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New car review

Volvo XC90 review

Subtle updates and better efficiency for Volvo's flagship SUV

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Design
10
Comfort
9
Driving experience
8
Value for money
8
Safety
10

Summary

If you want a big SUV that is elegantly handsome, supremely comfortable and able to handle any job with effortless ease, the Volvo XC90 is the best in town.

Summary

If you want a big SUV that is elegantly handsome, supremely comfortable and able to handle any job with effortless ease, the Volvo XC90 is the best in town.
 

60-second summary

What is it?
The Volvo XC90 has had a mid-life refresh – a mild visual update and mild hybrid technology under the bonnet

Key features
Mild hybrid diesel power to boost efficiency,

Our view
Volvo hasn’t felt the need to make change for change’s sake when it comes to its flagship SUV. There has been minimal meddling with the clean styling and, visually, the Volvo remains a model of restrained elegance.

Under the skin, a new mild-hybrid diesel will be the biggest seller and the electrical assistance helps provide more performance while using less fuel.

If you want a big SUV that is elegantly handsome, supremely comfortable and able to handle any job with effortless ease, the Volvo XC90 is the best in town.


Volvo XC90 R-Design and Inscription | The Car Expert

Full review

Introduction

It’s hard to believe that the second-generation Volvo XC90 has been around for five years now. It’s been an enormously successful model for Volvo, not only following in the footsteps of the original model but setting the blueprint for every new Volvo that has followed. And it would sell in even greater numbers if UK car buyers could get over their obsession with Range Rover or premium German badges.

Now it’s time for the XC90’s mid-life update, and it’s pleasing to see that Volvo hasn’t felt the need to make change for change’s sake. There has been minimal meddling with the clean styling beyond the usual new wheels and plastic trims, and visually the Volvo remains a model of restrained elegance.

The real news is underneath, with the XC90 spearheading Volvo’s shift towards increased electrification across the range. A new mild hybrid diesel engine takes centre stage, providing 48-volt electrical assistance to either boost performance or drive electrical systems like headlights and stereo. Volvo claims up to 15% improvement in fuel economy from the new B5 mild hybrid set-up compared to the outgoing D5 diesel (basically the same engine minus the electrical assistance).

For now, the petrol T5 and T6 engine continue unchanged, but will be replaced by mild hybrid versions sometime in the next year. Meanwhile, the T8 plug-in hybrid version now offers more range from its battery to give a few more miles of electric running.

Officially, the B5 diesel should get you an average of 37-44mpg according to the latest official WLTP lab tests (depending on specification and, of course, your driving style and circumstances). That’s substantially better than the T5 or T6 petrol models, which should get about 26-30mpg. The T8 plug-in hybrid scores an average of 80-113mpg in the lab tests, but that will very much depend on how well you can keep it running on electrical power and minimise the use of the petrol engine.

Buying and owning a Volvo XC90

  • Volvo XC90 B5 Inscription MY2020 - front | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XC90 B5 Inscription MY2020 - rear | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XCVolvo XC90 T8 R-Design MY2020 - front | The Car Expert90 B5 R-Design MY2020 - front | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design MY2020 - rear | The Car Expert

The Volvo XC90 is available in three trim levels. Momentum is first up and provides a generous level of kit as standard, R-Design is the Sporty Spice version with big wheels and slightly more aggressive styling, while Inscription is the top-spec luxury model.

All three trims can also be upgraded to Pro versions with a package of extra goodies, and there’s the usual array of optional extras to quickly ratchet up the price if you get too greedy.

 
 

The B5 mild hybrid diesel and T5 petrol engines are available on all three trims, but you can’t have the T6 petrol or T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain in entry-level Momentum spec. Pricing starts at just over £52,000 on-road for a T5 petrol Momentum, with the B5 diesel just over £1,000 more. Stepping up to R-Design costs an extra £3,300, with the Inscription about £400 again.

In the UK, R-Design models are the most popular of the three trims, with about 40% of all XC90s specced this way. The diesel D5 engine has been the most popular powertrain since the current Volvo XC90 first arrived on UK roads in late 2014, and that’s set to continue with the updated model. Despite the overall shift away from diesel power in the marketplace, it still makes plenty of sense for a large, heavy SUV.

Sterling safety standards have always been part of the Volvo philosophy, and the XC90 performed exceptionally well when it was tested by Euro NCAP back in 2015 with some of the best scores ever achieved. The facelift doesn’t add anything new that wasn’t available before, but all versions of the XC90 get advanced lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control systems as standard. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems are still optional, though.

Inside the Volvo XC90

  • Volvo XC90 Inscription interior | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XC90 R-Design interior | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XC90 R-Design interior detail | The Car Expert

Interior design is a real highlight of the current generation of Volvos. Once again, this started with the XC90 back in 2014 and, once again, Volvo has chosen not to go overboard with unnecessary change.

Most functions are controlled through a nine-inch touchscreen, keeping the dashboard clean and uncluttered. Other car manufacturers may follow a similar philosophy, but Volvo does it better than any of them. The few physical buttons and switches are beautifully detailed, such as the diamond-cut dials for volume and drive controls, or the crystal gear level on Inscription models (yes, I know this sounds tacky but it actually looks and feels lovely).

