Eye-catching full LED headlights are standard on all versions
Tailoring is the art of taking something stylish, and making it personal to you. Few SUVs offer buyers the ability to express their individuality quite like the XC90. For starters, each trim (Momentum, R-Design and Inscription) gets a bespoke grille and front-end treatment, with the sportiest versions getting more angular lights and vents to give this Volvo a bit more purpose. They all look good, though, as the eye-catching full LED headlights are standard on all versions, and the smallest wheels you can choose are 19 inches across – rising to 21 inches on top-spec cars. Despite its considerable size, though, the XC90 manages not to look too brash or imposing – although we’d avoid the optional ‘Urban Luxury’ and ‘Rugged Luxury’ styling packs, which are expensive and add little to the overall design of the car.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the Volvo XC90 is its gorgeous interior. All the materials look and feel expensive, and high-quality. The leather covering the dash and centre console is soft and beautifully stitched, the main dials are digital, and can be changed to suit your own individual taste. The switches are almost jewel-like, with textured metal surfaces and a pleasingly chunky, robust feel. There are only eight buttons on the dash – including one to open the glovebox – so the cabin is kept totally free from clutter. The driver’s seat has standard six-way electric adjustment, plus extending thigh and lumbar support, and side bolsters that can be made as figure-hugging as you wish. It takes a while to find the perfect set-up, but drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to find a comfortable, supportive driving position. Visibility is excellent, with clear views out of the front and rear screens, and big mirrors, so that it’s easy to judge the car’s dimensions. You don’t sit up quite as high as in, say, a Range Rover Sport, but you don’t have to climb up to get inside, either. Large windows, a panoramic sunroof (standard on T8 models, but optional on others) and light materials also mean it feels airy and spacious in the XC90. You can even spend extra on making the cabin feel like a Swedish spa, with a variety of wood, leather and metal trim finishers to choose from.
The XC90 could teach a few MPVs a thing or two about interior space
New-found styling verve and a high-class interior are all very well, but a Volvo is nothing if not practical – and the XC90 is one of the most versatile family cars money can buy. It could teach a few MPVs a thing or two about interior space, with room for adult passengers in all three rows of seats. Access to the rearmost pair is a bit tricky, but folding them up and down into the floor is simple, and they are mounted close to the middle of the car to give those in the back a better view. The seats in the middle row recline, fold and slide individually, so that you can rearrange them in whichever way suits you best. Even with all seven seats up, the boot will still carry nearly 400 litres of stuff – but fold them down and you’ve got a really massive 775 litres available. The loading bay is totally flat, and there is no lip to catch your bags on when swinging them into the boot. If you choose the T8 hybrid version, then there is a little less foot room for the middle passenger in the back, but apart from that the XC90 is near faultless in this area – and will tackle anything you can throw at it, unlike the BMW X5, in which the third row of seats feels like more of an afterthought. Only a Land Rover Discovery comes close to matching the XC90 for versatility and boot volume.
Ride and handling
As standard, the XC90 comes with steel springs, and a simple leaf spring across the rear to save weight and make more space for the boot, seats, and electric motor in the T8. However, we think the optional air suspension is well worth considering, although it’s not cheap. With these optional springs fitted, it rides really well, soaking up crests and bumps with ease, and feeling generally smoother and more comfortable than the standard suspension, particularly at low speed. On larger 21-inch wheels, you feel smaller imperfections intrude into the cabin, but Volvo says it’s working on a fix for this issue. There are three different drive settings to choose from – Eco, Comfort and Dynamic – but even in its sportiest mode, there is fair bit of body roll in the corners, especially in the heavy T8 hybrid. Still, for a two-tonne SUV, the XC90 handles really well, with positive, consistently weighted steering, and decent grip from the four-wheel drive system. It feels very planted and stable at all times, but puts the emphasis on comfort above all else, so if you’re looking for the sharpest handling big SUV, then a Porsche Cayenneis a better bet.
