Like it, loathe it or feel nonplussed by it, the new Volvo XC90 has presence from the outside. Climb aboard and your sensations are amplified again, albeit almost all in a positive way.
The centre of the car is dominated by a large touch-screen. It is a triumph that should leave rivals playing catch up. The user can swipe between three main screens – scrolling through car set-up options, basic car functions and on-board apps. First impressions suggest it is intuitive and easy to use; the sat-nav view, for instance, benefits from the phone screen-style presentation, the phone options are clearly labelled and the quality of the on-screen graphics on the album playlists impressive.
The knock-on benefit of this screen is that there are only eight buttons on the dash, all located below the screen. This leaves large swatches of open or uncluttered space, which highlight the quality finishes on the surfaces or accentuate the sense of space. Other car makers will surely follow suit.
The driving environment is also attractive. The digital dash looks well thought through, and the graphics convey a premium feel. The seats – so long a Volvo strength – offer great all-round support, as well as having new built-in safety features.
The middle row of seats are equally plush. They slide and recline, and there's good room on offer, especially if the rearmost seats aren't in use. All the seats fold flat individually (an operation that's possible via the centre touch-screen), while all can also take full size child seats. There's the option, too, of speccing an integral booster cushion in the middle seat. Families will love this layout.
The third row of seats is, as ever, a compromise. There are no Isofix points, but child seats held in place by seat belts can be used. Volvo says the seats are fine for people up to 170cm tall, which seems reasonable both in terms of comfort on the move and accessibility through the rear doors. Anyone taller is unlikely to thank you for the loss of dignity climbing aboard or the discomfort in a long journey.
Volvo describes the XC90 as an alternative to the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class. It says it has deliberately eschewed any conventions set by its rivals, instead staying true to its understated Swedish roots. All this rings true when you sit inside the XC90, and hints at a company that has an underlying confidence, something it hopes customers who don't just follow the crowd will pick up on.
Sales begin on October 4, with deliveries following in April. We hope to test drive the car in early 2015.