Long-term tests

Volvo XC90 2004 - long term test

It's no secret we feel rather strongly about the XC90 here at Auto Express

  • Refinement, fingertip sat-nav operation, giant roofbox, sweet stowage, versatile layout, comfort
  • Boomy engine, sluggish acceleration, roofbox removal, finding snow chains in France
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The Volvo XC90 is our reigning car of the year, and current class leader following a recent victory over BMW's revised X5 3.0d (issue 789). So running a long-term model was a logical next step.

And deciding which version didn't take much deliberating, either. Diesels outsell petrols by well over two to one, and 95 per cent of buyers opt for the top-spec SE. With the car's cheaper price tag than the equivalent BMW X5, they seem prepared to spend some pocket money on extras, too - to the tune of £6,000 on average.

But the option we've used most wasn't fitted at the factory. The XC90 arrived in December, and with it we specified a dealer-fit roofbox. Given the car's size, you wouldn't think this would be necessary, but with the Marriage clan recently expanded by the arrival of a baby daughter, plus a holiday to the French Alps over Christmas, the amount of space required has been vast. The sleek Dynamic 85 box adds 510 litres and, thanks to clever hinges, opens from either side. It proved perfect for swallowing two sets of skis, a snowboard, five pairs of ski boots and oodles of presents.

Loading the roofbox is tricky enough as the XC90 is 1,784mm tall, but the biggest problem is taking it off - a regular hassle, given that the Auto Express car park has a 1.9-metre height restrictor. I've now learned never to try this by myself. The plastic frame isn't particularly heavy but it's cumbersome, and I managed to scratch the paint above the rear nearside door. What an idiot!

Volvo's 4x4 performed effortlessly on the long haul through France. The roofbox generates only slight wind noise, but did knock 3.6mpg off the 28.5mpg average. We've been tantalisingly close to 30mpg, but have yet to break through the barrier.

Unfortunately, we forgot to get snow chains before we left. Few places in France stock them large enough to fit the 235/60 R18 road tyres, and so with 20cm of snow falling on the first night, the Volvo was redundant for the rest of the week. However, the XC90 was designed for icy Swedish conditions, and so was always quick to defrost - and the heated front seats were a blessing.

But it's the big Swede's comfort and refinement that really set it apart, as it makes long journeys effortless. We did the 735-mile trip home from the ski resort to Buckinghamshire in one hit. The seats are great, the view out panoramic, the fingertip controls for the £2,500 sat-nav option a joy to operate - and the pen tray in front of the gearlever doubles as a handy sweetie storage place.
We've racked up more than 5,000 miles in six weeks in the car, so the 2.4-litre D5 engine is now well run in, but it's still the XC90's Achilles heel. It is noisy under acceleration, and when fully laden performance is disappointing, as is the rather sluggish five-speed Geartronic auto box. Yet an off-roader will never be as swift or nimble as a similarly powerful estate. Instead, its appeal lies in the high seating position, rugged feel and sense of adventure. But there's more to the XC90 than just that - it has proved hugely usable and adaptable. I'm smitten; prising the XC90 out of my hands will be tricky.

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