Volvo XC90 Review
When Volvo launched the new XC90 back in 2015, it was a bit of a shock. Almost without warning, the uninspiring but worthy 4x4 turned into something stylish and smart and, well, cool. Over the last few years, the XC90’s smooth lines and ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights set the tone for the rest of the Volvo range, which must now be among the best-looking in the business. But the XC90 is more than just a looker. It’s one of the best seven-seat luxury SUVs out there.
Select's rating score* - 4.2 / 5
In a world where carmakers are trying to make their 4x4s faster and more agile, the XC90 has steadfastly remained comfortable and quiet. If you want your SUV to be a sports car as well, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you’re part of the 99.99% of people who just want a big, serene 4x4 to move their families, dogs and luggage in luxury and comfort, then read on.
The range is relatively simple, with a choice of five trim levels ranging from the already well equipped Momentum to the top-of-the-range, all-singing, all-dancing Inscription Pro. There’s a choice of engines, too, with a 2.0-litre petrol called the B5 and a 2.0-litre diesel that’s also called the B5. Don’t ask why. There’s also a 2.0-litre B6 petrol with a bit more power, and if you can’t decide between those three, why not try the T8 plug-in hybrid, which teams a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor.
Picking standout features of a car full of standout features is harder than it sounds, but the on-board safety technology has to be among the XC90’s key selling points. Not only do the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance add some peace of mind to motorway miles, but the excellent digital instrument cluster and head-up display make driving much easier.
There’s a great 360-degree reversing camera, too, which makes manoeuvring a doddle, and if you still don’t fancy getting into a parking space, you can have automatic parking equipment that effectively takes care of all that for you. And that’s before we even talk about the space or the comfort or the divine cabin design.
The engine range is a little confusing in places, what with the two ‘B5’ engines, but it boils down to a choice of three 2.0-litre engines – two petrols and a diesel – and a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid. The petrol and diesel engines come with mild-hybrid electrical assistance, while all four get four-wheel drive and automatic gearboxes. The B5 and B6 petrol engines get 250hp and 300hp respectively, but for most, the 235hp B5 diesel will probably prove the obvious choice. It might not be the fastest, but it can still achieve a respectable 7.1-second 0-62mph time, which will be more than fast enough for most. The petrols are marginally faster, but the 390hp Recharge T8 Plug-In Hybrid is the speed king, managing 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
But though the XC90 might be quick, it isn’t really about speed. The laws of physics don’t allow a big 4x4 to hide its two-tonne kerb weight easily, but engineering will allow such a big lump of metal to be spacious and comfortable. From the driver’s seat, you get a commanding view of the road, and big windows mean visibility is generally good. The steering doesn’t have much feel, but you can still put the car where you want it, and the ride is good – particularly in high-end R-Design Pro and Inscription Pro cars, which get air suspension.
If you want peace and quiet on the road, the XC90 is a solid choice, but the Recharge T8 is leading the charge, particularly around town. There, the electric motor silently scoots you from A to B – or at least it does until the batteries run dry. Then you’ll be depending on a four-cylinder petrol engine that’s generally quiet, but it becomes a bit noisy when pushed. All the XC90’s engines are four-cylinder units, and none is as smooth as the six-cylinder engines employed by some other manufacturers. To be fair, though, engine noise is only ever a problem when you’ve got your foot to the floor. Otherwise, the on-board soundproofing does a good job of keeping your eardrums isolated from the world outside.
Mild-hybrid power is a relatively new addition to the XC90 range, designed to improve the economy of the 2.0-litre engines. It works by harvesting energy normally lost when braking or decelerating, and using it to reduce the strain on the petrol or diesel engine. It’s clever tech, and Volvo reckons it makes the B5 diesel about 15% more efficient than the D5 it replaces.
That means the sole diesel engine returns about 40mpg on the official economy test, while the B5 and B6 petrol engines both manage around 30mpg. The T8 rules on paper, though, with official data suggesting between 27 and 30 miles of all-electric range and up to 100.9mpg. If you use the petrol power regularly, though, you won’t even come close to that.
Company car buyers will need to look at the plug-in hybrid XC90s to find the cheapest tax rates. Officially, the T8 manages CO2 emissions of between 63 and 76g/km, which means tax will be charged at between 15% and 18%. All the other engines will put the big Volvo firmly in the top-level 37% tax bracket, but the eco-conscious should know the diesel is the only one of the three to emit fewer than 200g/km.
The cabin is one of the big selling points of the XC90, with a glorious Scandi vibe. Buttons are few and far between, and pretty much everything is controlled on the huge touchscreen in the middle of the dash. That’s the centrepiece of a space that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room, with soft leather, high-quality plastics and even some optional wood trim dotted around the cabin. There’s so much light, too – especially if you opt for the panoramic glass sunroof.
The steering wheel feels chunky and solid, and that’s a metaphor for pretty much everything else in there. Volvo has always had a reputation for safety and quality, and the XC90 does nothing to dispel either of those impressions. Everything in there seems to have a purpose – there are no afterthoughts – and the comfort is astounding. The seats look thin and firm, but they’re so well sculpted that you get out after a long drive feeling as though you could do it all over again.
The XC90 driving experience is dominated by two massive screens: one in the centre of the dashboard and one in front of the driver. Together, they create an intuitive infotainment system, giving you all the information you need without overloading you. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t standard features, but cars equipped with that technology will make it work almost seamlessly.
