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Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90 Review

The Volvo XC90 is a smart-looking, spacious and safe SUV with a gorgeous interior, but the third row of seats is cramped and there’s no smooth six-cylinder diesel engine

8/10
Wowscore

This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Stylish minimalist interior
  • Lots of safety tech
  • Big boot even in seven-seat mode

What's not so good

  • Noisy diesel engine
  • Firm suspension
  • Third-row seats are small

What do you want to read about Volvo XC90?

Overall verdict

The Volvo XC90 is a smart-looking, spacious and safe SUV with a gorgeous interior, but the third row of seats is cramped and there’s no smooth six-cylinder diesel engine

If you’re after a luxurious seven-seater SUV that’s stylish inside and out, packed with safety technology and very practical then it’s well worth checking out the Volvo XC90 – a worthy alternative to the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Audi Q7.

The Volvo XC90 betters these two for looks, thanks to details such as Volvo’s signature ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights and cute Swedish flags stitched into the oh-so-comfy heated front seats. There’s loads of room up front to stretch out, and you get one of the best minimalist dashboards out there, with a cool portrait-style infotainment screen on all models. Okay, it’s not quite as sharp or easy to use as the Audi Q7’s screen, but it’s packed with features such as Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring so you can use your phone’s media streaming and sat-nav apps on the XC90’s screen.

Your middle-row passengers also get plenty of creature comforts, as well as individual seats that recline and slide independently to keep all sizes happy. You’ll even fit three adults abreast in reasonable comfort. The most cramped part of the Volvo XC90, however, is the rearmost two seats. They’re only really roomy enough for kids, although adults won’t mind being back there for short trips.

With all seven seats in use, the XC90’s boot is easily capable of holding a big weekly shop. Flip the rear two seats down and you’re left with a five-seater SUV with easily enough room for a two-week family roadtrip. Fold the middle row of seats down too and you’re left which a huge space that’s just screaming out for a no-holds-barred Ikea trip.

The Volvo XC90 is one of Sweden's best exports along with Ikea and, er… herring

Mat Watson
carwow expert

You don’t get the same flexibility with the engine choice – you can only get the Volvo XC90 with 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engines, so there’s no smooth six-cylinder option like you get in the Mercedes GLE, Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery. The Volvo’s D5 diesel model is your best bet if you do lots of long motorway journeys, while the smoother and quieter T6 petrol is a better bet if you spend more time in town.

There’s also a petrol-hybrid model, but don’t be fooled by its claimed 135mpg fuel economy – you’ll get more like 30mpg if you use the petrol engine regularly or get addicted to the sportscar-like acceleration. It is exempt from the London Congestion Charge, however, so you can save £11.50 per day if you drive in the Capital.

Whichever engine you go for, you’ll get a smooth-shifting – but slightly sluggish to respond –  eight-speed automatic gearbox and Volvo’s four-wheel-drive system which will help you get out of a muddy car park – just don’t expect it to go as far off-road as a Land Rover Discovery. The Volvo isn’t as comfy on bumpy roads as the Discovery either thanks to a slightly firm suspension setup.

What you can expect the Volvo XC90 to do is keep you and your family safe. It got a five-star score in Euro NCAP’s 2015 tests. The tests are tougher now, but the Volvo’s huge range of active safety systems mean it’s still one of the safest – not to mention most practical and stylish – SUVs on sale.

What's it like inside?

The Volvo XC90’s smart interior comes packed with plush materials and high-tech features but its infotainment system isn’t quite as easy to use as in some alternatives

The XC90 takes a simple, minimalist approach to interior design and looks pretty fab inside as a result

Mat Watson
carwow expert

How practical is it?

The seven-seater XC90’s cabin is comfortable, spacious and looks fantastic, but adults will feel cramped in the rearmost seats

The XC90 feels like a premium product that’s both practical and comes with loads of family focused features

Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
316 - 451 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,816 - 1,951 litres

You get heated, electrically adjustable front seats as standard in the Volvo XC90, and they’re among the most comfortable seats you’ll find in any car. They have lumbar support to reduce backache on long drives, and the driver’s seat comes with a handy memory function – especially useful if you regularly lend your car to someone else.

The XC90’s seats have a slim design to maximise knee and legroom for the people sitting behind you. As a result, your passengers will have plenty of space to stretch out in the middle row and there’s ample headroom for six-footers, even with the optional £1,295 panoramic glass roof fitted.

Carrying three abreast is a little tighter than in a Land Rover Discovery but the Volvo XC90 can hardly be called cramped. There’s a slight lump in the floor that cuts into foot space for your middle passenger but all three in the middle row can slide and recline independently.

Predictably, space in the third row of seats is a little less generous. Climbing in isn’t too difficult – the middle seats fold forward and slide easily – but you’ll struggle for knee, head and legroom if you’re taller than 5’11”. Thankfully, the seats themselves are raised slightly so your legs won’t be forced up around your ears and you can slide the middle row forwards to gain a little extra legroom.

A neat central booster seat is offered as a £220 optional extra that folds out of the central middle seat. It’s a helpful feature and means you can comfortably mount two Isofix child seats either side. Fitting these is fairly easy thanks to the wide door openings and clearly marked anchor points, but it’s still a little more fiddly than in an Audi Q7.

