Volvo XC90 review
New Volvo XC90 is one of the best SUVs you can buy, with quality, efficiency, space, comfort and, of course, safety
The wait for the new Volvo XC90 has been well worthwhile. Debuting a whole new platform and efficient four-cylinder-only engines (one with plug-in hybrid tech), it has the style and quality to match Audi, BMW and Land Rover in the premium SUV segment, with new levels of safety – as you’d expect from Volvo.
The D5 diesel is the clear pick of the range, being quiet and with just enough get up and go. The T6 petrol offers decent poke, but like the plug-in hybrid-powered T8 range topper, the whine of a four-cylinder engine takes some getting used to in a market where six or eight cylinders are the norm. Go for the diesel - the petrol engine is fun, but sounds whiny and is thirstier.
Most buyers will be happy with the generous safety tally and upmarket kit you get on entry-level Momentum cars, although Inscription or the sportier R-Design trims will tempt you with even more clever stuff. There's a whole heap of standard kit too, with climate control, leather, sat nav and LED headlamps all thrown in.
However, key to the XC90’s appeal is it’s spacious, upmarket interior and the comfort and refinement on offer – this is a relaxing car to drive due to the plush ride and near silence. Being a Volvo, the seats are incredibly comfortable with a great level of adjustment and support. It's a genuine seven-seater too, with even adults as tall ats 5ft 7in able to squeeze into the third row of seats.
Our pick: Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum
Volvos of old were known for their boxy, sedate designs, but with the original XC90 SUV, the brand spiced up the styling with a more flowing body and some interesting details. For this all-new XC90, Volvo has taken things to the next level – this is the flagship of the range and sets a template for what future models will look like: cool, classy and understated.
There are Scandinavian influences everywhere, according to Volvo. Take the T-shaped ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running lights, for example – the narrow light bars give the XC90 an aggressive glare, helped by its deep front bumper and bluff radiator grille. Despite this square-set front end, the rounded wheelarches and raked windscreen pillars provide a sleek and aerodynamic look, but the 19-inch alloy wheels and silver roof rails on our test car mean it still has more than a hint of rugged SUV.
At the rear, the XC90 is less striking, but the brand’s designers have still used the light clusters to good effect. The tail-lamps run from the top of the boot right down to the bumper, and with Volvo’s traditional kink halfway down, the XC90 is instantly recognisable in the dark. There’s also a small boot lip spoiler and a few creases in the tailgate. Combine that with the car’s dual exhausts, and it makes for a minimalist and crisp rear end.
That theme is repeated inside, with expensive-feeling brushed metal inserts, lots of leather and an attractive layout. Compared to the last XC90, Volvo has decluttered the dashboard and removed most of the buttons. Instead, the entertainment and climate systems are controlled by a central touchscreen, flanked by two main air vents and some lovely chrome detailing. Along with the Range Rover-like digital dials, it’s the highlight of the cabin.
All of the main on-board functions are controlled by this nine-inch tablet-style set-up, including the sat-nav, DAB radio, climate control and Bluetooth. Our test car was also fitted with the £575 Winter Pack, featuring heated seats, a £700 360-degree camera system, Volvo’s £650 automatic parking gadget and the £1,500 Intellisafe Pro package that includes Queue Assist – a semi-autonomous system that takes control of the accelerator, brakes and steering in slow traffic.
The new XC90 may have four-wheel drive, but it’s more SUV than 4x4. Its road-biased set up means a comfortable ride in all models (although we’d steer clear of the 21-inch wheels) and plenty of grip. However, there’s a fair amount of body roll if you do take corners quickly (most owners won’t) while the steering errs on the side of lightness rather than sporty reaction – we preferred delving into the drive settings to opt for a comfortable ride, relaxed gear changes, but a bit more steering weight.
The engines provide decent if not outrageous performance, but they’re all reasonable when it comes to CO2 and mpg, especially the T8 with its clever plug-in hybrid tech – it’ll go around 25 miles on electric power alone. Volvo’s four-cylinder-only engine policy means a slightly higher-pitched engine note than you might expect in the petrol cars, but refinement is generally really impressive.