But although that kit is nice to have, it’s hardly necessary. There’s plenty featured in the nine-inch touchscreen, including access to web apps such as Spotify and a 220-watt, 10-speaker sound system. You get Bluetooth and a range of USB sockets, too, including two normal ports in the front and two USB-C ports in the rear. Not only will these help you connect your devices – particularly if you have gone for the optional smartphone integration kit or the optional sound system upgrades – but they’re good for keeping the kids’ devices charged, too.
When a 4x4 is this big, then it would need a pretty good excuse for being cramped. Fortunately, the Volvo doesn’t have to come up with one, because there’s bags of room. You get seven seats as standard, and nobody will complain too much wherever they’re sitting. As ever with these big 4x4s, it’s probably best not to let the tallest member of the family sit in the third row of seats for very long, but they’ll be fine in the second row and the kids will love the adventure of clambering into the boot to go for a drive.
If you do choose to use the third row of seats, however, you will sacrifice a little boot space. Still, 262 litres is about as much as you get in a five-seat Ford Fiesta, so it isn’t bad going. Stow those sixth and seventh seats away, though, and you’ll free up 640 litres of boot space, which expands to almost 1,000 litres when you fill it to the roof. And if you really need more room, you could always fold down the second row of seats to elicit a van-like 1,816 litres of space.
But there’s more to the Volvo’s practicality and versatility than just space. The cabin has been well thought through, with plenty of storage boxes and sensibly sized door pockets. You get plenty of cup holders, too, and there’s a decent-sized glove box for stowing things out of sight.
The XC90 hasn’t been NCAP crash tested since it was launched in 2015, and the test has changed somewhat since then, but don’t let that detract from the incredible score it received. Volvo has always been a byword for safety, but the XC90’s 97% score for adult occupant protection is pretty staggering. It didn’t score quite so well on pedestrian protection, but child occupant protection was excellent, thanks in part to the Isofix mountings on the second row, and it managed a full five-star rating.
The Volvo also managed a 94% score for safety assistance tech, thanks to its speed assistance technology, lane keeping assistance and emergency braking system, which can stop the car if it detects an impending accident.
The test has become stricter since, but the XC90 is still up there with the best of them in terms of tech. These days, with an adaptive cruise control system and lane guidance, the car can keep itself at a safe speed and a safe distance from the car in front, while still holding itself in lane. Of course, that isn’t the same as autonomous driving – you still have to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road – but it’s a step closer.
In essence, the XC90 range is fairly simple, with a choice of three basic trim levels and upgraded ‘Pro’ versions of the two most luxurious. At the opposite end of the scale, though, the Momentum model is the entry-level version. Despite its position at the foot of the range, it comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, satellite navigation and leather upholstery. It also gets two-zone climate control that allows you to set different temperatures for the driver and passenger sides, as well as a reversing camera, heated front seats and parking sensors in the front and rear bumpers. You get automatic LED headlights and automatic wipers, too, plus a power-operated tailgate. It might be the base model, but the Momentum isn’t short of kit.
Going for the R-Design model adds a slightly sporty look to the car, with larger, 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows and black trim dotted around the body. Inside, there’s black roof lining above sports seats, as well as a sportier steering wheel and sports pedals. The R-Design Pro version adds to that with air suspension, a heated steering wheel and a head-up display, plus 22-inch alloy wheels and the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems.
But the most luxurious models in the range are the Inscription and Inscription Pro versions. Inscription gets 20-inch alloys, softer leather upholstery and more adjustable seats. The front seats also get heating and ventilation, plus an Orrefors crystal gear knob. Moving up to the Pro version, however, gets you 21-inch alloys, air suspension and the head-up display, not to mention the smartphone integration software and a massage function for the front seats.
The options list largely comprises a variety of packs, with Climate and Lounge among the most desirable. The Climate pack offers heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and heated windscreen, while the Lounge gets you a panoramic glass sunroof, 360-degree parking camera and four-zone climate control, as well as an automatic parking system.
Customers also get the chance to upgrade to a Harman Kardon or Bowers & Wilkins sound system, and there’s the usual array of Scandinavian colours on offer. A selection of blacks, whites and greys make up the main body of the range, but you can also opt for the brighter Denim Blue or the deep, rich Maple Brown.
The luxury SUV segment is growing enormously, with the big hitters incessantly churning out new models. The XC90 doesn’t just have to compete with the likes of the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5, but it’s up against the Porsche Cayenne and Land Rover Discovery, too. Then you’ve got the slightly less conventional rivals, such as the Lexus RX, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Volkswagen Touareg, which aren’t always the first cars to come to mind. And if you look further up the luxury ladder, there’s some crossover with the Range Rover Sport and Maserati Levante, too.
All those vehicles are great cars in their own right, but each offers something a little different. The VW, for example, is understated and quietly cool, while the Cayenne is the undisputed driver’s car. The Mercedes, meanwhile, is high-tech and stylish, but the Land Rover and Jeep come with the off-road credentials. Then there’s the Lexus, which offers clever hybrid technology, and the Maserati, which is the looker of the group. The XC90 is arguably the best balance of all these attributes, although some might argue the BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport should have the overall bragging rights. It all comes down to taste.
The XC90 has never tried to put the ‘sport’ in sports utility vehicle, and it’s much better for that. Instead, it carts you and your family around in glorious Scandi style and comfort, swallowing all the paraphernalia of family life without complaint. It’s understated yet smart, so it’s still at home alongside the Range Rovers and Q7s of this world – yet it never attracts unwelcome attention. From the ski resorts of the Alps to the supermarket car parks of suburbia, it’s right at home. In many ways, then, it’s the perfect luxury SUV.
Lease price: from £474.26
*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top six leading independent car website reviews of the Volvo XC90
**Correct as of 06/10/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £4,268.38. Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.