Impressions of the Volvo XC90 D5
In my review of the Volvo XC90 2.5L, talking about it being very thirsty when urged along, I wrote: "You can't really have it both ways – all that mass and space AND low fuel consumption." Well, with the introduction of the long-promised diesel version – the D5 - you can.
My review of the refreshed XC90 2.5L was deemed critical but fair by Volvo Malaysia, so they made sure that I went for the media drive of the D5. I was duly impressed by the low-end response, as well as the willingness of the inline-4 turbodiesel to rev; it is not a match for the 2.5L engine of the Nissan Navara (which thinks it is a petrol unit, and that pickup truck is a much lighter vehicle) but it feels exactly like what the good doctor ordered. Then I jumped into the 2.5 petrol version and wondered why it felt so smooth and sounded so quiet.
These two traits were not in my vocabulary when I wrote about the Volvo SUV. That can only be so because the D5's drivertrain is indeed rather robust, especially when you succumb to the temptation to push this luxury truck, which you would tend to do a lot since the XC90 feels confident on most roads. But the 2.5L did not feel outgunned by the D5; I was leaving the D5s behind (which could be due to the drivers of the moment not having the same 'leave no prisoners' mindset that overcomes me on such drives). The truth is that the 2.5L petrol version is still the 'performance' version; it can boast of 210bhp/320Nm versus the 185bhp/400Nm of the 2.4L turbodiesel. But the point is the D5 version offers unmatched economy while being able to satisfy the petrolhead – or should that be performance-dieselhead. For me, there is no argument: if I am ever going to buy an XC90 it would be the D5. Volvo Malaysia is making it easier by pricing them the same.There is hardly anything to tell the two versions apart, inside and out, aside from the badges. The diesel clatter is quite obvious, but not when you are inside with the doors and windows closed. And, to be fair, the noise and harshness I mentioned are not so obvious away from the steering wheel. In fact, if you are familiar with the 2.5 petrol version, you would appreciate the relative lack of drama in the D5 when driven with the same verve, more so when overtaking on narrow and twisty roads; the 5-speed auto of the petrol version tries very hard to harness the modest torque, with quick and frequent downshifts to 2nd gear, resulting in high revs and the attendant sensations.
That's what robs the XC90 of its dignity. The D5 fares a lot better, with its combination of more generous torque and the loads more advanced 6-speed Geartronic. It at least feels as bighearted as its image suggests.
I have argued often that such vehicles should always have turbodiesel power. There is no way a similar sized petrol engine can match the torque and its spread; what you often get is a powerplant that has to try so hard that it feels mismatched with the vehicle. That may be alright with petrolheads but hardly the sort of character that would endear the vehicle the people who actually buys such vehicles.
The one feature of a diesel-powered SUV would really win the sceptics over is the fuel efficiency. With a turbodiesel of less than 2.5L, you can wring it as hard as you want and it would still return an average consumption figure of about 10.7L/100km. Do the same with a petrol engine of the same size and you will see a figure close to 13.6L/100km.
And when you ease off on the throttle (with the diesel you can piddle along at just above 1,000rpm) you will also see a big difference in consumption figures. Plus, the generous and easily available torque of the turbodiesel gives it lots of grunt, which means that it can move off effortlessly, even when there is a full load of people and their stuff. This means that there is a lot more dignity in the carriage of such a model compared to its petrol-powered sibling.
The tagline for the Volvo D4 is: The Luxury SUV that won't cost the Earth. That's a clever play on words, meaning that it can save you money, and the environment less toxic wastes, in your choice of vehicle. Volvo Malaysia laments the poor quality of diesel from our pumps but assures buyers that the D5 is well equipped to handle it.
The XC90 in D5 guise remains the most affordable of the European SUVs, and it is still a champion in safety measures. With its new turbodiesel engine it feels a lot more like an altogether vehicle. It has been a long time coming.