Better late than never is the motto best applied to Volvo's XC90. The Swedish company's core brand values of safety, family and quality are nowhere better exemplified than in a big Sports Utility Vehicle. Okay, so the other Volvo brand value, environment, had to play a slightly withdrawn role, but it's a wonder the XC90 hadn't appeared earlier.
The company attributes this lateness to a desire to defend its traditional estate car markets, and a niggling factory capacity problem - issues now resolved. Yes, we've had Volvo's V70 Cross Country, a car which carved an enviable niche for itself in the large estate crossover market, but the Swedes have missed much of the big money game. With sales of SUVs spiralling and vehicles like the Mercedes M-Class and the BMW X5 coining it, Volvo appeared to be sitting on its hands. Some speculated that as part of Ford's Premier Auto Group, the big Ford family 4x4 was going to wear the badge of partner company Jaguar in a bid to spike the guns of Porsche's Cayenne, but they were way off beam. Others felt that PAG would be unwilling for Volvo to poach sales from established brand Land Rover. Wrong again.
The XC90's shape was penned by Doug Frasher, an ex-NASA wind tunnel engineer who is now employed in Volvo's California design studio. His design was selected in a rather unconventional beauty contest held in the 40-degree heat of the Arizona desert. Volvo's hot weather proving facility outside Scottsdale was the venue and three full-size mock-ups were presented to Volvo's top design gurus from no fewer than thirteen different countries. In such sweltering conditions it would have been tempting to green light anything and retire for a cool beer, but after much consideration Frasher's design was voted favourite and has subsequently appealed to UK buyers. Enormously.
Rarely had Volvo ever had such a hot cake on their books. When it was first launched in June 2002, the entry-level D5 S model retailed at £28,400. In the following period Volvo consistently nudged prices higher, justified in some part by minor trim revisions in 2003 and has introduced an Executive model to sit above the S and SE variants. With the asking price for the entry level car comfortably over £31,000 by 2005 and the waiting lists as big as ever, Volvo are perhaps still undercharging for the XC90.
Admittedly, a shake-up of the range in 2005 resulting from modifications to the D5 diesel engine does distort the picture a little. From that point on, the 2.5T engine became the entry-level option with the erstwhile entry-level model, the old 163bhp 2.4 D5, offered only as an automatic and renamed 2.4D. The revised D5 delivered 184bhp and compliance with the Euro IV emissions regulations.
Major changes were on the cards in the spring of 2006. The XC90 received a facelift with revised tail lights more body-colouring to the external fittings and a touch more chrome. The engine range from this point on was 184bhp D5 diesel, 3.2-litre straight six petrol and 4.4-litre V8. Specifications were also upgraded with a new SE Lux trim level being introduced between the existing SE and Executive strands. A little later, the more dynamically-focused SE Sport derivatives were introduced.