Things we like
- Great to drive
Not so much
- Options expensive
- Dynamics on air-suspension soggy
What stands out?The Volvo XC90 is an exceptionally comfortable, seven-seat, luxury SUV that pampers passengers in all three seat rows. It is a big car but goes and handles very well, and attends in thorough Volvo fashion to safety. All-wheel drive adds security on slippery surfaces.
What might bug me?If you have ordered the optional air-suspension, feeling giddy over rough roads. The air-suspended car allows lots of unsettling body movement at highway speeds. At low speeds it’s much better, but the standard suspension is the pick.
Having to spend $650 to add Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring to the infotainment system, which is a standard feature in plenty of more affordable cars.
Driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare, until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.
The litany of warning tones from the safety systems. The alerts can be helpful, but you do hear them a lot – and not always when you’re in danger.
What body styles are there?Five-door, seven-seat SUV only.
Every XC90 drives all four wheels. The XC90 is classed as a large SUV, higher priced.
What features does every Volvo XC90 have?CCruise control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Satellite navigation, displayed on a 9.0-inch central touchscreen that works even if you’re wearing gloves. Aux and USB inputs, and Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming. Voice control of the sat-nav and sound.
A leather-trimmed steering wheel, from which you can operate the cruise control and sound system. A 12.3-inch digital instrument panel.
Leather upholstery on all seven seats, and power adjustment of both front seats. A power-raising tailgate.
Four-zone climate control air-conditioning, which allows the driver, front passenger and second-row passengers to set their preferred temperatures. Cupholders and climate control vents for third-row passengers.
Long-lasting LED headlamps that shine into corners when you turn the wheel, and dip automatically for oncoming drivers. Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.
Roof rails, which make it easier to fit roof-mounted luggage systems.
Drive-mode selection with Dynamic, Eco and Off-road settings, which adjust how heavy the steering feels and how dramatically your pressing the accelerator affects the car. In Off-road mode, the accelerator response is less sensitive, to help you crawl the car over treacherous terrain.
Automatic emergency braking that works at city speeds, which Volvo calls City Safety. The system warns you of an impending frontal collision (typically with a car ahead that has slowed suddenly), and if you do not react it will brake for you, either avoiding the crash or reducing your impact speed.
Lane Departure Warning, which alerts you if you begin to drift out of your lane (a sign of fatigue). Road Sign Information, which displays the most recent speed limit sign, for example, on the digital instrument panel.
Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid. All new cars must have this feature.
Seven airbags. (To find out where they are placed, please open the review section “What about safety?”)
The XC90 is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?The twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder that powers D5 models is the more fuel efficient of the two conventional engines available in an XC90, consuming 6.2 litres/100km on the official test cycle (city and country combined).
One reason you might not choose this engine is that you expect you would be using your XC90 most of the time for shopping and school runs – short trips around town. The diesel is fitted with a particulate filter that prevents soot getting into the atmosphere, and to keep it clean you need to spend 20 minutes at highway speed every week or two.
Another reason you might not choose the diesel is that you want the sharper response of the petrol alternative. The 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol four-cylinder fitted to XC90 T6 models uses 8.5 litres/100km on the official test – still a good figure for this sort of car.
Both engines are very good, with much more pull than you’d expect from their size. They are smooth and quiet, but come to life when you’re driving them fast.
Expect real-world fuel consumption to be 30-50 percent higher on average, if you use the performance available.
A third powertrain option expected in the second quarter of 2016 pairs the 2.0 litre petrol engine with an electric motor. The result is the XC90 T8 hybrid, which on the official test consumes only 2.1 litres/100km. However, that figure relies on the battery contributing energy. Over long journeys, expect the XC90 T8 to consume about as much fuel as the petrol T6.
Every XC90 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
What key features do I get if I spend more?The least costly XC90s, the Momentum models, come with 19-inch alloy wheels. (Smaller, 18-inch wheels, on tyres with deeper sidewalls, are a no-cost option: these will ride more comfortably).
