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We've finally had a chance to play around with the new EX90, Volvo's EV replacement for the flagship XC90

By John Howell / Monday, 8 May 2023 / Loading comments

I’ll be honest, when I walked into Volvo’s studio in Gothenburg for a pep talk about the all-new EX90, the replacement for the XC90, I walked right by the new car. In my defence, I was expecting this grand new model to be revealed with some fanfare. A silk cover being pulled off to some music, perhaps – Swedish, obviously; maybe Ace of Base’s Beautiful Life – but no. There it was, about 30 feet away over in a corner and, viewed head on, it looked distinctly like the new XC40 I’d driven the day before. It has a similar front end, you see, with no grille. But the fact I missed it is a good thing, I reckon.

When you see it side on it’s clearly a lot bigger than an XC40, but it continues the theme of the current XC90 by looking classy and discrete. It’s more chiselled and tauter, perhaps, but familiar. On that subject, I asked Örjan Sterner, Senior Design Manager Exterior, a question that’s been bugging me for ages: why do so many other manufacturers produce aggressive and, in my opinion, ugly cars, claiming it’s to appeal to the Chinese market, when a car company that’s owned by the Chinese continues to produce some of the most elegant designs around?

“We are Scandinavian,” said Sterner. “We want to be humble, produce a minimalist design but one that’s still confident”. I asked him whether there was pressure to make the designs more aggressive to sell more cars in China? “We have no thoughts to change our design language”. I breathed a sigh of relief at that. And if the worst thing you can say about the EX90 is it’s too humble, too familiar, then I’ll take that over an XM any day.

It’s not short of clever details, though, like the signature Thor Hammer DRLs. They’re made up of segments in two horizontal rows butted together. When you turn on the headlights, the rows split apart to reveal the headlight lenses behind. It sounds odd, and it is when you see it operate, but it’s bloody cool, I promise. With the headlights off it’s very much like the car’s slumbering with its eyelids shut. Then they open like it’s watching you. It gives the EX90 an organic presence. The rear also looks good, but less animated. It has Volvo’s distinctive C-shaped lights that also made the Polestar 1 looks so amazing from the rear. 

Like most designers, Sterner’s job was influenced heavily by tech and aero. The results of this approach can both enhance and detract from what’s ideal. For instance, the flush-fitting glass looks slick but the closed grille, as I said, looks a bit bland. I don’t mind the 22-inch aero wheels with plastic inserts and covered wheel nuts, though, which help to minimise turbulence but look pretty good, too. The EX90’s drag coefficient, by the way, is 0.286, while the current XC90’s is 0.31. Thank God the EX90 has proper door mirrors, though.

There are cameras underneath those mirrors, but they are merely one facet of the EX90’s huge arsenal of video and radar systems used for safety and autonomous driving; they don’t provide images for the driver. This is because Volvo, quite rightly, has concluded that mirrors are better and less distracting than screens. Also, mirrors are legal in every country while cameras aren’t, and while they have an aero benefit that’s in part offset by their added power consumption and weight. And having used the Audi Q8 e-tron’s side cameras, my opinion is they’re downright dangerous.

Right, I mentioned autonomous driving. If you stare at the front of the EX90 and you can’t help thinking about a London taxi because of the ‘For Hire’ light on the roof then rest assured it’s actually for the car’s LiDAR sensor (you get the feeling there were a few arguments over this). Programme lead for the EX90, Mårten Wahlstedt, said this is the only place the LiDAR could go; it has to be high up to see as far as possible in poor weather conditions. Sterner, meanwhile, seemed ill at ease talking about it. He did concede it is the only solution with the technology as its stands, but hopes with improvements to the technology its addition will become less visually intrusive on later models.

It is certainly not the car’s best feature, put it that way, but it does make the EX90 level 3 capable. As with all the other technology onboard, the level of hardware should see the model through for a few years according to Wahlstedt, even if it can never be future-proofed entirely. Right now, however, you might be surprised to learn that the EX90 isn’t being sold with Level 3 status like the current Mercedes S-Class. This is because Wahlstedt says there is no point.

The legislation is currently so restrictive about what you can do with level 3 autonomy, and the circumstances when it can be used so rare, that he sees no real benefit to drivers right now. He has a point. The Mercedes system can only be used on specific roads with a central divider between oncoming traffic, at speeds below 37mph, only in congestion, only when there’s a car in front to lock on to, and only in good weather conditions. So Volvo is waiting until it is allowed to sanction something more valuable.

Other future-proofing includes the ‘stable electrical infrastructure’ to run its multitude of systems. This hardware uses a core computer connected to many different nodes around the car. This core computer can download any updates over wifi and distribute the relevant packets of information to the nodes that need it.

