YOU WOULD always expect the next generation of a car to be better than the last ...

that's the way it should be. But Volvo's new XC90 has blasted that notion out of the water.

It's not better ... it's from another planet compared to the old model. Yes, it's that good.

The XC90 is a popular UK vehicle and some 55,000 have been sold since it first dared to challenge the Land Rover/Range Rover products way back in 2002. So, for Volvo UK, a new XC90 is a big deal and recently it became its fastest selling model in 20 years.

Fans won't be disappointed and I would think that this newbie has the ability to steal customers away from the likes of Audi's Q7, BMW's X5 as well as Land Rover's Discovery/Discovery Sport.

Let's start with how it looks. It has managed to subtlely retain that signature 'shoulder-pad' rear look from the old model, but refine it so that it does not jar in quite the same way. It looks much bigger, though it isn't by much - it's longer by 143mm and wider by 28mm - and there's a purpose about the stance that was missing in the old model. It looks pretty good, but as is the way of it these days, the colour is all-important. White doesn't do it for me.

Seat designs is an oft overlooked area, but it's one that the Swedish company excels in. The new slim-look ones on the XC90 are superb, even for those of a rotund persuasion like me! That means there's tonnes of space for rear passengers and, in football parlance, it comes in a 2:3:2 formation, with two pull-up seats as a third row ... and they are even suitable for smallish adults, as opposed to just kids.

The most striking thing in the interior, though, is the leather-bound dashboard, which very much looks the part and there's a sophisticated use of new technology, especially the centre touchscreen which is eight-inches deep in the entry-level Momentum versions but 12.3 inches in the upper Inscription trim. The dash also has a little overhang on it which helps screen the screen from glare.

It's a bit like a fixed i-Pad and the touchscreen will be familiar to those who use such. It really was easy to use, but could it be a bit of distraction while you're driving? In the system you will find lots of options on heating, handling and, of course, the sound system. On the tested vehicle, this was an absolutely stunning Bowers and Wilkins set-up, which had little brushed aluminium speakers almost everywhere - it was true surround-sound. It also includes Volvo's Sensus navigation (with internet access, traffic information and free lifetime updates).

On the hard engineering side of things, Volvo's much loved - and used - D5 2.0-litre turbo diesel is the mainstay engine, though there's a go-faster, 320hp T5 petrol available too. The diesel is a well-proven unit and is rated at 225hp for the XC90.

It is quite a smooth operator, even when put under pressure. A lot of that is down to the silky changeovers from the eight-speed automatic gearbox and in normal operation, it's even hard to spot the changes up or down and a wee glance at the rpm dial is sometimes the only clue.

The all-wheel-drive system is made by Haldex and is an 'on-demand' type, so there's no low box and no diff lock. There is, however, the option of having an air suspension system fitted which can have five different driving modes.

Volvo's always been a pioneer of safety and in this model we have two world first safety technologies - a run-off road protection package and auto brake at intersection capability.

In a run-off road scenario, it detects what is happening and the front safety belts are tightened to keep the occupants in position. To help prevent spine injuries, energy-absorbing functionality between the seat and seat frame cushions the vertical forces that can arise when the car encounters a hard landing in the terrain.

The other feature enacts automatic braking if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car. This is a common scenario at busy city crossings as well as on highways, where the speed limits are higher.

City Safety is now the umbrella name for all of Volvo Cars' auto brake functions, which are standard equipment in the all-new XC90. This now covers vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in front of the car, day and night - in Glasgow, that proved an invaluable assist, given the number of jay-walkers and King of the Road cyclists around.

Three trim levels as much in line with other ranges that Volvo have - starting with the Momentum, through to R-Design and the top of the pile Incription. However, even the bottom rung models have an impressive array of gear, including leather faced upholstery, two-zone automatic climate control (with pollen filter), power tailgate and some pretty comprehensive interior lighting, including for the load area.

Compared to others in this sector, it all looks quite handily priced too. The range starts at just below £46k while a top of the range diesel comes in at £50 below £50k. Opting for the more powerful petrol adds quite a bit to you bottom line, with the cheapest at £48,800 and the dearest £53,200, while you can save the planet with a hybrid from £60k which a claimed 134.5mpg capability. But the diesel is pretty thrifty too, and you can expect close to 50mpg in normal running.