I took Volvo’s flagship SUV XC90 out on a little road trip along the Garden Route and into De Hoop Nature reserve. Initially he was quite reluctant to leave the tarmac with the luxurious Swedish beauty.
It almost feels like I am insulting this clean Scandinavian design piece by thundering along the unpaved road, between Swellendam and the Malgas River. A Land Rover Discovery, one of Volvo’s competitors in the luxury, full-size three-row SUV segment, belongs here. It is always eager to get dirty. But powdering the XC90 with dust feels almost like a sacrilege. But I am getting used to it.
Reaching the only men-drawn pont in Southern Africa, across the Malgas River, I see, that the Nordic god isn’t angry with me. As Thor’s two hammers in the headlights are still shining brightly in all their LED glory. One of the many little details on the slightly facelifted XC90, which was introduced all-new in 2017. Since then it shares the SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) with the S90 sedan and V90 wagon.
On the opposite bank a huge motor-driven ferry is being assembled, getting ready to replace the historic one, that is crossing the Malgas here since 1915. They call it progress. Standing on the creaky wooden planks of the vintage pont, I once again admire the striking exterieur XC90 design with its majestic look. Since Geely Automotive of China purchased Volvo in 2010, the Swedish manufacturer added a third ‘S’ to their vehicles: Sexy. The Nordic cars were always known to be safe (the new one has unsurprisingly a 5star NCAP rating) and solid. I already mentioned Thor’s hammers in the standard LED head lights. The arrow in the Volvo emblem matches the angle of the diagonal chrome crossbar across the slightly larger grille. Another beautiful detail. And obviously everything below 20inch wheels would look mingy on this ride.
Volvo describes their ride as a ‘Scandinavian Sanctuary’. Sitting down in those comfortable leather seats and being surrounded by this tasteful mix of authentic materials, like proper wood, metal and leather I do feel, what they mean by it. The ignition is a switch you turn, not a mere button you push, like in the competition. There is visible and touchable quality everywhere. The interieur is almost comparable to a Rolls, Bentley or Maybach. Definitely a more premium feel than in the Mercedes GLE or BMW X5.
I leave my fingerprints on the dusty 9inch touch screen, which is mounted vertical not horizontal, giving you a tablet feel. Everything is controlled by touch on there, even the different driving modes, from normal to dynamic. The excellent Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, delivering 1476 watts out of 19 speakers, emits a crystal clear sound and reenacts the acoustics of the Gothenburg Cathedral in Volvo’s home town. Another one of those delightful details.
Initially when people saw this two tons and five meters of automobile bliss, they expected a V8 or at least a V6 as the powerplant under the hood, but Volvo downsized even the flagship model to four pots only. To still have sufficient power they used a clever mix of turbo- and supercharging, which helps to forget about the engine size of the small displacement inline four-cylinder.
I am gliding further South, towards De Hoop Nature reserve and the sea, thanks to the optional air suspension fitted to my car, in even more comfort than the regular version. Not on snow-covered highways through dense forests with elk warning signs, but across corrugated, dirt roads through endless open landscapes with the odd Kudu jumping across the road, while I am trailing a large cloud of dust behind me. Meanwhile the setting sun is creating surreally beautiful images in my rear view mirrors.
Is there anything else new in the midlife facelift, that I forgot to mention? Well, there is a new six-seat configuration, with a pair of middle row seats instead of a three-seater bench. Allowing a walk-through space to the back row. Thus creating more space to buy and transport even more bulky IKEA furniture.
And one more really awesome detail: Volvo on Call (VOC). It is a standard feature, initiated by a two-second push of a button at the top right of the rearview mirror. You will then be connected to a real person in a call centre in South Africa. He/she not only helps you with directions, which will be send straight to your navi, but also sends you help in emergencies. And Volvo’s helpers act as your personal travel guides. Guess how I found the coolest place to stay in Knysna (in a former power station) and the best pizza in Plett (on the beach)?
Volvo XC90 T6
Engine 2.0-l. 4 cyl. super- & turbocharged petrol, paired with an 8-speed auto box, all-wheel drive
Power 235kW and 400Nm
Top Speed 215 km/h
0-100km/h 6.5 seconds
Price R1 134 700 (premium pack ‘Inscription’ R66 500, luxury pack R10 500)
There are two more petrol versions available, the T5 (187kW) and the plug-in hybrid T8 (300kW), as well as a diesel, the D5 (173kW).
Cape Nature Conservation granted three concessions to private companies in their most beautiful park De Hoop Nature Reserve: Natural Selection, Morukuru Family & De Hoop Collection.
Lekkerwater Beach Lodge
A world-class, very remote lodge, in the Eastern part of the reserve, with a 6km long undisturbed beach. The attractive eco lodge is build on the footprint of FW De Klerk’s former ‘Camp David’. Times Magazine choose Lekkerwater in October 2019 as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Morukuru Beach Lodge
This stunning architectural marvel is totally off the grid, powered by the sun. Six luxury suites with killer views. Like Lekkerwater a world-class location with excellent cuisine and immaculate service. Both places make South Africa proud.
De Hoop Collection
The former historic Cape Nature Conservation farmhouses and cottages have been renovated and are now properly managed. The most affordable way to stay in De Hoop. The onsite Fig Tree Restaurant serves day visitors as well.
Sky Villa Boutique Hotel
The best overnight stay in Plett. An architectural masterpiece decorated with stunning art and featuring fantastic views over the bay.
The Turbine Hotel & Spa
When last time did you sleep in a former power station? The old machinery was perfectly integrated into the interieur design.