Volvo plans luxury assault on Anglo-German rivals

Specced-up XC90 will appear in China first, followed by 5-Series-rivalling S90

Volvo wants, once and for all, to be taken seriously as a premium market rival and is planning to use the launch of the new XC90 to springboard the brand into being a serious contender for the crown held by the German "Big Three" and Jaguar.

The new XC90 is being seen as something of a transformative vehicle for Volvo, being favourably compared (even on these very pages) to the more-expensive likes of the Range Rover and BMW X5.

To underline that premium appeal, Volvo is about to launch a super-luxury version of the XC90, which will be unveiled at the upcoming Shanghai motor show.

Lounging room

The XC90 Excellence does away with the standard car’s seven-seat layout, and instead uses a private-jet-style four-seat layout, with serious lounging room in the back. There are rear infotainment touchscreens and more legroom in the back (crucial for the Chinese market) as well as heating and massaging functions for the rear seats.

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There are folding tables too, a fridge and even specially- made Swedish crystal glasses for a quick on-the-move tipple. For added refinement, there's a screen separating the passenger compartment from the boot and Pirelli has supplied specially-designed low-noise tyres for the car.

Volvo design boss Thomas Ingenlath said: "With the XC90 Excellence we created the ultimate luxury experience of Scandinavian interior design. What we have designed is among the best rear-seat experience available in a luxury SUV. The result is a superlative environment for relaxed comfort . . ." There are currently no plans to sell the Excellence model in Europe.

Volvo hopes that the reaction to the XC90 (which had 6,000 global orders before anyone had even seen the car) will allow it to push its replacement for the S80 saloon up a notch in the premium market. The current car is well regarded but lacking in the high-end image of rivals such as the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF.

The S90, due next year, will major on style and luxury to try and bridge that gap, with much inspiration coming from recent concept cars such as Concept Universe from 2011.

Emphasis on comfort

Even though global demand for high-end saloons is falling, Volvo reckons the market is still too important for it to ignore, and that it will go its own way – with an emphasis on comfort and refinement – to try and beat the Germans without trying to out-drive them.

"Demand in China and the US remains strong, and we believe we have a package of assets from the powertrain to the interior to the design that means we have no excuses not to fight with the very best for sales in the sector," Volvo's vice-president of product strategy, Lex Kerssemakers, said recently in Detroit.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring