Volvo XC90 R-Design. REVIEW, UAE

Ever wondered what Volvo’s most popular SUV would be like if given the Polestar treatment? crankandpiston went to find out…

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
Inline4cyl T6, super/turbo, 1969cc 334bhp @5700rpm 295lb ft @ 2200-5400rpm 5.6secs 230kph 2080kg (161bhp/ton) $68,000

Still one of the best SUVs on the market
Does it really need the Polestar tweaks?


Last October I drove the new XC90 T6 and came to some confusingly contradictory conclusions. Firstly, it is the ultimate soccer mom car. Not a surprising verdict for a Volvo obviously, but one made clearer by the level of driver assistance and safety systems the SUV boasts. And yet, secondly, it is a genuinely damn good car, with outstanding off-road performance and great on-road poise that somehow doesn’t affect stellar ride comfort.

It’s for these reasons then that I approach today’s test drive with hesitation. Today’s test mule is the more pimped out R-Design, discernible by the black front grille, more luxurious leather interior, and 20in R alloy rims. Perhaps more notable though is the accompanying Polestar package, which sports a bit more oomph at 334bhp and stiffer suspension. And again, I’m split: Polestar updates should make a serious impact on Volvo’s best-selling SUV, but will this revised performance ruin the superb package that is the XC90?

Fortunately there is nothing amiss when we jump in, a few R-Design branded items and some carbon-fibre themed details aside. Wise move Volvo, for the base model was so well equipped it could hardly be improved upon. It’s on the move though when those subtle differences become more noticeable. And not necessarily for the better.

Volvo XC90 R-Design crankandpiston-24

So, how does the R-Design XC90 drive?

In Sport mode for instance, the tweaked suspension no doubt improves dynamic capabilities at the cost of making the ride more uncomfortable. Indeed, I have to question why a moderate power increase of 14bhp justified tautened, Porsche-like suspension. Having said that, extracting 334bhp from a 2-litre turbo and supercharged four-cylinder is mightily impressive, and while there is a notable absence of power in the lower revs, things do start to pick-up around the 2000rpm mark.

It’s probably better to keep everything in ‘Comfort’ then, enjoy the ride and, when you really need it, navigate through the gearbox yourself to get what you want right when you want it. However, and although more and more cars equip gears ad-infinitum, remembering where you are on an eight-speed requires concentration. Steering feel meanwhile remains unchanged in the R-Design, of which I’m relieved. I have heard colleagues refer to it as ‘numb’ but that is certainly not my impression. Even on its softest setting I find it responsive, sharp and accurate, and the body-roll is impressively restrained for an SUV the size 
of Florida.

Volvo XC90 R-Design crankandpiston-10

Sorry to be vulgar, but what about practicality?

The one spec that makes little sense to me is the fuel consumption, the height of which Volvo claims is 7.7l/100Km. Blame it on the air conditioning, traffic, speed bumps, grippy tarmac or earth rotation, but I never managed to get this under 9.0. A more devil-may-care driving style sends you over the 14.0 mark, which rather defeats the point of having a 2-litre engine altogether in my mind.

I also have reservations about the price, the R-Design rolling off the showroom floor for $68,000. Arguably, in terms of quality, this figure is totally justified, but consider also that this near-$70K price is $20K more than the car it replaces and places the Polestar-spec XC90 well into BMW X5, Mercedes GLE and Land Rover LR4 territory. Volvo may want to consider this a natural habitat for the XC90, but given that in doing so the SUV competes with more established luxury brands offering bigger engines and more premium build quality, it’s a potentially risky choice.

Volvo XC90 R-Design crankandpiston-1

What’s the verdict?

I can only conclude then that, as was the case last October, the XC90 is an absolute marvel. The R-Design is just that, a design mod for those searching to part from a more sedate mother-of-the-year image, while piling on the options at no extra cost (barring the Polestar package, which costs $1000). Saying that, I can easily gloss over the added power output since this is barely noticeable, while the suspension makes very little tangible dynamic difference in Comfort or Eco modes – aside from compromising the ride comfort – but does offer a more composed balance when you’re feeling a little frisky through the corners.

Simultaneously then the R-Design is excellent, and yet at the same time, frustrating. Much like the XC90 hiding at the base of it.


Categories: Car Review


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