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Volvo XC90 has the questionable ‘curse’ of perfection

The Volvo XC90 is perfect in the same way that a well-baked cheesecake is perfect. It may be technically immaculate, but that doesn’t mean it will excite everyone, especially those seeking a little more zest.

This is not a car review throwing a lazy subjectivity card at you, rather the point here is this: the Swede really is impeccable. And yet, paradoxically, this can be an issue all on its own.

It is phenomenally smooth to drive. We tested the T8 Twin Engine hybrid — the top of the range and most powerful (starting at just under R1.5-million). It will get you to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, surprising not just due to its size but also the soft, uniform pull-away you experience. A flat foot will see the heads-up display in front of you shoot up, all while your enclosure remains serenely stable. There are no rattling, strained noises or other signs of exertion.

At slow speeds the XC90 places far more significance on the battery part of the hybrid equation. When the car starts up, in fact, there is only the familiar silence of an electric motor. If there is one legitimate criticism, it’s here: the range of the charge is short and will deplete long before the petrol does. 

Despite having the presence of a bus, the car handles remarkably well. The drive never feels cumbersome for passenger or driver. 

Like all Volvos, it’s a clean, easy-to-use setup inside. Drivers of German brands may find it ungainly at first, but the simplicity of the infotainment system will grow on almost anyone. The adaptive cruise control has the ability to determine what lies ahead and slow down accordingly —it’s all but autonomous driving.

Combine these features with a cavernous interior and what you have is the ideal family car, and possibly the best in its segment.

Which brings us to our original dilemma: the XC90 is a little too good. At least, it’s too good to be exciting. It’s all very polite, with the ability to shock stripped from its being. If you’re the type that hates surprises then, yes, this is as close to perfect as you’re going to get. But it may all feel a tiny bit tame.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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