Volvo XC90: old vs new compared

Perhaps the best kept secret in the world of the prestige SUV, Volvo’s XC90 has been quietly ticking along for 12 years with only a minor facelift to its name.

When a replacement model was announced it came as a little bit of a surprise, especially because Volvo seems to have taken a blank-page approach to the new car, and its early reviews are putting it among the very best cars on sale. So how does it stack up to the old one? We’re taking a look…

2015 XC90 styling

One of the reasons the XC90 has always been the stealthy option in this sector is that it is, dare we say it, a bit staid looking. It’s likely that you’ve seen them far more often than you think but either looked clean through them or mistook it for something else in Volvo’s range. The new one, however, gets some dashing new touches.

It retains the same basic body shape as the previous car but has adopted a design that makes it look far less like a crossover and much more like a purpose built SUV. It’s a considerably more handsome car, particularly at the front. We’ll be talking about the new ‘Mjölnir’ (Thor’s Hammer) LED daytime running lights for a number of years to come.

Interior and practicality

The old car’s always been a pretty pleasant place to be and was well-appointed, but at the expense of being a little old fashioned. Leather and wood were everywhere, wrapping every straight line in the geometric and symmetrical cabin.

Enter the new car and it’s a world of difference. For a start there’s technology to spruce things up, including a new LCD instrument screen and a colossal, tablet-sized touchscreen display in the centre. This means that the excessive switchgear overload of the old car has been swept away too – we can count eight buttons and a dial on the centre stack. More noticeable is that symmetry has been chucked out of the window, and everything leans in towards the driver. There’s still leather everywhere, but wood has taken a back seat to brushed aluminium (though you can replace that with walnut or birch for an extra cost).

While the first generation car served up seven reasonably-sized seats, all of which provided pretty stellar levels of comfort, the new one provides seven adult-sized seats and still checks in with a 451 litre boot with all seven in place – 202 litres more than the first car…

XC90 engines compared

If anything was a chink in the old XC90’s armour, it was the engine selection. The 2.4-litre diesel was particularly derided, and although the five-cylinder T5 and the V8 petrol models made great noises, the pleasure was as short-lived as the fuel range to the next filling station, in fact.

Everything in the new car is a forced induction 2.0-four cylinder, and while that might seem little for a two-tonne car, the least powerful option (the diesel D5) gives you 222hp. Covering 0-60mph in a still-brisk 7.8 seconds, it’s the slowest option but still posts combined figures of 49.6mpg.

If more performance is your thing, try the T6. That’s a twin-charged (turbo and supercharged) 2.0 offering up 316hp, but only 35mpg. If that’s not enough, there’s also the T8 which backs the same engine up with a 79hp electric motor. As a plug-in hybrid – one you can charge from the mains – this is eligible for a £5,000 purchase price rebate and since it can run on the electric motor alone it posts official consumption figures of 113mpg – though probably nearer to 45mpg in the real world.

XC90 driving

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the old car, with its chunky off-road looks, crash plates and plastic trim, was designed to head into the fields at a moment’s notice. To be fair to the old car it wasn’t bad over rough terrain, but it never was a proper off-road vehicle. To some extent it wasn’t a great on-road vehicle either because it was outstripped by premium rivals for ride quality and it never really provided a thrilling driving experience.

This time round there is no heed paid to off roading at all – though we imagine it’d at least crawl through a ploughed field with the same aplomb as its predecessor – and all the focus has been on comfort. Critics say even the standard steel springs are a breath of fresh air and the optional pneumatic suspension makes it glide along even the most appalling of roads. It’s still not that great to wrangle along a B-road but it does at least stick well now and with very little body roll.

Value for money

At the end of its life all models of the previous generation were the D5 diesel only and started at £35k, rising to just over £42k. This significantly undercut rivals, even considering the lack of engine choices or the fact it was a pretty old car.

The new car is not so inexpensive, with the only really like-for-like model starting at a substantial £45,750 and the T8 Hybrid topping things off at an alarming £63,705. However, as we’ve seen, the new car is considerably better in just about every department. Kit levels are impressive and Volvo is well justified to charge BMW, Range Rover and Porsche prices for a car that can be considered a peer – or better.

When it comes to running costs, new trumps old yet again. The last of the previous-generation XC90s would set you back £280 a year in VED and none bettered 34.4mpg on average.

The new twincharged T6 petrol comes close to both of these figures – it’s a tax band lower at £260 a year – but the rest of the range is more frugal. The new D5 will put you out £175 a year and it’s likely to be no more expensive to insure either.

One extra bit of value here is Volvo’s focus on safety. No Volvo since 1997 has scored less than five stars at Euro NCAP and Volvo has a mission statement that promises no-one will be killed or injured in a new Volvo by 2020. The XC90 is the first embodiment of this and, while not yet rated, we think it’s likely to score one of the highest ratings ever seen at Euro NCAP. It’s also loaded with safety electronics that you never even knew you’d want or need to avoid the possibility of having a crash in the first place.


We may as well be comparing two completely different cars here, such is the change. Indeed the only things they have in common are that they have seven seats and a Volvo badge on the front.

If you loved the old XC90 – and there was a lot to like – the new one will make you wonder what you ever saw in it. Aside from off-roading capability, which no-one in the press or even at Volvo seems all that bothered about, it’s a huge stride forwards for the model. No wonder Volvo’s order books are full.

Buy your XC90 from the UK’s best dealers

User carwow’s configurator to see all the options, colours and engines available for the new XC90, and to contact the UK’s leading Volvo dealers about it.

Volvo XC90

Class-leading premium SUV with room for seven adults
£46,850 - £64,555
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