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.
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.
Our pick: Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum
The XC90 is the first of a new breed of Volvo, yet still has familiar boxy lines that have been softened around the edges. The bonnet sits high with a bold grille featuring a new Volvo Iron Mark, and it’s flanked by sizeable headlamps with T-shaped ‘Thors Hammer’ LED driving lamps.
Traditional broad shoulders are present, though again softened. The rear, meanwhile has a few too many lines on it and is less cohesive as a result. The same can’t be said of the interior, dominated by a portrait infotainment touchscreen, which features high quality materials, some delightful design details and a smart, contemporary look. It’s all really easy to use with only eight buttons on the dash – most controls are housed in the touch screen.
However it does take a little exploring before it becomes truly intuitive - this isn't a car to jump into and drive. Volvo says you'll get at least a 45-minute handover and we reckon that's a good idea.
Overall the interior is not quite up to Audi standard, but it's not far off and the sense of style and airiness (very Scandinavian) is far better. The crystal gear shifter on the T8 and the metallic finishes around the door controls are nice touches, but they do make the window switches feel cheap by comparison.
Plus, the 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system is incredibly detailed and punchy - it's one of the best we've heard.
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. The petrol is more punchy and feels quick, though.
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.
Volvo boldly claims that nobody should be killed in a road accident in a Volvo from 2020 and the XC90 is a big step in that direction. High-strength Boron Steel is used around the passenger compartment, while airbags stretch the full length of the cabin to protect occupants in all three rows.
But it’s in the safety technology on board where Volvo has really moved the game on, from cameras that can detect pedestrians or cyclists about to stray into your path and apply the brakes accordingly, to a system that protects you if the car should leave the road. City safety braking, traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning is all present, while a Pilot Assist system uses the active cruise control and lane departure warning to keep the car in lane and moving on its own in heavy traffic.
There’s more space inside the XC90 than before, thanks in no small part to the use of smaller, four-cylinder engines. Even the third row 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.
Even with the rear-most seats up, there’s still good boot space at 451 litres – certainly more than you’ll get in most MPVs. While with all seats folded (which is easy to do) you get a massive 1951 litres of room. It’s not all about big space, there are plenty of cubbies from front to back, with an impressive 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system available, too.
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.
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.