As is becoming de rigeur for premium brands, the conventional instrument dials have been replaced by a 12-inch digital screen that can display navigation and travel information, as well as your speedometer and other gauges.

The seats are superbly comfortable, the driving position is excellent and second-row passengers have plenty of room. The third row is inevitably pretty tight, but kids up to about 1.6 metres tall will be fine. Interior fit and finish was generally as you’d expect in a £50K+ car, although not quite best-in-class good.

The standard sound system is perfectly decent, but the optional Harman Kardon system (£850) is very good and the Bowers & Wilkins system (£3,000) is outstanding. If you want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto it’s a £300 option, but it’s included with the optional sound systems, which makes the Harman Kardon upgrade very tempting.

Downsides? A few. As much as we all love touchscreens in every part of our lives, they’re still harder to use on in a moving car compared to physical buttons and switches. And while Volvo’s nine-inch portrait screen layout was class-leading when it was new, today the graphics feel a little out-of-date compared to newer rivals. Nothing that’s inherently wrong in terms of how it works, but not quite as slick as some other systems.

Also bear in mind that if you choose the T8 plug-in hybrid, you’ll lose 40 litres of boot space plus you need to carry the chunky charging cable around. Not a big deal if you don’t use the third row of seats, but if you do then it doesn’t leave a lot of boot space to play with.

Driving the Volvo XC90

  • Volvo XC90 R-Design 2019 road test | The Car Expert
  • Volvo XC90 Inscription 2019 road test | The Car Expert

Being a mild hybrid, the Volvo XC90 B5 model isn’t able to run on electricity alone. That means you don’t get the surreal silence when driving through a village or town that you do in the T8 plug-in hybrid version, because the B5’s diesel engine is always grumbling away underneath. It’s not noisy, but it’s not quite as hushed as some rivals. The T5/T6 petrol units are smoother and sweeter than the diesel, but need to be worked harder when you’re carrying passengers and/or luggage.

The electrical assistance provided by the mild hybrid does help to make the B5 feel pretty punchy when you put your foot down, eliminating most of that small delay you normally get in a diesel car when you pull away from rest or start an overtaking move on the motorway.

The T8 plug-in hybrid is noticeably smoother and quieter, gliding around on electrical power for up to 23 miles (if you’re gentle) and with a petrol engine joining in smoothly when more response is needed or the battery’s running low.

Whichever engine is under the bonnet, the Volvo XC90 is a very comfortable car to drive. The steering lacks any real feeling but the nose responds faithfully to wherever you point it, and the XC90 rides smoothly on most road surfaces – especially if you have the (optional) air suspension and avoid the largest wheels in the brochure.

Fast cornering isn’t really this car’s forte, and your passengers will thank you to stop it with that silliness. Sit back, relax and let the big Volvo glide along from here to wherever you’re heading. Whether it’s the daily commute or a long road trip, it’s an enormously comfortable way to travel.

Verdict

If you want a big SUV that’s shouty and sporty and in your face all the time, there are many models around that can help you with those needs. This is not one of those cars.

If, however, you want a big SUV that is understated yet handsome, supremely comfortable and able to handle almost any job with effortless ease – even if you don’t need seven seats – the Volvo XC90 is still one of the best new cars you can buy.

In fact, if my money-no-object dream garage had space for only two cars, one of those cars would be the latest Ferrari/Porsche/Aston Martin supercar for weekend winding road fun, and the other one would be a Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Pro for every other driving need. Please feel free to leave your hate mail in the comments section below.

The T8 plug-in hybrid is certainly the pick of the powertrains, but it’s £10K dearer than the perfectly decent B5 mild hybrid diesel and even more expensive than the equally competent T5 petrol – and not available on the Momentum spec either – so for most people the numbers won’t stretch that far. Despite justifiable concerns about the future of diesel, the B5 is still the best choice in the XC90 range for now.

Good points

  • Handsome, restrained styling
  • Supremely comfortable in the right spec
  • Clever interior design

Bad points

  • Touchscreen tricky to use on the move
  • Infotainment system no longer best in class
  • T8 plug-in hybrid is nice but pricey

Similar cars

Audi Q7 | BMW X5 | Jeep Grand Cherokee | Land Rover Discovery | Lexus RX L | Maserati Levante | Mercedes-Benz GLE | Porsche Cayenne | Range Rover Sport | Volkswagen Touareg

Key specifications

Model as tested: Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription
Price (on-road): £67,045
Powertrain: 2.0-litre petrol engine + electric motor
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 303hp + 87hp
Torque: 400Nm + 240Nm
Top speed: 140 mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Fuel economy: 80.7 – 113.0 mpg (WLTP)
CO2 emissions: xx
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars (2015)

Design
10
Comfort
9
Driving experience
8
Value for money
8
Safety
10

Summary

If you want a big SUV that is elegantly handsome, supremely comfortable and able to handle any job with effortless ease, the Volvo XC90 is the best in town.
Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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