There are lots of spacious cubby holes dotted around the XC90’s interior, from a small slot beside the steering wheel that’s perfect for a smartphone to the vast door bins that’ll each hold a 1.5-litre bottle with room to spare.

Under the central armrest there’s plenty of room to tuck away a few phones and a pair of useful USB ports to charge them. The glovebox is just as spacious as anything you’ll find in an Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery and the central cupholders are big enough to hold even the biggest bladder-busting cup of service-station coffee.

The rear door bins are very nearly as big as those up front and there’s a central armrest with two further cupholders. Even the rearmost seats are treated to a cupholder and small phone-sized pocket each while a recessed central tray will stop any extra bits and bobs disappearing under the seats in front.

The Volvo XC90’s boot can carry an impressive 314 litres of luggage even with all seven seats in place. That’s bigger than the 258 litres offered by the Land Rover Discovery and about the same size as a Ford Focus, which can only carry five people. With the XC90’s rear seats in place you’ll be able to fit a stroller and a few soft bags or a set of golf clubs with room to spare.

Fold the rearmost seats down using levers beside the headrests and you can carry 967 litres – in contrast, the Audi Q7 can only swallow 770 litres. This’ll be more than big enough to carry five people’s luggage but it’s still slightly too small to carry a bike without removing its wheels.

If you need to carry even more, you’ll have to fold the middle row down, turning the Volvo XC90 into a vast van-like two seater with a 1,868-litre load bay. Unfortunately, there aren’t any handy latches in the boot to fold the seats down – you’ll have to open the back doors to reach the catches beside the headrests – but the resulting boot floor is completely flat and there’s no awkward load lip or step up behind the seats.

The boot floor lifts up to become a handy divider and there’s a generous amount of underfloor storage, too. With seven seats in place there’s nowhere to neatly store the load cover, however, so you’ll have to let it rattle around in the back or leave it at home.

There’s a 12V socket in the boot so rear-seat passengers can charge their phones and there’s a number of handy shopping hooks to help stop your groceries from breaking free and rolling around.

Read full interior review

What's it like to drive?

Easy to drive around town and comfortable at motorway speeds

The XC90 is a fairly comfortable cruiser, providing you avoid the optional 22-inch alloy wheels

You don’t feel like you’re rolling about on a rough sea like you do in some SUVs, but its suspension feels slightly firm

Mat Watson
carwow expert

You can get the Volvo XC90 with three four-cylinder engines – a petrol, a diesel and a hybrid.

The D5 diesel is the best all-rounder. Volvo claims it’ll return 48mpg but, in the real world, you’ll achieve around 35mpg. It’s powerful enough to cruise happily at speed but it’s neither more efficient, nor any quieter than the more powerful 3.0-litre V6 diesel offered in the Audi Q7.

The 2.0-litre T6 petrol is a sprightlier performer than the diesel, but it costs more and has higher running costs. Volvo claims it’ll return 35mpg but you’ll more likely see a figure in the high twenties. It’s smoother and grumbles less than the diesel when you accelerate hard, but it’s noticeably thirstier at motorway speeds.

The petrol hybrid T8 costs significantly more than either the D5 or T6 models but it offers a more tempting blend of performance and economy. It uses both a 2.0-litre petrol engine – boosted by a turbo and a supercharger – and an electric motor to deliver an impressive 407hp and claimed fuel economy of 134.5mpg. You’ll have to drive with the patience of a saint to get anywhere near half this rather optimistic figure, however, but it is exempt from paying London’s Congestion Charge – food for thought if you commute into London.

Go easy on the accelerator and the T8 will travel in near-silent electric-only mode for as many as 27 miles before its batteries need to be recharged – ideal if you live a short distance from work.

All models come with four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. As a result, the XC90 is quite happy to tackle a spot of light off-roading but it’ll get quickly left behind by a Land Rover Discovery when the going gets tough.

Despite its size, the Volvo XC90 is relatively easy to drive around town. Its raised driving position and large windows offer good visibility and the blind spots caused by the door pillars are less significant than in some equally large SUVs.

The optional £700 360-degree camera will help you thread it through tight spaces and width restrictors without worrying about scratching the paintwork or scraping a wheel. For complete peace of mind, pick the £325 park assist system – it’ll automatically steer you into parallel and bay parking spaces.

Unfortunately, there’s noticeably more wind and tyre noise in the Volvo XC90 at speed than you’ll get in an Audi Q7 and it doesn’t iron out bumps quite as comfortable as its German counterpart. The £2,150 air suspension improves things a little but it’ll still fidget slightly over rough roads and bounce across big potholes – especially if you pick the optional £1,000 22-inch alloy wheels.

On twisty country roads the XC90 has plenty of grip and doesn’t lean excessively, even through tight corners. It’s no sportscar, but hybrid T8 are surprisingly quick and far more fun on an empty backroad than the floaty Land Rover Discovery.

The Volvo XC90 received a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP in 2015. Testing procedures have been made significantly stricter since then but the Volvo’s vast array of active safety features mean it’ll still be one of the safest cars on sale. Alongside active cruise control, automatic emergency city braking and lane-keeping assist it comes with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection and is even offered with a Pilot Assist system than can drive the car autonomously for brief periods.

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