The XC90 SUV was a real landmark car for Volvo – both when it was first launched back in 2002, and when this second-generation model arrived in 2014. Clever and practical inside, with the finish of a luxury car, it’s also forward-looking in the engines it uses, decent value for money and smartly styled enough to appeal to the many while offending few. And you certainly can’t say that about all SUVs.
Did you know? The current XC90 is longer and wider than its predecessor – but surprisingly, it’s also a little lower
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The sublime Volvo XC90 is the car that began the Swedish firm’s current momentum. Replacing a model that seemed to miss out an entire lifecycle upgrade, it was a huge leap on at launch and remains so today. Now a genuine alternative to an Audi Q7 or BMW X5, it’s good enough to have given Land Rover engineers a few headaches when developing the new Discovery. Those in any doubt about Volvo’s future as a premium brand had their concerns quickly assuaged by the XC90 – it really is that good.
Design & Exterior
Interior & Comfort
Technology & Connectivity
Performance & Handling
Spec & Trim Levels
Running Costs & Fuel Economy
Sheer comfort and practicality
Safety standards are sky-high
We Don’t Like
Air suspension is not standard
Neither is Apple CarPlay
Doesn’t quite have the big-engine muscle to out-lux some of its rivals
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Design & Exterior: (9/10)
The first model to wear Volvo’s elegant and refined new look, the XC90 oozes class. It’s clearly inspired by the original, itself a groundbreaking seven-seat luxury SUV, but is so very contemporary in every detail, not least the strongly but softly-sculpted front end with its bold grille and ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlamp running light pattern. Even the point in the Volvo logo now lines up with the strake across the grille.
Strong shoulders and reasonably upright sides give it an assertive look, but it’s not too boxy and formal like, say, a Range Rover is. There’s fluidity to the lines, which contrasts to the more angular cut of an Audi Q7, and it’s also a style that seems to conceal the Volvo’s considerable size reasonably well. Add in some lovely paint colours and you’ve a Volvo fit to grace the classiest driveways in town.
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Interior & Comfort: (10/10)
The exterior is fine: the interior of the Volvo XC90 is delectable. In wonderful contrast to the upright formality of German alternatives, it is warm, comforting, beautifully detailed and so thoroughly Scandinavian throughout. You can choose very Swedish-style woods and light, welcoming colour schemes, or go for mean and moody black with aluminium trim: it looks good in either, but is at its most natural when embracing its Scandinavian roots. The tiniest details, such as the knurled metal starter toggle, show the thought that’s gone into this car.
In the centre of the dash sits a portrait-style touchscreen, part of the Volvo Sensus connectivity system, which remains a talking point even several years after launch. Super-crisp in clarity, most of the car’s functions are controlled using it, via pinch, swipe and scroll menus that mimic a tablet computer. If you can use an iPad, you can use this: you’ll also appreciate the need to familiarise yourself with it before it becomes entirely intuitive.
Build quality is superb. Volvo has really stepped up its game with this XC90. There’s proper solidity and premium finish to all the surfaces, and even details such as the door handles, sliding centre tray cover and the column stalks feel rich and built to last. It’s also a very, very comfortable machine. It goes without saying that Volvo’s seats are top-notch, with this comfort extending to those in the rear, too. The soft finish of all the surfaces is lounge-like, compared to the more modern starkness of its rivals.
The interior fills you with wellbeing. Seats are mounted high, the windows are big and the shoulder line is low, flooding the cabin with light and giving a sit-up, commanding view out. It feels extremely safe and secure, generally a lovely place in which to spend time and watch the world pass by. Volvo has created an atmosphere rather unique here, and it’s a key part of the XC90’s appeal.
Front seats benefit from the height off the ground and the flexibility of Volvo’s clever new underpinnings, which it calls SPA – Scalable Platform Architecture. This also liberates tremendous space in the middle row seats, which are now much more comfortable than before. The middle-seat passenger is perhaps a little short-changed, but those on the outer two pews should be as comfortable as those up front. The third-row seats aren’t bad either, and 95th percentile adults will find them tolerable, even if a Land Rover Discovery is much roomier still.