Even then the diesel sounds reasonably cultured rather than rattly. The petrol engine is similarly smooth and refined, but the four-cylinder whine is unusual in a car this size.
There's strong mid-range performance in diesel, but it lacks real punch - its doesn't feel as fast at the figures suggest. On the move, the downsized unit is adequate, with enough punch to keep up with fast-moving traffic. However, you do have to push the accelerator a long way to get a decent hit of performance, which means the gearbox holds on to revs before changing up. This can make things a bit noisy, although it’s much quieter and more refined at a cruise, with the eight-speed automatic gearbox shuffling ratios nicely.
Refinement is class leading, though - there's vague hint of wind noise around the mirrors (that sit back on the front doors to improve forward visibility) but it's only noticable due to the general quiet and calm in the cabin.
The XC90 strikes a neat balance between comfort and agility, with great body control and a rounded edge to the suspension’s damping. It means you can push the car and use the nicely weighted, quick steering to guide it down even narrow country lanes while still retaining the composed ride.
Traditionally, Volvo has been known for its dependability. However, it slipped six places to 17th in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, and was only the 20th most reliable brand out of 32. Only the first few customers will have received their XC90s by now, so reliability reports are scarce, and although the Volvo is packed full of new tech, we’re confident it should prove reliable.
Euro NCAP hasn’t crash tested the new SUV yet, but the brand claims it has the most comprehensive safety package on sale. This includes two world firsts: a Run Off-Road system that senses if you veer off the tarmac – preparing the car for a crash – and special energy-absorbent seats that’ll reduce the impact of a big hit. There’s also a clever autonomous braking system, which stops you turning in front of an oncoming car.
On top of this, the XC90 gets all of the usual safety kit, including seven airbags and ESP, while blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and the Queue Assist function are available as extras.
In seven-seat configuration, the Volvo offers a great mix of refinement and practicality, with 451 litres of boot space. Fold the third row down – an easier job than in the Discovery thanks to the simpler mechanism – and this rises to 1,102 litres. Stow them all away, and there’s 1,951 litres on offer. Plus, with a low loading lip and ‘hands-free’ powered tailgate as standard, it’ll be easy to pack away shopping.
There's a pop-up shopping bag holder in the boot, although it can't quite pop up if the rearmost seats are up, and a very shallow under-boot area that the T8's charging cord can live in. There's nowhere to store the luggage cover when seven seats are being used, though - it just sits across the floor.
Even the third row of seats is reasonably generous for adults – although headroom will be tight for some. However, you’ll have to be fairly agile to climb up and past the second row.
Seats six and seven are the same size as those in the row two and set slightly inwards for a better view forward. Theatre-style seating rising towards the back of the car helps, too, although the floor in the second row isn’t entirely flat due to a transmission tunnel (that also houses the batteries in the plug-in hybrid) that limits foot space for the middle passenger.
There’s a large storage area in the centre console, a decent glovebox and a deep central cubbyhole. Storage in the back row is good as well, with each seat getting its own cup-holder and trinket tray. However, the XC90 doesn’t offer heating controls for the rear.
The XC90 T8 Twin Engine will be a favourite among company car users – its plug-in hybrid tech registering a claimed 112.9mpg but a more useful 59g/km of CO2. That’s assuming you can stretch to the £60,000 price tag for a Momentum model. Plus, let's be honest, the plug-in hybrid will get nowhere near its claimed mpg.
More popular will be the XC90 D5, which still claims a reasonable 48.7mpg and 149g/km of CO2 – and a £14,000 price advantage over the T8. Sitting between the two is the XC90 T6 petrol with its 316bhp four-cylinder engine offering 35.3mpg and 179g/km of CO2.
The old XC90 proved to be quite stubborn in holding on to its value, so we’d expect this new model to be no different.