Volvo XC90 review
Volvo XC90 blazes a trail with its technology, efficiency, style and safety. That’s why it’s the Auto Express Car of the Year 2015!
The Volvo XC90 is a luxury SUV rival to the likes of the BMW X5, the Audi Q7 and the Range Rover. Using Scandinavian design influences, Volvo has created a refreshing alternative to the usual choices that feels like a premium product that delivers design-led looks and a raft of advanced safety kit.
The XC90 boasts a distinctive exterior and plenty of equipment and delivers a far more upmarket package than its practical but ageing predecessor. Add the advanced fuel efficiency and safety technologies and you have a class-leading SUV on your hands.
The XC90 is a great performer on the road too, and with seven proper seats as standard plus a big boot, it makes a powerful proposition to family car buyers. Underpinning the Volvo XC90’s fresh-thinking approach is a bold strategy to offer only 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, a compromise that will inspire some drivers, but may deter the those attracted to the lazy grunt of a traditional larger-capacity SUV.
Not us though. We love the Volvo XC90’s unique blend of technology, efficiency, style and safety – that’s why we named it Auto Express Car of the Year for 2015!
The original Volvo XC90 was launched in 2002 and went on sale for a remarkable 12 years, but the long wait for an all-new Volvo XC90 has been well worthwhile. Debuting a whole new platform that will underpin the next generation of new Volvos and efficient four-cylinder-only engines, it’s loaded with advanced technology.
The XC90 is a premium SUV with a special emphasis on family-friendly practicality. The five-door car comes with seven seats as standard, four-wheel-drive and is available with an impressive quota of advanced safety tech under the Volvo IntelliSafe banner. Features include special energy-absorbent seats, Volvo’s City Safety auto-braking tech, Queue Assist and a self-parking system.
A range of 2.0-litre 4-cylinder Drive-E engines power the XC90. The 222bhp D5 diesel unit kicks off the range, while petrol power comes from the 316bhp T6. The flagship XC90 is the T8 Twin Engine, a petrol plug-in hybrid with a maximum combined power output of 395bhp. All models get an 8-speed automatic gearbox.
Most buyers will be happy with the generous specification of the entry-level Momentum version, although the sportier R-Design or more luxurious Inscription will tempt you with even more clever kit. There's a whole heap of standard kit though, with climate control, leather, sat nav and LED headlamps all thrown in on the base model. Volvo’s Sensus system can offer WiFi hotspot functionality and phone tethering with Apple CarPlay built in.
The XC90 is an impressive package and slots into the premium SUV market alongside rivals like the BMW X5, Mercedes GLE and Audi Q7. The Lexus RX450h, Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport may also be of interest to those considering an XC90.
Engines, performance and drive
The new XC90 may have four-wheel drive, but it’s more luxury SUV than rugged off-roader. Its road-biased set-up means a comfortable ride in all models and plenty of grip, although we’d steer clear of the flashy 21-inch wheels if the smoothest progress is your priority.
There is 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 manual drive settings to opt for a comfortable ride and relaxed gear changes, but a bit more steering weight.
Refinement is very good, there's a vague hint of wind noise around the mirrors (sited well back on the front doors to improve forward visibility) but it's only noticeable due to the general quiet and calm in the cabin.
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The XC90 has permanent ‘on demand’ four-wheel-drive that puts most of the power down through the front wheels. It can, however, send torque to the rear when conditions demand. The T8 Twin Engine hybrid version has a different 4x4 system, as it uses its electric motor to drive the rear axle.
On the road, the XC90 strikes a neat balance between comfort and agility, with great body control and a rounded edge to the standard steel suspension’s damping. It means you can push the car fairly hard and guide it down narrow country lanes while still retaining that composed ride.
An air-suspension system is optionally available that replaces the front coils and transverse rear springs. This delivers even smoother progress than the standard set-up.
Power comes from a trio of two-litre Drive-E four-cylinder engines; the D5 has a 222bhp twin-turbodiesel, the T6 gets a 316bhp turbocharged and supercharged petrol unit, while the T8 boasts the range-topping hybrid Twin Engine option. This adds an electric motor to the standard T6 petrol unit, and gives the driver over 395bhp to play with ‘on demand’.
