Volvo XC90 D5 review

Volvo XC90 D5 review

Volvo is in fine form currently having worked hard to establish strong foundations on which to build a good range of cars. Having first dramatically simplified and improved its engine range, other work has included developing two new platforms and plans to offer electrified models across its line-up. Here we test the flagship XC90 to see whether it lives up to Volvo's current promise.

Review by Chris Lilly


The XC90 is a large car, make no mistake. Some might look askance then when you find out that this version is powered by a 2.0 litre four cylinder turbo diesel engine. In fact Volvo doesn't offer an engine larger than this whether you pick the diesel, petrol or plug-in hybrid variant, such is the faith they have in the Drive E engine range. It might be compact and sound too small, but in D5 trim the XC90 produces 235hp and 480 Nm of torque. It's not going to set the world alight when you consider the huge 3.0 litre V6 diesels offered by rivals such as BMW's X5 and the Audi Q7, but there is more than enough punch beneath your right foot for most. Performance figures come in at a 7.8 second 0-62mph time before the XC90 hits a top speed of 137mph.

Behind the wheel, the Volvo doesn't ever feel fast, but then that says alot about how the car is set-up rather than a lack of performance. Accelerate out of junctions, pull off a slip road, or cruise at motorway speeds and the engine never struggles, even when pulling hard up hill. Helping it along is an eight speed automatic gearbox with good gaps between the ratios, meaning it isn't constantly changing gears or running out of puff. Power goes through a four-wheel drive system that ordinarily favours the front wheels, but it can be shifted to whichever axle needs the power most at any time. It's not a set-up that gets the driver involved, rather one that allows them to climb in and just drive with no effort required. On the whole then, performance is adequate and in keeping with the car's set-up.


Think of SUVs in three main markets - sporty, rugged and luxurious - and the XC90 is definitely the latter. If you want the poise of a sports car, pick the BMW X5 (or buy a sports car), while a Land Rover Discovery will get you across any terrain you set your heart on. Volvo then has focused on the comfortable end of the scale, and they have tailored the handling to suit. 'Waft' is the verb that springs to mind playing a word association game, and the XC90 travels along with similar levels of refinement to the likes of the much vaunted Range Rover. Lumps, bumps and poor surfaces are absorbed with aplomb thanks to air suspension - though the standard steel set-up is not much worse to be honest. That said, the XC90 is no wallowy old barge in the corners, with Volvo's suspension gurus having done a good job to control two tonnes of car through a bend. The XC90 corners remarkably level considering the tall ride height and focus on comfort, while it's also surprisingly agile. It's not going to win many races around a race track, but there is more than enough feedback to let you place the car confidently on the road, feeding the car into corners with the agility of much smaller models and feeling composed throughout. This translates well to the more mundane aspects of driving too such as daling with car parks, where the XC90 can be spun around tight corners remarkably easily.


The big XC90 is a handsome machine in my eyes, and there are few who seem to disagree despite beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Refined, stylish, yet unmistakeably Volvo and Swedish, the XC90 manages to exude a presence on the road, but not a menacing one. The squared off shape makes for an extremely practical car, and one that drivers can quickly sort out what size gaps it will fit in - a good job really. Since the first generation was such a hit as a seven-seater, this version retains that ability. You get a good amount of usable boot space even with all seven seats up - 451 litres all told, or more than a Nissan Qashqai's load area. Put the rearmost seats down to create a conventional five seater and that increases to a cavernous 1,102 litres, while if you put all the rear seats down for huge tip runs, house moves, or Ikea shopping trips, you will have almost 2,000 litres of luggage space to play with.


Volvo XC90 interior

As you might have realised by now, the XC90 certainly is comfy. Infact, it's one of the most relaxing cars to drive on the market today, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's recently sat in a Volvo. The Swedish firm's seats are second to none and adjust electrically in all directions to help get a good driving position. Those in the front get the full throne treatment, but those in the middle and rear rows will hardly complain. In fact even the third-row seats, which are usually designed for children's use only, managed to cope with a six foot three passenger from the Welsh border to London and back in one day - with no complaint surprisingly. He was aided by the fact that the middle row of seats slide backwards and forwards to adjust leg space, but all the chairs are comfortable, and head leg and shoulder space are all excellent. This impression of luxury is only reinforced by the controls, with a large portrait-style touch screen controlling the vast majority of controls. This leaves a clean and setremely stylish cabin, and makes a lot of sense, particularly for the sat-nav. With a taller screen, you get to see more of the road ahead on the map, which is rather helpful. Finally, the biggest bringer of relaxation in the XC90 was its Pilot Assist function, which offers semi-autonomous driving at low speeds, steering, accelerating and braking for you. It made pushing through rush hour traffic on the commute a doddle and can be thoroughly recommended.


Here we come to the other side of that 2.0 litre diesel arguement. Power might only be decent, rather than plentiful, but it does make for a far more economical car. Considering the XC90's weight and size, an official fuel economy figure of 49.6 MPG is pretty good, while CO2 emissions are 149 g/km. I managed to average low to mid 40s MPG, with a broad mix of driving conditions and styles, which isn't bad for the size of car all things considered. This car is only five centimeters of the size of a Range Rover after all.


Using a combination of turbo and supercharging, Volvo is able to downsize its engines to help reduce emissions and fuel consumption. This, combined with an eight-speed gearbox, means the diesel powered XC90 sits in VED band F, costing £145 a year to tax. The ability to run only in front wheel drive the majority of the time improves efficiency, while clever fuel injection, heat management, valve timing and stop/start systems all help too.
According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 52.


There are three trim levels to choose from - Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription. Standard equipment includes Pilot Assist, Hill Start Assist, keyless entry and start, four-wheel drive, speed sensitive steering, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, park assist, 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, leather trim, a 9-inch Sensus touchscreen infotainment system with DAB and Bluetooth, and Volvo's comprehensive safety systems - and that's just a tiny part of the kit list. R-Deisgn models get a stylish body kit, sports seats, large TFT driver's display, leather seats, and 20-inch alloys, while top of the range Inscription models go for a different look with similar features to the R Design, but with a focus on luxury rather than sportiness. Equipment levels are excellent and make the range's starting price of £46,850 look pretty good value.


The Volvo XC90 is extremely impressive as a large car that will deal with just about everything family life can throw at it. A huge load space, seating for seven, top equipment levels, a decently frugal powertrain, and four wheel drive for those slippery winter mornings mean the Volvo can take everything in its stride. With prices starting below £50,000, it's not exactly a bargain buy, but it does prove really good value once running costs, practicality, and equipment levels are considered. In a competative market with the likes of the Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5, Audi Q7, Lexux RX, and Mercedes GLE, the XC90 gives a good account of itself and, narrowly pipping the X5, would be my pick of the bunch.

Volvo XC90 rear

Model tested: Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum
Body-style: Large seven-seat SUV
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre diesel / 149 g/km
Trim grades: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design

On-road price: Range from £46,850. Price as tested £46,850
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 stars

Click here for more info about this model range »

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:10th Jun 2016

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