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.
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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. It’s a bit like a holiday in an Airbnb in the Lake District – flashier holidays in the Caribbean might tempt you, but a week away in the fresh air and countryside is easier, less pretentious and every bit as satisfying.
So is it a worthy alternative to the Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5 and the Audi Q7? The Volvo XC90 betters these three 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 screens, 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 road trip. 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
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 BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery. The Volvo’s mild-hybrid B5 diesel model is your best bet if you do lots of long motorway journeys, while the smoother and quieter T5 or T6 petrol is a better bet if you spend more time in town.
There’s also plug-in petrol hybrid model called the T8, but to get its claimed 113mpg fuel economy you’ll need to charge its battery often and use it in its electric-only mode as much as possible. You’ll get more like 30mpg if you use the petrol engine regularly or get addicted to the sportscar-like acceleration. However you drive it, it’s exempt from things like the London Congestion Charge, though, saving you money. Check out our full Volvo XC90 Plug-in Hybrid review.
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 a Discovery or Q7, either.
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.
So, if you like what you’re hearing, make sure to check out our deals pages for the very best Volvo XC90 prices available.
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
The Volvo XC90 comes with heated, electrically adjustable front seats as standard 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 front seats have a slim design to maximise knee and legroom for the people sitting behind you. As a result, your passengers have plenty of space to stretch out in the middle row and there’s ample headroom for six-footers, even with the optional 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 which 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 reasonably tall. 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 an 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.
There’s plenty of room under the central armrest 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 has 302 litres of bootspace 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. In this configuration, 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 680 litres beneath the tonneau cover – in contrast, an Audi Q7 can 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 1,856-litre load bay to the roof. Unfortunately, there aren’t any handy latches in the boot to fold the seats down so you’ll have to open the back doors to reach the catches beside the headrests. 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.
The XC90 is a fairly comfortable cruiser, providing you avoid the largest alloy wheel options.
You don’t feel like you’re rolling about on a rough sea like you do in some SUVs, but you'll feel bumps more keenly through your seat
You can get the Volvo XC90 with one diesel and two petrol engines, or as a fuel-sipping hybrid.
The B5 diesel is the best all-rounder. Volvo claims it’ll return around 44mpg which you should be able to match with careful use of the accelerator. Also helping is its 48v mild-hybrid system, which stores energy when braking or decelerating in a second battery to help the engine out when accelerating again and power various functions, in turn, saving fuel. All-told the B5 is powerful enough to cruise happily at speed but it isn’t as quiet as the more powerful 3.0-litre V6 diesel you can get in the Audi Q7.
The 2.0-litre T5 and T6 petrol engines feel more sprightly on the move than the diesel and they grumble less when you accelerate hard. They aren’t quite as economical, though – especially at motorway speeds. You can expect both the T5 and T6 to return an mpg figure in the high twenties in normal driving conditions.
The plug-in hybrid T8 costs significantly more than either the B5 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 fed by an 11.8kWh battery to deliver an impressive 390hp and claimed fuel economy of more than 80mpg. Sure, you’ll have to drive with the patience of a saint to match this figure, but at least the T8 model is exempt from London’s Congestion Charge – food for thought if you commute into the capital.
Even better, the T8 moves silently when running on electricity alone, making it the most relaxing XC90 to drive at low speeds. It’ll cover nearly 29 miles on electricity, which is the majority of peoples’ commutes covered. However, you’ll need charging at home or at work (or both) to make life as simple as possible.
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, while its light steering makes it easy to manoeuvre.
The optional 360-degree camera will help you thread it through tight spaces and width restrictors without worrying about scraping a wheel and – for complete peace of mind – there’s a park assist system that’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 optional air suspension improves things, but it’ll still fidget slightly over rough roads and bounce across big potholes – especially if you pick the optional 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 sports car, but the hybrid T8 model is surprisingly quick and far more fun on an empty backroad than the floaty Land Rover Discovery.
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 which can accelerate, brake and steer for you for brief periods.
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.
Volvo XC90 colours
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