I would have to go back 15 years for my last experience of a Volvo. One of my grandparents used to drive a 1980s model; a faithful machine with the structural integrity of a tank, which was eventually retired from use after many years of loyal service.
Leaping forward into 2016 and everything has changed. It’s fair to say that I was out of touch with the brand, which only made my experience with the 2016 XC90 all the more enjoyable.
Outside, it looked chunky and utilitarian, in keeping with stereotypes surrounding the Swedish carmaker, but the interior was like a world of luxury. Mine for the day was the XC90 Inscription, one of five trims available and second only to the range-topping Excellence.
What first grabbed my attention – and held it for the duration of our time together – was the portrait-format 12.3-inch centre display. As with most cars, this is where you control the navigation, media and climate control, but what I found so impressive was that it was all touchscreen, like a miniature tablet. With the flick of a wrist I was flitting between scrolling through my phone’s messages (connected via Bluetooth) and key car information such as tyre pressure and so on.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to the interior styling of the XC90 that I can’t really put into words. From the smallest of touches, like a sleek-looking rear view mirror to generous usage of leather and wood, it all spoke of chic indulgence.
Sitting atop 20-inch alloy wheels, I felt in a suitably commanding position as I travelled up and down Sultan Qaboos highway, with an impressive array of technical sensors delivering numerous alerts and warnings, such as lane departure and blind spot information.
As for the drive itself, it was smooth and pleasant no matter the quality of the road surface I found myself on. The two-litre engine provided enough punch for the XC90 to hold its own in the fast lane, although we’re not talking any kind of throw-you-back-in-your-seat exhilarating acceleration here.
Although not specifically geared for off-road driving, you can select between different drive modes, including one for looser surfaces like sand or gravel. Despite not being a serious rough rider, the XC90 managed to negotiate the mini dunes close to Al Mouj Muscat just fine during a slight detour back to Y HQ via Seeb beach.
Calling the office to check in on my travels, the XC90’s Bluetooth calling system proved to be of a great quality, with the audio crisp and clear at both ends. What perhaps is even more impressive is that the voice recognition software was able to pick out my commands first time, with no trouble whatsoever.
The audio system was another feature that seriously impressed me, delivering great sound, even when playing through an AUX cable, as I was. You can also play your tunes through USB, Bluetooth or even good old CD if you wish.
Unfortunately I never got the chance to fully utilise the Park Assist Pilot, a mind-blowing feature that actually parallel parks the car for you in even the tightest of spots, but the Park Assist Camera did come in handy several times.
Safety is one of Volvo’s primary concerns, which is admirable, but I must admit I found the several second pause in the music every time I travelled just one kilometre an hour over the speed limit (no matter what the limit was) a little grating. But apart from this, I really have nothing negative to say about the XC90. It blew away my out-dated preconceptions of Volvo and replaced them with admiration for a thoroughly modern brand with some impressive technological extras.