Spend more for an XC90 Inscription and wheel diameter increases to 20 inches, while the tyres get significantly wider and lower in profile – mainly for a sportier look, but also adding grip on dry surfaces. Upholstery is in a more sumptuous Nappa leather. And there is smart-key entry, which allows you to unlock the car without removing the key from your pocket or bag. The tailgate opens hands-free when your foot triggers a sensor beneath it.
You also get some more active safety aids: Collision Warning Mitigation Support, front and rear, and Intellisafe Surround, including Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert. (For an explanation of how these help, please open the review section “What about safety?”)
Pay marginally more again for an XC90 R-Design and you get a package adapted slightly for more spirited driving, while giving up the smart-key entry and hands-free tailgate. There’s a choice between Contour and R-Design Contour seats, which provide progressively deeper bolsters each side of you, to help hold you in place around corners. You also gain the option of Nubuck or perforated Nappa leather upholstery. The R-Design comes with shift-paddles mounted on the steering wheel, and carbonfibre-look inlays across the centre console, dash and doors.
Most XC90 features can be ordered on any version, either at no cost or for an additional sum. For example, the less bolstered Nappa Comfort seats that come with an XC90 Inscription are a no-cost option on R-Design, and an extra-cost option on the non-Nappa Momentum. And you can add smart-key entry and a hands-free tailgate to Momentum or R-Design for about $1000.
Other extra-cost options include a very expensive but brilliant sound system from Bowers & Wilkins. You can order Apple CarPlay (which puts your iPhone screen on the touchscreen). An optional head-up display projects speed and other information close to the driver’s line of sight.
A further option on all models is air-suspension, which replaces the standard steel springs with air cushions. The idea is to provide a more comfortable ride, but it also allows you to lower the rear of the car 50mm via a button on the dash – making it easier to load heavy items.
You can choose from several interior colour combinations. There’s also an array of alloy wheel designs, and on R-Design you can order wheels of up to 22-inch diameter.
Does any upgrade have a down side?The optional 21-inch and (on R-Design) 22-inch wheels use lower-profile tyres that not only will be more expensive than those on the smaller wheels but are not likely to last as long. As well, they bring a less comfortable ride (because there is less cushioning air between the wheel and the road).
The optional air suspension affects the XC90’s handling, with more body roll and a less composed manner in corners. The car is sharper and more fun to drive on the regular suspension, and the benefit in ride comfort from the air springs is small.
Ice White is the only standard colour on Momentum and Inscription: all others cost extra. The R-Design also offers Passion Red as standard, and a greater number of extra-cost colours.
How comfortable is the XC90?The XC90 is very comfortable, with a roomy cabin. Front seats provide excellent support on long trips. The driver sits quite high, and controls are easy to reach and use.
Second and third row seating is also excellent, and the XC90’s sporty styling does not detract from the experience inside. The good glasshouse brings everyone a fine view of what’s passing by, leaving little chance you’ll feel hemmed in. The cabin is quiet, isolating you well from unwelcome external noises.
The optional premium audio systems cost a lot, but provide a rich, all-encompassing musical experience that is almost unmatched in a car.
What about safety in a Volvo XC90?The XC90 has seven airbags: two in front of the driver and front passenger; side airbags to protect front occupants from side impacts; a driver’s knee airbag; and head-protecting curtain airbags down each side that protect even the third-row passengers.
Some cars at this price level supply a further two side airbags, to protect the upper bodies of rear occupants from side impacts. However, Volvo says the XC90’s cabin is strong enough to make these unhelpful.
Among the active safety aids on every XC90 are city-speed auto braking, a driver fatigue alert, and an alert that prods you if you are drifting out of your lane. Unusually, the auto braking also works at intersections, to prevent your turning into the path of an oncoming car.
The XC90 Momentum adds the Intellisafe Surround pack, which brings Blind Spot Information (a light in the side mirrors warns you of vehicles alongside out of view), and Cross Traffic Alert (which alerts you, when reversing, to cars crossing behind).
