A heated debate developed the other day at the media launch of a new car which is utilising an engine, the origins of which can be traced back to the early 90s.
My theory is that so long as the design can meet the latest efficiency and emission standards, and it has been developed so that it has kept pace with a buyer's expectation of refinement and ability, then it seems a waste of resources not to use that technology.
Volvo are an example where an old engine is the basis for their latest product and there is nothing wrong with that, the inline five-cylinder engine which can be currently found in the newly-released XC90 has given the company sterling service and has become one of my favourites, simply because it is honest and has character.
The latter is more noticeable now than ever, in the XC90, the 2.4-litre diesel-fed unit is quite audible, there's no doubt the engine is working harder than ever before, dragging around 2125kg, and its output is bordering on what must the maximum given its design parameters.
Nevertheless, I have great affection for the five-potter, it's been the powerplant which has given life to Ford's Focus performance models, and it has spread itself widely through Volvo's own product, both petrol and diesel fed.
The XC90 is one of three Volvo SUVs counting the XC60 and XC70; XC, incidentally, an abbreviation of cross country. The XC90 is by far the biggest of the group and it feels like a big car, it's not cumbersome, but there is a lot of onboard space which translates to comfort, however, it has been engineered to fulfil the role of capable family transport with ability when the seal runs out.
With a generous 218mm of ground clearance the XC90 isn't disgraced off-road, it isn't a complete off-roader but it does have some prowess, the suspension is well firmed to cope with the rough stuff and the drive system is engineered so that grip is maintained at critical times. I took the test car on an easy Rakaia River track which had a solid boulder base and it eased through the undulating terrain with delicate throttle balance and gentle slow speed motion.
The throttle mechanism can be maintained to promote a moderate effect on the engine, power is transferred through a six-speed automatic gearbox and with a sequential shifting system, gears can be locked depending on speed required.
The latter also has its uses, avoiding hunting on hill work and for changing down when approaching a stop are some.
Volvo rate the 20-valve, twin-cammer at a healthy 147kW and 420Nm, it is turbocharged to provide solid power delivery between 1900rpm and 2800rpm, in that part of the rev band the engine is strong and willing, it's a bit gruff but it works to initiate strong acceleration and fluid drive through the transmission.
According to Volvo, the XC90 will accelerate to 100km/h from a standstill in 10.3sec. They also claim a top speed of 205km/h which suggests the engine is still capable of meeting today's performance demands.
It is also an engine which, in diesel form, could be regarded as a fuel miser. Volvo has produced an 8.3-litre per 100km combined cycle claim which equates to 34mpg. The trip computer was constantly listing around 9.4l/100km (30mpg) during the time the XC90 was in my care which wasn't that far distant, helped by an 8.8l/100km (32mpg) figure travelling at 100km/h, the engine turning over leisurely at 1800rpm.
I'm sure the average figure could be improved upon, I enjoyed the surge of the engine and constantly fed it with more fuel that what would probably be deemed to be the norm. But it is an engine which tempts the driver, and I couldn't resist.
At open road speed it cruises quietly and capably, the long flowing corners of Canterbury's high country don't test its handling ability. It's quite composed with controlled body balance and reasonable directional accuracy, given its bulk. It's fair to say, though, the suspension damping rates are set towards the hard side, there is enough compliance so that occupant comfort isn't jeopardised, but it has a far from soft ride.
And therein lies a little twist with the XC90, it is available here in two specifications, Executive and R-Design, the test car was the latter and it has what Volvo describe as sport suspension, comfort suspension is fitted to the Executive.
In terms of handling, I liked the sport set-up, the body is balanced evenly over the suspension, gravitational forces don't work against its composure in a corner.
In the tighter stuff the big 19in sport specification Pirelli PZero rubber (255/50) works hard to maintain composure, but there is no lack of grip and information of how the tyres are doing is well delivered to the driver.
Other R-Design features amount to mostly trim detailing and wheel style.
Four variants of the XC90 are listed by Volvo for New Zealand, they all land at $89,990, incidentally, there's a choice of petrol or diesel, the six-cylinder petrol engine is also an old timer but has been developed to keep pace with the competition.
Major features for that price include full leather trim, satellite navigation, four-zone climate control, Bluetooth/USB/iPod compatible audio, reversing camera and cruise control.
Volvo are strong on safety; column space doesn't allow comprehensive detailing, but one that I must make a mention of are the integrated rear seat child booster cushions. My kids loved them when they were primary school age, it's a quirky Volvo idea from the past, but incredibly functional, nonetheless.
And that is part of the XC's make-up, it is a family-friendly station wagon which can carry seven occupants with ease and in style. While it's price is out of reach for a lot of big wagon buyers, it is very competitive against other luxury SUVs. I'd have one just for the engine sound alone.