"The Volvo XC90 helped define the modern, family oriented 4x4 when it was launched in 2002, and even today it's still a very appealing car today."
The Volvo XC90 was Volvo's very first full-sized SUV to enter the UK market, rightfully launched with a flourish and some fanfare. That was in 2002, but to this day it still offers a seven-seat interior that is great for families, a not-too-dated rugged exterior, and a reasonable 4x4 system that was very impressive on its original launch. So, a decade on and what does the XC90 offer? Well, first thing any potential buyer needs to know is that a new model is waiting in the winds for an early 2014 launch, so this first generation is coming to the end of its life, so it may not be the wisest purchase given that it's hardly cheap. Having said that, it still offers a big boot, with a very practical split tailgate making the loading of heavy and bulky objects very easy; the three rows of seats offer lots of room for seven passengers – provided the last two are kids in the rearmost row – and there's plenty of storage compartments provided all around the interior. The old petrol engine has been scrapped, which leaves a 2.4-litre turbocharged diesel with an automatic gearbox that's pretty loud when accelerating hard. The Volvo XC90 is available in five main specifications – entry-level ES, then SE, SE Lux, Executive and top-of-the-range R-Design. The glass half-full perspective is that Volvo was so ahead of the game a decade ago that the XC90 is still a good car. Glass half-empty is that rivals like the BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery both look and perform better. But the new model due in 2014 could well change that.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Don’t be fooled into thinking that only one engine choice means cheap running costs. The 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel isn’t very efficient, and being combined with an automatic gearbox doesn’t help. It returns a low-end 34mpg in combined fuel economy, while producing a substantial 219g/km of CO2 emissions, which means a hefty road tax bill and expensive visits to the service station, too. Also, Volvos aren’t the cheapest cars to repair, so we’d recommend taking it up on one of its fixed-price, three-year servicing deals to prevent any expensive mechanics bills. Basically, many of its newer SUV rivals are both easier on your wallet and kind to the environment.
Interior & comfort
One thing this seasoned SUV veteran offers in abundance is comfort. Sitting in the front of the XC90 is like relaxing into a favourite armchair, so cushioned and supportive are the seats. Then, from that starting point, the visibility of the road ahead is truly great, thanks to a commanding driving position that comes from the raised ride height. It may be old, but the XC90 is also still an excellent long-distance cruiser. A small flaw is that the engine does get noisy when you rev it hard, but road and wind noise are barely audible thanks to good insulation. However, the back row of seats are really only suitable for children to sit in, lacking the space and comfort of the front and second row of seats. Adults will be able to squeeze in there, but they won’t like you very much after a long drive – and will likely have difficulty getting out!
Practicality & boot space
The XC90's age means it could hardly expect to have class-leading practically any more, but you still get lots of versatility and ample space for the (not inconsiderable) cost. With all the seats in place, the boot offers 249 litres of storage capacity, expanding to 615 litres when you fold the back seats down flat. It also has a split tailgate, which makes loading and unloading very easy indeed. Comfort and space are both generally good, although, as previously mentioned, the back seats are really only for children, as adults won’t be able to sit in back there without discomfort over longer journeys. We have no complaints about the hardiness of the interior, which may look out of date but is robust and sturdy, with plenty of storage cubbies dotted about for family use. It's also worth noting that it's not the easiest car to navigate around busy roads or to park because of its substantial dimensions.
Reliability & safety
Volvo has an enviable reputation in this regard, and even managed to climb two places in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, to rank eighth (out of 32) in the manufacturer rankings. That makes it one of the most consistent performers over the past few years. The XC90, however, could only muster 120th place in the top 150 cars list, which isn’t awful but isn’t very impressive – but that's what happens to cars of this age. Either owners have had their XC90s for a long time, in which case more goes wrong, or new owners begin to realise that other, more modern rivals offer a more up-to-date experience. It's actually impressive that a decade-old SUV ranks at all. And you can’t deny that the XC90 still lives up to Volvo's reputation for robust engineering and class-leading safety. Inside, you may feel like it's the turn of the millennium again, but it remains well constructed, and there hasn’t been any recalls since the last one in 2006. It has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety test rating, but it was awarded back in 2003, before Euro NCAP tightened the criteria to make it harder. Even so, you still get an innovative rollover protection system, plus driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints and a side impact protection system, all fitted a standard.
Engines, drive & performance
This is where the XC90 shows its age the most. A decade ago, you didn’t expect an excellent drive from an SUV, but now standards have been raised along with the ride height, and the Volvo's soft suspension dulls its handling too much. It's the price you pay for such high comfort levels. You get a more composed and responsive drive from newer rivals such as the X5 or Discovery 4, both being better suited to the UK's windy, increasingly rough network of roads. It's fortunate that the only engine left in the XC90 – the 197bhp 2.4-litre D5 diesel – does still have some decent acceleration and feels fast. But even then, it's a bit too tall to go from straight-line speed into a corner without giving into to an uncomfortable amount of body roll. It's not awful, but it's what you’d expect from a 10-year-old car.
Price, value for money & options
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a car of the XC90's age to be cheaper than its rivals, but that's not the case. It may be old, but it isn’t cheap – which is especially galling when you consider that its resale values on the used car market aren’t even particularly strong, simply because of its age. You’re definitely unlikely to see much of money back when you come to sell it on. Having said that, the seven-seater still undercuts rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery 4 and the Audi Q7, and is just about premium enough to justify its price tag. On top o that, Volvo regularly offers some very generous deals on the XC90 – it's not uncommon to see it offered with as much as £7,000 knocked off the list price. But with a brand-new model around the corner, we’d advise hanging on for that one or saving yourself some real money by buying one used.