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What's new: Swede and lowdown on classy XC90; Volvo are on cutting edge of innovation.

Byline: GRAME LENNOX

THE Swedes are a curious bunch, aren't they?

First up in the Seventies, we had the cool composure of Bjorn Borg, the unstinting chart success of Abba and the relentless efficiency of Volvo.

All of them great at what they did - none of them exciting enough to set the world on fire.

Just as it seemed as if the Scandinavians were living up to their dull-as-ditch-water stereotype, along came sensations like Henrik Larsson, Ulrika Jonsson and err...Volvo again.

Volvo have transformed themselves from fuddy-duddy, middle-aged car maker into a streamlined, dynamic, major player at the cutting edge of innovation.

The string of vehicles that now line the Volvo garage are strong on image and appeal.

The C70 is one of the most stylish and refined cars of its kind, the S80 beats its German rivals hands down and the S60 has brought a new elegance to the compact executive saloon.

Invigorated by a new lease of life, bosses last year promised to release a wacky, new concept car every year for the next five years. The fantastic new XC90 shows Volvo have turned the corner.

This chunky all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle was one of the safest and most exciting cars making its debut at the recent Detroit Motor Show. But this concept car will make it on to the road.

With its V-shaped bonnet and pronounced shoulders, it looks like it has been hewn from the side of a mountain, rather than constructed, section by section, by hi-tech robots.

Chief designer Peter Horbury says: "It's masculine but not macho; muscular but not aggressive. Nobody should be in any doubt that this is a modern Volvo."

The XC90 is the first so-called "crossover" car from the Swedes.

It combines the size of an estate with the versatility of an MPV and the ruggedness of a 4x4.

The passenger compartment has been shoved as far forward as possible and the sloping windscreen is positioned further forward than in most sport utility vehicles.

This has allowed Volvo to squeeze a seven-seater SUV within compact overall dimensions. At 4.8 metres, the Volvo XC90 is just 8.7cm longer than a Volvo V70 estate car.

The interior is characterised by airiness, space and quality materials. Facing the driver is one of the car world's best-designed instrument panels.

Rollover is a potential danger for any 4x4. Luckily, the XC90 overcomes this with an innovative stability-enhancement system. Gyros measure the car's roll speed and angle. When it reaches a critical stage, the system reduces the power and brakes one or more wheels to regain stability.

To prevent heads striking the car's sides, curtain airbags run alongside all three rows of seats.

Volvo are the first European carmaker to offer "night vision" as an option. Infra-red technology allows the driver to see up to five times further than is possible with conventional low beam.

The Volvo XC90 is designed for all types of road and weather conditions.

The combination of electronically controlled four-wheel drive and 22cm of ground clearance means it is equipped for the harshest conditions.

The four-wheel drive system monitors the vehicle's contact with the underlying road surface.

In normal driving on dry roads, almost all power goes to the front wheels.

If they slip on a road surface, power is diverted to the rear wheels. Sensors detect any slip within one-seventh of a wheel turn and react in an instant.

The XC90 is available in the UK with a choice of 2.9-litre petrol or 2.4-litre diesel engine, both made entirely of aluminium.

Those environmentally-friendly Swedes have ensured the petrol engine meets European requirements that come into force in 2005.

Volvo is the first carmaker in the world to launch Dolby Pro-logic II in a car audio system, which boasts 140 watts of crystal clear sound.

A DVD player with a 7in wide screen can be fitted in the roof for the benefit of passengers in the second and third rows of seats.

The RTI (Road and Traffic Information) navigation system has a lucid 6.5in wide-screen display that pops up from the instrument panel at the touch of a button on the steering wheel.

We will not get our first glance of the car in the UK until the Birmingham Motor Show in October.

At least by then we will be able to tell how many arms and legs it is going to cost.
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Title Annotation:Fastlane
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 10, 2002
Words:737
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