Wahlstedt told me that the platform the car sits on has ‘almost nothing carried over from the XC90’. It’s been built to optimise the benefits of a BEV car, such as a low-mounted battery to keep the centre of gravity down, as well as maximise passenger space. This was one of the fundamental principles of the car’s design. Unsurprisingly, he described it as a ‘skateboard’ platform, with the now familiar theme of the battery laid flat below the floor.

In launch spec, the battery is 111kWh gross and 107kWh usable, which delivers a WLTP range of 360 miles. With 400-volt onboard capacity, it can be charged at up to 250kW, which enables what is a massive battery to be charged from 10 to 80 per cent in as little as 30 minutes. The battery is also bi-directional, so as well as consuming energy it can release it – either to run appliances, such as kettles when you’re out and about, or at home it could supply energy to run your house or even feed back into the grid.

At present, the EX90 is all-wheel drive with one motor on each axle, although don’t be surprised to see cheaper rear-wheel-drive models appearing later down the line. The system output for the Twin Motor is 408hp and 568lb ft, which, despite weighing 2,818kg in running order, delivers 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds. The Twin Motor Performance drops that time to 4.9 seconds thanks to increased outputs of 517hp and 671lb ft. Both front and rear motors are the permanent magnet type.

Unlike the new XC40, which has a motor developed in-house by Volvo, the EX90’s motors are developed with an engineering partner. The rear motor features a torque vectoring de-clutch system, which means it can be disconnected for efficiency, but the official energy consumption of 2.9m/kWh isn’t that great. It also offers torque vectoring wheel control, though, to aid agility and safety.

We’re told this is the safest Volvo yet, although the company’s previous claim that no one will die in a Volvo beyond 2020 still hasn’t come to fruition. It now seems that’s an ideal rather than a realistic aim. The focus on safety includes an infrared sensor and a camera looking at the driver. If the car notices any inattentiveness along with some poor driving it can take over. If the driver is completely unresponsive, then the EX90 can pull over and stop the at side of the road if necessary. It can also connect to other cars through its 5G antenna using vehicle-to-X communication to share live data like traffic issues. It also has occupant sensing with radars that can pick up the smallest movement to prevent children or pets being left unintentionally in the car.

The EX90 is also said to be one of the comfiest Volvos ever. It sits on twin-chamber air springs and a lot of attention has been paid to the car’s NVH. I haven’t driven it, of course, so have no idea whether the comfort or NVH claims stand up, but I’ve sat in it and it’s a jolly nice place to be. For a start, there are masses of room in the first two rows. That includes the second-row middle rear seat, which has loads of headroom and the flat floor means you’re not straddling a transmission tunnel. The rear seating position isn’t too low, either, like it can be in some BEVs. That makes the seating position feel natural and all three second-row seats slide and recline. This is also one of the few seven-seat EVs. The two fold-out third-row seats have decent legroom, although headroom is tight for adults over 5’10”.

The useful thing is there are still 310 litres of boot space even with the third row of seats in use. Thoughtfully, there’s also space to stow the tonneau cover under the boot floor when the back seats are up and plenty of room under the floor for charging cables. In five-seat mode, the boot is a huge 655-litres with up to 1,915 litres available when all the back seats are folded flat.

The basic driving position is also sound – the siting of the seats, steering wheel, pedals; that sort of thing – but one thing that got my back up is the lack of buttons. For a car company obsessed with safety, why has Volvo ditched buttons in favour of screen icons? At best you can argue the benefit is a cleaner dashboard, but there is no tangible benefit to the EX90’s touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons over normal buttons than you can use by feel. I mentioned this and, as always, the answer was you can use the natural speech voice assistant. My answer was, as always, that they simply don’t work well enough. To be fair, I didn’t try it because the infotainment suite on this pre-production car was a beta version for demonstration purposes rather than a representation of the final suite. The 15-inch screen is clear and the menus appear to be well organised at least, as in the 9.0-inch instrument screen.

Despite being a pre-prod car the fit and finish was pretty good and, mostly, the material quality excellent. The choice of inlay is light ash or birch wood, which, along with the metal speaker grilles, gift the cabin a truly premium feel but with typical clean, Swedish design. That said, the plastics on the lower sections of the cards aren’t great for a car that starts at £96,255 for the Twin Motor and stretches to £100,555 for the Twin Motor Performance. Naturally, there was much talk about sustainability, too. This included animal welfare-certified wool that’s grown in a sustainable way, and instead of leather, the EX90 uses Volvo’s synthetic equivalent called Nordico, which is made recycled polythene and pine resin. If all that sounds like your sort of jam, the EX90 is already available to order, with UK deliveries starting from Q1 next year. Expect to discover what it’s like to drive before then. 

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