The engines provide decent if not outrageous performance, but they’re all reasonable when it comes to CO2 and mpg, especially the T8 which is claimed to travel around 25 miles on electric power alone. The T8 runs in Hybrid as standard, and this automatically manages energy flow between the engine, battery and the road. You can save the battery charge for later use, or recharge on the move using the petrol engine as a generator. However, doing this sees fuel economy plummet, and it will only add around 30 per cent charge to the battery, too. At the other end of the spectrum, Power mode combines petrol and electric power for maximum performance, but while Volvo claims a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds, the XC90 doesn’t feel that quick. Still, response is instant when you accelerate. And aside from the silent electric drive, the T8 performs exactly like any other XC90, so it’s plush and refined – geared towards comfortable driving rather than sporty handling.
Volvo’s four-cylinder-only engine policy means a slightly higher-pitched engine note than you might expect in the petrol cars, but the diesel sounds cultured rather than rattly. Generally speaking, refinement is impressive regardless of which unit you choose.
There's strong mid-range performance in the diesel for relaxed cruising, but it is found lacking if you drive more quickly and doesn't feel as fast at the figures suggest. On the move, the downsized unit is adequate, with enough grunt 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, and the gearbox holds on to revs before changing up. This adds to the noise levels and the XC90 is better at a steady cruise with the eight-speed automatic gearbox producing smooth shifts.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The XC90 T8 Twin Engine will be a favourite among company car users – its plug-in hybrid tech officially registering 134.5mpg on the combined cycle. This will be an optimistic estimate in real world driving but the resulting 59g/km of CO2 will be more useful. That’s assuming you can stretch to the £60,000 price tag of an XC90 T8 Momentum model. You’ll need to be a committed eco-warrior - or do lots of miles – to justify the investment.
To maximise the T8's potential, you really need to plug it into a charging point. Volvo does offer a number of charging options, whether they’re at home or at work, and has teamed up with charging specialist Pod Point to provide high-voltage charging installations. This system can replenish the battery from flat in as little as two-and-a-half hours, which is a lot less time than it takes via a standard 240V plug socket.
In reality, the plug-in hybrid will get nowhere near its claimed mpg in anything like ‘normal’ usage – but that’s a common complaint for hybrid vehicles from all manufacturers. The official ‘Condition B’ combined figure for the T8 Hybrid (that’s when you start the official test regime with a depleted battery) is 49mpg. That’s still considerably more than the 36.7mpg claimed for the regular 2.0 litre petrol T6.
The XC90’s most popular engine will be the D5, which still offers a reasonable 49.6mpg and 149g/km of CO2 on the official tests, all at a £14,000 price advantage over the T8. Sitting between the two is the XC90 T6 petrol with its 316bhp four-cylinder engine offering 36.7mpg and 179g/km of CO2.
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A wide range of passive and active safety and security technologies has helped to ensure that insurance costs are competitive for the new Volvo XC90.
Our favourite D5 Momentum model is rated at group 33 – that compares to group 41 for the Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Quattro S Line, group 40 and group 38 for the BMW X5 xDrive25d SE.
The more powerful T6 model will cost you more to cover as it’s been rated group 39, or group 40 if you go for Inscription or R-Design trims. The T8 hybrid versions have slightly higher insurance ratings than the conventional models.
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. The diesel XC90 has a depreciation rate in the 50 per cent area, while the T8 Twin Engine is poorer at around 42 per cent. As you would expect, the thirstiest T6 petrol versions have the poorest figures, but are only slightly behind the Hybrid models.
Interior, design and technology
Volvo says there are ‘Scandinavian influences’ everywhere in the new Volvo XC90. 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 the 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 the rugged SUV about it.
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 shoulder 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, this central unit – known as the Sensus interface - is the highlight of the cabin.
Standard equipment across all models is comprehensive, with sat-nav, LED headlights, air-filtration, keyless entry, hands-free tailgate opening, a powered driver’s seat, auto-dimming mirrors and DAB radio. The entry-level Momentum spec also includes cruise control, roof rails, an 8” TFT driver information display, 19ins alloy wheels and 10 speaker 330W audio system.
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Spending a little over £4k on the Inscription spec upgrade will add a powered passenger seat, Nappa leather upholstery, a larger 12.3” TFT instrument display and 20ins alloy wheels. Opting instead for the R-Design upgrade costs a few hundred pounds less, and brings ‘sports’ seats in leather and nubuck, adjustable Drive Mode settings and gear shift paddles located behind the steering wheel.
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.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All of the main on-board functions are controlled by the nine-inch tablet-style set-up that dominates the dash, including the sat-nav system, DAB radio, climate control and Bluetooth. It works like a touch-screen, but actually you only need put a finger near it, not on it, so you can operate it with gloved hands.
