which have become traditional elements of Volvo vehicles through the ages can be found in the XC90. The chief designer's signature use of front and rear lights as part of the uninterrupted form work at each corner enhance the appeal of the vehicle.
Clearly, the XC90 is the most aggressively styled vehicle in Volvo's portfolio, but retains the passive and dynamic safety features expected from the brand.
The seven-seat option will attract buyers who need a people mover with the ability to leave the beaten track although a puncture along the way illustrated the limitations of the compromise tyres.
A drive along slippery, rocky country roads SUV buyers are unlikely to venture on to proved the credentials of the model. Similarly, long spells on country roads illustrated the prestige car-like features of the vehicle.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....