All of the engines feel strong for their size, but the automatic gearbox can be slow to react
Volvo has a new range of engines just for the XC90, called Drive-E. None of them has more than four cylinders, but they all do a decent job of hauling the car around. The 222bhp D5 diesel will be by far the most popular model in the UK, and it’s a strong performer. Rivals with six-cylinder diesels are a bit quicker off the line, but the engine is flexible, delivers plenty of torque even at low revs, and works in fine harmony with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. The petrol T6 has less shove, but more power, with 316bhp. It needs working to get the best from it, but does feel pretty quick, even though it’s not quite as refined as the diesel, getting strained if you push towards the upper reaches of the rev range. In place of a big V8, Volvo has the T8 Twin Engine – a plug-in hybrid. It takes the 2.0-litre petrol from the T6 and adds a pair of electric motors for a combined 396bhp and hefty 472lb ft of torque. It drives the rear wheels via a motor rather than a conventional drive shaft (as in the D5 and T6) and has a pure electric range of around 27 miles. It’s also capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.6 seconds when required, with the motor giving you instant acceleration from very low revs. All of these engines feel surprisingly strong for their size, but the gearbox can be a little slow to react, and doesn’t work as smoothly with the hybrid and petrol engines as it does in the D5. Most rivals offer quicker versions of their largest 4x4s – but most of these sporty SUVs are also a lot pricier.
The new XC90 stands shoulder to shoulder with premium rivals – so naturally it costs an appropriate amount. However, the entry-level D5 Momentum stacks up well against its competitors, in terms of both price and equipment. All of the Drive-E engines are very efficient, with close to class-leading CO2 figures for the diesel (it’ll also return close to 50mpg). The T8 plug-in hybrid claims to deliver the best of both worlds – and will catch the eye of company car drivers. It emits just 49g/km of CO2, making it exempt from the London congestion charge and the cheapest XC90 to tax thanks to an ultra-low benefit-in-kind tax rating, and in spite of its much higher list price. As for servicing and parts, they should be on a par with Volvo’s premium rivals, while the insurance groups are also attractive, thanks to the brand’s strong reputation for safety and the small size of the XC90’s engines.
Volvo has a well-earned reputation for mechanical reliability, so while almost everything about the XC90 is new, we would be very surprised if it bucks that trend. The interior certainly seems robust, as everything is solid to the touch and feels well screwed together. There are a lot of gadgets on-board, though, and while we didn’t have any problems with the new Sensus infotainment system, that is one potential area that could cause issues. The T8 Twin Engine version also has a very complex drivetrain – the expensive battery pack comes with its own separate warranty – but all the other mechanicals are covered for failure over the first three years or 60,000 miles of ownership, whichever comes around first. The model itself is too new to have featured in any consumer surveys, but Volvo tends to outperform the likes of Audi and BMW.
The seats have a special cushion that absorbs the impact to protect your spine
Few brands take safety as seriously as Volvo does – in fact it invented the three-point seat belt, and all the belt buckles in the XC90 are engraved with the date of that breakthrough: 1959. Things have moved on since then, and the XC90 comes with some deeply impressive safety gadgets beyond the standard six airbags and traction control that helped it to a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP. For example, it can detect if the car leaves the road and is about to have a crash, and the seats have a special cushion that absorbs the impact to protect your spine. The brake pedal will automatically retract to avoid knee injuries for the driver, and it also has traction and stability control to prevent an accident in the first place. It has sensors to detect cyclists and pedestrians, and will apply the brakes itself to avoid a collision if required. Lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitors, and traffic sign detection are also standard on every model. Safety options include adaptive cruise control, a self-driving traffic mode, and blind spot monitoring, as part of the Intellisafe pack.
Every model gets leather seats, dual-zone climate control and sat-nav with European maps
Even the cheapest Momentum trim comes loaded with equipment, most of which you would have to pay extra for in the XC90’s rivals. Every model gets at least 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav with European maps and lifetime annual updates, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, a powered tailgate, Bluetooth and automatic lights and wipers. Quite the exhaustive list, but if you step up to R-Design trim, then Volvo will add sports seats, bigger wheels and digital instruments. Top-spec Inscription versions get plusher leather, with extra pieces on the dash and doors, integrated sun blinds in the back, and electric adjustment for the front passenger. Yet even this flagship version is a fair bit cheaper than rivals like the Range Rover Sport, and the XC90 comes with a lot more as standard than either a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. There is a fairly extensive options list, but it’s worth mentioning the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium stereo – it is comfortably the best in-car system we have come across.
If you want a family car that can cope with adventure holidays, school runs, trips to the tip and everything in between, the XC90 really does have all bases covered. The hybrid T8 version also makes a superb company car. As an SUV, it offers superb levels of comfort and refinement, oodles of space for up to seven adults, and decent off-road ability. It’s one of the safest cars in its class, very fuel-efficient, good to drive and beautifully made. What’s more, it also looks great and comes better equipped than most of its rivals, with a brilliant infotainment system. In case you hadn’t already guessed, we highly recommend it.