Volvo XC90 SUV review
"The Volvo XC90 looks smart, is very safe and it’s incredibly comfortable and practical"
- Very comfortable and quiet inside
- Advanced safety and in-car tech
- Luxurious, yet also practical
- Pretty expensive to buy
- Petrol engine is noisy and thirsty
- Hybrid can’t match economy claims
Verdict – is the Volvo XC90 a good car?
While the Volvo XC90 isn’t by any means a driver’s car, it’s tough to beat in terms of comfort and refinement. The XC90 will appeal to buyers after a safe, practical and luxurious SUV that’s a little more restrained in its approach. There are more economical rivals out there, though, and the Volvo XC90 is an expensive option to buy outright, although the plug-in hybrid Recharge version will appeal more to company-car buyers thanks to its lower emissions and company car tax.
Volvo XC90 models, specs and alternatives
The Volvo XC90 was the first SUV released by the Swedish brand, and has become one of its most well-known models. It delivers everything you’d expect from a Volvo, as it’s practical, safe, comfortable and feels very high quality.
The latest XC90 exudes much more luxury appeal than the original car and has an expensive price tag to match. It rivals other premium cars such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery. These competitors are awash with hi-tech features and gadgetry, whereas the XC90 is a little more minimalist – while Volvo’s interiors might seem more conservatively designed, they offer all the essential technology without being too fussy or gimmicky.
The XC90’s exterior design is smart, but understated. One stand-out feature is Volvo’s ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED lights, but apart from that the Volvo XC90 is fairly undramatic. This will form part of the appeal for some owners, who prefer its discrete presence. If you want a large, luxury seven-seater SUV but don’t want to look like a showoff, then the XC90 is a perfect choice.
Volvo knows its customers appreciate the little things, so it’s included some neat touches including small Swedish flags stitched into the seats, plus a small inscription on the seatbelts that reads 'Since 1959' - a reminder of the year Volvo became the first manufacturer to introduce the three-point safety belt as standard.
Tech is a strong point despite the minimalist-looking dash. The focal point is the portrait-oriented touchscreen display, which houses all the key features. You control it like you would a smartphone, by swiping, pinching and tapping thanks to its advanced Google-based software.
There’s lots of room inside and even the sixth and seventh seats are roomy enough for adults. The comfortable ride means that, even on bumpy roads, the whole family will stay settled and it’s a very smooth car on the motorway.
Considering its bulk, the XC90's 2.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol and diesel engines might seem a little on the small size, but they prove capable of endowing the big SUV with respectable performance, as well as impressive fuel economy. The Recharge T8 petrol plug-in hybrid makes particular sense for company car users and those who live in crowded, urban areas. All models use an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Our favourite is the B5 (D) diesel which offers up to 40.3mpg fuel economy. The B5 (P) and (now discontinued) B6 petrols are more powerful but rather more costly to run, and although the Recharge T8 plug-in hybrid offers impressive economy on paper, not all motorists will achieve it in the real world. While the grippy XC90 is happy to carve through corners, the high degree of body lean and light steering don't encourage the spirited driving that a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 allows. The XC90 is far better suited to quiet, relaxed cruising.
The XC90 is very well equipped as standard, thanks to features like its intuitive infotainment system, LED headlights, leather seats, a powered tailgate and 19-inch alloy wheels. You can choose from Core, Plus and Ultimate trim levels, the two offering enhanced sportiness and luxury respectively. Our pick of the line-up is the XC90 B5 diesel in Plus trim.
Volvo is regarded as something of a pioneer when it comes to safety and the XC90 is its flagship model, so there’s a long list of technology to keep you safe. This resulted in a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, with an impressive 97% score for adult occupant protection. The XC90 is designed to keep other road users safe, too, with pedestrian and cyclist detection to help avoid collisions.
Read our used review of the Mk2 Volvo XC90...
How about a used or nearly new Volvo XC90 Mk2?
With a supremely stylish, well-appointed cabin and distinctive exterior design, the Volvo XC90 Mk2 is a popular choice in the used premium SUV market. Another large part of its appeal is that it will genuinely seat seven adults, and still have space for luggage. It’s comfortable to ride in and pleasant to drive, and its engine range includes petrol and diesels, as well as mild hybrids and a plug-in hybrid.
What’s its history?
The Volvo XC90 Mk2 had its UK launch at the end of 2014, with sales taking off in earnest in 2015. It looked fabulous inside and out, and its standard seven-seater configuration made it an instant hit on the school run. Also standard were four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox. From the outset it offered a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid model alongside the regular petrol and diesel versions; the latter were superseded during 2019 by mild hybrid petrol and diesel derivatives. The XC90 Mk2 also underwent a facelift that year, when its equipment levels were enhanced and extra safety technology added. There was another revamp in late 2021 that boosted the power and EV range of the T8 Recharge and introduced new trim grades.
Used XC90 Mk1 (2002-2014)
Volvo’s first attempt to break into the large premium SUV market was well-received, especially as at the time few others offered the versatility of seven seats. It’s a good-looking car with a first-rate interior, and its engine range extends from the predictable turbodiesels all the way up to a 4.4-litre V8 petrol. The XC90 Mk1 enjoyed a long lifespan and its looks and specification evolved over the years.