As with the innovative original, the third-row seats fold flat into the boot floor, and you can raise them individually should you need to move around in six-seat mode and pack in a bit more luggage than the 451 litres you get in seven-seat mode. Drop both rear seats and it expands enormously to 1102 litres, and in two-seat mode, it rockets again to 1951 litres. Do note, because of its batteries, the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid has a slightly smaller boot: between 262 and 1816 litres.
Every Volvo XC90 has a power-operated tailgate, and the maximum height of loads you can slide in is an ample 816 mm.
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Technology & Connectivity: (9/10)
Volvo’s all-singing Sensus connectivity system is masterminded through the central 9in active TFT display. Within this, navigation is standard – compete with traffic avoidance – and both DAB and Bluetooth are also included. If you want, you can use voice activation, and Volvo includes three years of Volvo On Call safety and security, complete with an app so you can monitor your XC90 from afar.
The one obvious omission is Apple CarPlay: you can have it, but have to pay extra for it. This seems uncharacteristically mean of Volvo and costs it a point for connectivity here.
There are plenty of other tech features to take your mind off it. All XC90s have an 8in digital driver’s info display, LED headlights, hill descent control for the rare instances you take your Volvo SUV off road, adaptive cruise control and keyless go. That electric tailgate can be opened and closed hands-free, and front LED foglights include cornering foglights – oh, and the headlight main beam is automatic as well.
Move up the range and more is included, such as a 12.3in fully-digital instrument pack, active bending headlights, heated windscreen and multicolour interior lighting. But every XC90 has enough to feel like a tech front-runner, and that’s even before we get onto safety: as you’ll soon see, Volvo’s leading the way there, too…
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Performance & Handling: (8/10)
Classy and cultured describes how the XC90 drives – provided you make a few key choices on the options list. One of them is Active Four-C adaptive air suspension, which costs a few thousand pounds but is thoroughly worth it for the extra scope and control it brings to the XC90. Another is considering avoiding R-Design models, and certainly those with enormous 22-inch wheels: the ride is a bit on the too-firm side and doesn’t quite feel as cohesive as other XC90s.
A Momentum or Inscription XC90 with air suspension is a wonderfully relaxing and cosseting machine to drive or be driven in. Noise levels are super-low, the ride is pliant and plush, and the whole car has a grace that perfectly complements its fine cabin. It’s an easy drive too, with light, tight steering, fuss-free engines and a smooth eight-speed automatic.
Handling is, perhaps inevitably, less of a priority. You won’t get the same satisfaction you derive from a BMW X5, or even a Land Rover Discovery. It doesn’t descend into excessive roll – well, certainly not if you’ve wisely specced air suspension – but it’s not a car likely to invigorate. On B-roads, admire the fine and level body control instead of the detail you’re getting back from the road below.
Also don’t look for the engines to perform miracles. The D5 PowerPulse AWD is OK, for a four-cylinder engine, and the lag-reducing PowerPulse tech is effective, but it ultimately lacks big-engine shove and becomes rather vocal and clattery when you really press on. There’s a T6 alternative that you’d be mad to choose, plus the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid that offers smooth-running electric-only silence in eco mode and a quite ludicrous turn of pace when you’re not: 0-62mph takes just 5.6 seconds!
Recommended engine: 2.0 D5 PowerPulse AWD
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Safety Features: (10/10)
Volvo is a company with a reputation for safety and the XC90 does not disappoint. It goes without saying that it has a five-star Euro NCAP safety score, with the 2015 test registering an amazing 97% for adult occupant protection and a full 100% for safety assist systems. As it was tested to the latest super-strict standards, this is an outstanding result for Volvo.
A truckload of safety features is standard, and have been continually enhanced since the car’s launch. Autonomous emergency braking called City Safety now includes pedestrian, cyclist and large animal protection, and will both assist you stering round obstacles or fully auto-braking to avoid or mitigate them. There are systems that detect roadside lane edges to help you remain within them, to monitor your alertness, and the XC90 will even actually stop you running off the road entirely if you really get distracted.
Cruise control includes Volvo’s Pilot Assist system, a form of autonomous drive that takes care of accelerating, braking and steering at speeds of up to 80mph. The driver alert system monitors you to check you’re not tired (or not paying attention entirely), there’s a system that reads road signs and, if your XC90 senses you’ve turned into the path of an oncoming vehicle, it will slam on the brakes to again minimise the impact. There’s not a safer SUV on British roads.
