Reinvention of flagship Volvo is set to define the maker’s future ethos
Volvo’s third electric car will be the unconventionally shaped successor to the hugely popular XC90 SUV – and it will set the tone for a whole family of new EVs from the Swedish manufacturer.
Due in 2022 as a production-ready version of the bold Concept Recharge shown earlier this year, the new arrival will provide Volvo with a long-awaited entry into the increasingly important full-sized electric SUV segment, into which most premium-oriented manufacturers have launched their debut EVs in recent years. Volvo’s existing pure EVs, the XC40 Recharge and coupé-backed C40 Recharge, sit a segment lower and use the same CMA platform as the conventionally fuelled XC40.
Meanwhile, the XC90 successor, which will be given a name rather than a number in production form, will use Volvo’s new SPA2 platform. This evolved version of the current car’s architecture will accommodate a choice of combustion and pure-electric powertrains. It will be the first production car to use the new underpinnings before they are rolled out to other Volvo models and sibling brands owned by parent company Geely Auto. As part of a new platform-sharing agreement, Geely will in turn offer Volvo access to its latest SEA architecture.
The Concept Recharge heavily hinted at how Volvo will ensure its new flagship EV retains the XC90’s core characteristics while ushering in a totally new approach to exterior and cabin design, as well as a host of advanced new technologies. The Swedish brand’s biggest model remains a consistently strong seller, even as the current, second-generation car enters its seventh and final year on sale. In the first 10 months of 2021 alone, the XC90 accounted for around 6.5% of Volvo’s global sales, putting it third only to its XC60 and XC40 SUV siblings.
So although the XC90 successor will adopt a radically different design, it will continue to major on space and practicality. The ‘less is more’ approach exhibited by the concept points to an enhanced focus on minimalistic design in Volvo’s new electric era, as well as a drive to minimise the well-to-wheel environmental impact of each vehicle it produces.
Unlike the vast majority of mixed-powertrain platforms currently on the market, the SPA2 will be offered in two distinct forms. This will allow the electric XC90 successor to benefit from a completely flat floor, shortened overhangs and a more overtly cabforward stance, whereas the combustion-engined versions will have slightly more familiar interior proportions, given the need to accommodate an engine, transmission and exhaust system.
Some of the concept’s more outlandish and futuristic cues will be toned down for production – the four free-standing seats, for example. However, the skateboard-style architecture will offer new levels of interior space and flexibility, which concept designer Robin Page likened to a “Scandinavian living room feeling”. To that end, the production car will ditch physical controls for a cleaner and simpler driver environment. Most of the functions will be controlled through a large-format central touchscreen using operating software developed by Google – as first adopted by the XC40 Recharge and Polestar 2.
However, Volvo’s next SUV will not be so easily categorised as an SUV because, although it sits high off the ground and emphasises all-round visibility like the current car, it has a straighter-edged two-box silhouette reminiscent of estate cars such as the 240, 940 and V70, which once ranked among the Swedish marque’s most important and best-selling models. Company boss Håkan Samuelsson recently told Autocar that Volvo will gradually downsize its conventional estate offering – currently comprising various forms of the V60 and V90 – in recognition of the simple fact that “people really are fond of high seating positions”.
The XC90 successor will therefore straddle the boundary between two segments to capitalise on the popularity of SUVs while differentiating itself from rivals and avoiding alienating buyers of lower-slung models. Page called it “a new type of vehicle”, which “displays new and modern proportions that go hand in hand with increased versatility” – hinting at the potential for other Volvo models to follow suit in blending design cues from different segments.
Volvo remains guarded about details of the new car’s powertrain offering, but the firm’s well-publicised push to reduce emissions across its line-up means all combustion variants will feature some form of electrification, be they mild hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Diesel will not be offered at all. It remains an option on certain Volvo models but will be phased out entirely as the brand’s line-up is refreshed.
The electric variant, meanwhile, could usher in entirely new powertrain setups distinct from those offered on the CMA-based XC40, C40 and Polestar 2 EVs, while four-wheel drive is highly likely to be standard, given its large SUV billing. Volvo will offer a choice of battery sizes on its new EVs, giving buyers the option of standard and long-range versions, the latter capable of travelling up to 310 miles between charges.
Dynamically led 3 to spearhead Polestar expansion
Electric performance brand Polestar will use the SPA2 architecture for its crucial second series-production model, the 3 SUV, as it continues to differentiate itself from part-owner Volvo.
Although the 3 and the XC90 successor will be close relations technically, Polestar’s own take on the large electric SUV will feature a unique design and interior set-up, as well as distinct performance and dynamic characteristics.
The first hint of the 3’s final look came with the unveiling of the Precept concept in 2020. Although that car has itself now been confirmed for production in 2025 as the 5, Polestar’s new SUV will still draw heavily on its defining design cues, namely its sharp-looking front end, its coupé-style sloping roof and the raised wraparound rear light bar.
A recent preview image of the 3 left much to the imagination but it gave further clues about how it will be set apart from its Volvo sibling. Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said the model’s defining characteristics will be its “incredible power and stance”.
The 3 will be sold exclusively as an EV, as with its 2 sibling, and Ingenlath confirmed to Autocar that while the Volvo will be offered with seven seats, the 3 will have only two rows of seating in line with its sportier and more luxurious positioning.
For the same reason, the 3 will get more power in top-rung guises, allowing it to compete more effectively with hot electric SUVs like the Audi E-tron S and upcoming Porsche Macan EV. Single- and dual-motor powertrains will be available, catering to customer preferences in different regions, so the 3 will essentially give the same standard- and long-range offering as the 2.
The 3 will be simultaneously produced for the US alongside Volvo’s electric SUV in Ridgeville, South Carolina, and for various other global markets, including Europe, at Polestar’s own facility in Chengdu, China, which will keep production and shipping costs down while minimising the car’s environmental impact.
Due on sale in the first quarter of 2023 after a reveal in 2022, shortly after the Volvo, the 3 is expected to command a premium over its sibling at a starting price of £64,000, which will make it the top-rung Polestar model until the 5 arrives in 2025.