The Sensus system features smartphone-style portrait orientation, and tiled function ‘buttons’ to control everything. The display looks a little busy as first but invest some time and you soon get the hang of it.
There’s an ‘industry-leading’ voice control system said to recognise 300 ‘plain English’ phrases, or you can navigate through all the Sensus touchscreen functions using buttons on the steering wheel. The whole set-up feels intuitive and user-friendly – following a brief but necessary period of acclimatisation.
The optional 1,400W, 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system produces a superbly detailed sound and plenty of power – and because the Volvo XC90’s interior refinement is so good, you can really appreciate the installation’s qualities.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
There’s only one body style in the Volvo XC90 range, and it’s a handsome, if still relatively conservative, take on the large SUV/crossover theme. That means an imposing five-door body with a moderately raked tailgate, three rows of seats and the sort of commanding driving position that has helped to make the genre so popular.
Aside from a truly capacious, seven-seat interior, the Volvo XC90 lives up to its practical image thanks to details like 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. The climate control allows you to set up independent temperature zones for four forward occupants, but the XC90 doesn’t offer heating controls for passengers in the third row.
The Volvo XC90 is a very big car, at 4,950mm nose-to-tail it comfortably beats the 4,886mm BMW X5 but the Audi Q7 is a little longer at 5,052mm. Its shape is essentially boxy and practical, unlike more overtly ‘rakish’ rivals such as the Audi Q7, and this shows against the tape measure.
With a 1,776mm roof height the Volvo XC90 stands tall against the 1,762mm BMW X5 (both without roof bars), and falls in-between the 1,737mm high Audi Q7 and 1,796mm Mercedes-Benz GLE (both of the latter have standard-fit roof bars).
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
A vast interior has always been one of the Volvo XC90’s strengths, and the new model improves things further. The seats are comfortable and roomy and, unlike many seven-seaters, even the third row is reasonably generous for adults - although headroom will be tight for anyone 5’8” or taller. Headroom is pretty much the same in the front two rows at 99.8 and 99.7cms respectively, while the rear row offers only 92.3cms.
You’ll have to be fairly agile to climb up and past the second row, but all passengers should find themselves comfortably accommodated once they’ve scrambled in. Pleasingly, seats six and seven are the same size as those in the middle row, and set slightly inwards for a better view forward. Theatre-style seating rising towards the back of the car helps rearmost passengers see out, too.
Legroom is good in the first two rows, but becomes a little compromised at the back. 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. This limits foot space for the middle passenger.
The T8 Twin Engine has exactly the same interior space as the D5 and T6 versions, because the hybrid drivetrain and battery takes up room where the fuel tank is. That does mean you get a 50-litre fuel tank, compared to 71 litres in the standard XC90, and it's likely that what you lose in range won't be made up for with efficient running in electric mode.
In seven-seat configuration, the Volvo XC90 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 Land Rover Discovery thanks to the simpler mechanism – and this rises to 1,102 litres. Stow all the seats 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.
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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.
Many Volvo XC90 owners will be interested in the towing weights. The diesel D5’s 2,700kg maximum compares favourably to the 2,800kg of a comparable-spec Audi Q7 - although both are outclassed by the 3,500kg towing limit of the Land Rover Discovery.
Reliability and Safety
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 a few customers will have received their Volvo XC90s by now, so reliability reports are scarce. Although the Volvo is packed full of new tech, we’re still confident it should prove generally reliable.
Euro NCAP hasn’t crash tested the new SUV yet, but the brand claims it has the most comprehensive safety package of any car 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. This is part of Volvo’s enhanced City Safety package, which also helps protect against collisions with motorcycles, swerving bicycles or errant pedestrians.
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Other safety features include a passenger compartment constructed from high-strength steel. Known as boron steel, it’s the strongest steel in use in the auto industry, and Volvo reckons the XC90 uses more of it (by percentage of body weight) than any other car on sale.
On top of this, the XC90 gets all of the usual safety kit, including seven airbags that provide protection to all three rows of seats and ESP, while blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and the Queue Assist function are available as optional extras.
All Volvos come with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty, which is about average for the class – although the BMW X5 has no mileage limitation on its three year cover.
Servicing costs for the Volvo XC90 should be fixed if you buy a servicing plan when the car is purchased. With one of these deals the cost is £100 per year including all service consumables. Two service plans are available; three years at £300 or five years at £500.