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Specs and Trim Levels: (9/10)
There’s a three-tier colour range with the XC90. The two solid choices are Passion Red and Ice White – the former is restricted to the sporty R-Design model. For normal metallics, it’s Savile Grey, Twilight Bronze, Bright Silver, Osmium Grey, Onyx Black, Luminous Sand, Maple Brown, Denim Blue and Pine Grey.
There are three premium metallics: Electric Silver, Crystal White and Bursting Blue – the latter, again, restricted just to the R-Design. Some of the other browns and blues are, conversely, not offered on R-Design. Because who wants a sporty SUV in Maple Brown?
The range goes Momentum, R-Design, Inscription: Momentum is core, R-Design is sporty and Inscription is ultra-posh. You can also get ‘Pro’ version of R-Design and Inscription, with extra luxury features within.
Every XC90 has a mammoth standard spec, though. With heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, 19-inch alloys, sat nav, autonomous Pilot Assist tech and the plethora of safety features, it’s only air suspension and Apple CarPlay that’s really lacking. As for luxury options, the world’s your oyster, meaning you really can fork out to turn the XC90 into every inch the luxury limo.
Size and Dimensions
It’s longer and wider than the original XC90, but this latest model is at least a little lower, dipping beneath the 1.8-metre level. All models can tow an unbraked trailer of 750kg – yes, even the eco-focused T8. Although how long the batteries would drive you when towing such a mass remains to be seen.
Max towing weight without brake
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Running Costs & Fuel Economy: (8/10)
Volvo’s downsized engine range makes sense when you look at fuel economy and CO2, although the D5 PowerPulse AWD perhaps isn’t as striking as you’d expect for a four-cylinder turbodiesel: it averages just under 50mpg and emits 149g/km CO2. The T6 is more impressive (for a petrol), with an average 34.9mpg, and the T8 Twin Engine is fantastic with 134.5mpg combined (so long as the batteries are charged, that is).
Reliability and servicing
The previous XC90 could be niggly, particularly with engines, suspension and electrics, but the latest one should be a lot better there. Volvo’s put tireless engineering into this new architecture and it certainly feels built to last.
Servicing has gone high-tech: you can book it through the Sensus Connect system, and there’s an element of remote diagnosis there too. Add in the Volvo app, for a particularly painless ownership experience. Service intervals themselves are an ultra-long 18,000 miles.
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Volvo XC90 prices are pitched to compare with premium rivals (most notably the Audi Q7) – so, at launch, marked a big step up over the outgoing car. Today’s Momentum entry-level model is extremely well-equipped though, making it a good-value buy for well under lb50,000 – although the price soon exceeds this once you add on metallic paint, Apple CarPlay and air suspension. A Land Rover Discovery opens more cheaply, but is less well equipped: it too becomes comparable with the XC90 once you’ve spec-matched.
R-Design sits between Momentum and Inscription, and Volvo expects this to sell strongly in the UK. Catering for those seeking more luxury, both upper-range trims are available with Pro packs, which adds more luxury kit for a premium of around lb4300.
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D5 PowerPulse AWD Momentum – Everything you need as standard for less than lb50,000 (so long as you don’t mind the lack of air suspension)
T8 Twin Engine Momentum – Seven seats and eco kudos for the kids, with sports car performance when you’re alone
Inscription Pro – the ultimate XC90 decadence. We’re talking Nappa leather and four – four! – massage-equipped seats
A formidable rival to the Volvo, Audi’s second-gen Q7 is a very capable machine that is surprisingly good value for money
Land Rover Discovery
The newest model here, Land Rover’s latest Disco is immense. Good on road and off it, styling is tidy and it finally has a quality cabin to match
Somewhat ageing Mercedes SUV is rather expensive these days, and only seats five. Surprisingly good off road though
Tesla Model X
It’s leftfield and expensive, but this all-electric SUV is a distinctive must-have for some, and out-greens even the Volvo
The performance SUV alternative to the luxurious and laid back Volvo. Does things you never thought a 4×4 ever could
What others say
“The second generation Volvo XC90 is an impressive SUV, with lots of space and style as well as incredible safety technology.”
“The Volvo XC90 is a large premium SUV that has long appealed to families, thanks to its versatile interior, huge boot and standard seven-seat layout.”