The semiotics of Volvo have always been fascinating. The brand stands for safety, solidity and reliability. Swedes don't do flights of fancy. The billionaire founder of IKEA still drives his old Volvo 240. What Volvos mean to the average Brit of my generation was largely down to the brilliant ads by David Abbott from Abbott Mead Vickers. They make the kind of vehicles with such a sensitive social conscience that they can even detect when a moose, deer or elk has walked in front and take avoiding action. The company is now owned by the Chinese.
Volvo was the first manufacturer to introduce three-point seatbelts in 1959 and gave away the patent because it believed in saving lives without profiting from it. Now they have gone one stage further by promising to produce 'deathproof' cars by 2020. OK - if you decide, in an act of bourgeois nihilist despair, to drive your Volvo off a cliff not even those caring Swedish engineers will save you. But there are nine vehicle models in which no one in the USA died in the four years from 2009 to 2012. (And they have some terrible drivers.) One of these is the XC90.
The newish XC90 is a huge, square-set and not very pretty SUV. But those who own them swear by them and the resale values have kept very high. The oafish Clarkson has bought four and he doesn't appear to be bothered by collisions, especially between his fist and other people's lips. When it comes to four-wheel drive, family-friendly practicality, the seven seats are all usable for folk who are bigger than midgets. Inside it is spacious and well put together. The dashboard has been admirably decluttered. Our model had one of the best sound systems - by B&W - I've ever heard, although it costs three grand extra. The four-cylinder diesel gets a bit gruff when pushed, but so would you moving nearly 2.5 tonnes about the place.
I was initially foxed by the lane-assist device and couldn't quite work out why it appeared slightly reluctant to cross over the white lines when moving over on the motorway. The claimed average 49.6 mpg is, like most 'official' figures, quite laughable. Bowling along the motorway you get as low as sub-10 mpg if you push on. But if you're able to spend almost £63,000 on a car, as our tested model would cost, this may not be a matter of concern. And, of course, it bristles with safety devices of all Scandi sorts. At least the moose of this world can rest easy they aren't likely to wind up buried in the windscreen.
Volvo XC90 D5 AWD Inscription
Price: £62,275 (as tested)
Engine: 1969cc four cylinder
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 48.7 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 152g/km
Power: 225hp/165kW @ 4,250 rpm
0-62 mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 137 mph