Intellisafe Surround also gives you Rear Collision Warning with braking at a standstill. This looks for cars approaching too fast from the rear, and flashes the indicators should it find one. If it thinks you are about to be rear-ended, it tensions your seatbelts and applies the brakes, to reduce your potential for injury.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has given the Volvo XC90 the maximum possible five-star safety rating.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?You will enjoy driving the XC90: for driving pleasure, and especially among large SUVs, it’s a standout.
The 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine is the star, with its punchy, responsive character. It’s so good that it makes you wonder whether Volvo has sneaked a much bigger engine under the bonnet.
Turbo-diesel versions also feel very driveable and strong, even when carrying a big load or towing. The diesel is an excellent engine, but the petrol is more entertaining.
With either engine you will enjoy great handling and roadholding, and precise steering.
That’s as long as you don’t option the air-suspension. XC90s with this feature feel less sure-footed than those on the regular suspension, and on bumpy roads move your body around more inside the cabin. That makes them not only less comfortable but also harder to steer, and slower point-to-point.
The all-wheel drive system on the XC90 helps it maintain drive on snowy or otherwise slippery sealed roads, on gravel roads and on smooth tracks. The car does not have the ground clearance, underbody protection or low range gearing it would need for rough off-roading. And if you were to get a flat tyre while off the beaten track, you would have to struggle home on the skinny space-saver spare.
How is life in the rear seats?It’s great. Second row seats are just as good as those at the front, and they too slide and tilt. The seating is more than broad enough for three adults, with plenty of room for heads and legs.
Rear passengers on either side can set different climate control temperatures, and have excellent door-bins for storing stuff.
The middle-row also has integrated child-seat bolsters. A portion of the seat base can be raised and locked into place, positioning small children more correctly for seatbelts and thus removing the need to carry around booster seats.
The XC90’s third-row is the real deal also, and best in class. Instead of token, temporary looking pop-ups, these seats are very supportive and exquisitely trimmed in leather. There is enough space for two adults, and even on long and arduous journeys this would be a pleasant area for children. There are air-conditioning vents dedicated to this row, too, and speakers so that the music doesn’t get lost.
How is it for carrying stuff?The XC90 has one of the most practical load areas of any vehicle on sale. Every seat can be folded individually, including the front passenger seat, and (to make loading easier) even the driver’s seat. All fold completely flat, for an uninterrupted load floor.
There’s a 451-litre luggage area when all three seat rows are in use. That can be extended to 1152 litres with the third-row seats folded flat, and an enormous 1951 litres with the second row seats down also.
A foot-triggered, hands-free opener for the powered tailgate is standard on XC90 Inscriptions and an option on the other versions.
Legal towing capacity is 2250kg – not bad for a road-oriented big SUV. The XC90 could easily tow a jet-ski, a single horse float or a weekend trailer, for example.
Where does Volvo make the XC90?The Volvo XC90 is made in Sweden.
What might I miss that similar cars have?If you were keen on getting a big boat or caravan, perhaps a legal towing limit higher than the XC90’s 2250kg. The Audi Q7, along with several less costly seven-seaters such as the Ford Everest, can tow 3500kg.
The other thing to keep in mind is that like many European makers, Volvo charges you extra for optional features that are standard on many less costly cars. For example, keyless entry and start is an extra-cost option on any XC90 but the Inscriptions. And adaptive cruise control – which maintains a safe distance from the car in front at highway speeds – is an extra-cost option on any XC90.
Among other cars you might consider are the Lexus RX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes GLE, Volkswagen Touareg, and BMW X5.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?The petrol-fuelled T6 Momentum provides the most compelling mix of driving enjoyment, fuel efficiency and features for the price.
Are there plans to update the XC90 soon?The current XC90 was introduced in August 2015 as an all-new model. It won’t be replaced this decade. Expect an additional model – the T8 petrol-electric hybrid – to arrive in the second quarter of 2016, with a mild update likely about 2018.
Things we like
- Great to drive
Not so much
- Options expensive
- Dynamics on air-suspension soggy
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