Review: Volvo XC90

Safe, classy family car

24 Jun 15 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Stylish looks

  • Very comfortable

  • Great handling

Cons

  • Expensive price tag

  • Size can make it difficult to park

  • Not great off-road

Our expert rating

Volvo launched the XC90 in 2002 and it became an overnight success thanks to it appealing mixture of style, interior space, technology and versatility.

In 2015 Volvo refreshed the lined-up and today the XC90 remains a highly desirable car. Especially on the secondhand market, as it holds it's value well.

Performance

The big Swedish machine does a good job of making you feel bullet proof behind the wheel. The XC90 is imposing and quite muscular, especially in R-Design form where big alloys, fat tailpipes and silver mirror housings help Volvo’s premium SUV stand out in the corporate car park.

Only the very early diesels lack low-down power. It is also worth noting you won’t get much beyond low 20s mpg with the petrol versions. The diesels, on the other hand, even the newer ones with more “oomph”, do mid-30s mpg on average.

Ride and handling

The XC90 boasts all the virtues that have made it one of the Swedish automaker’s most profitable models ever. The large and accommodating car combines brilliant handling and comfort with superior get-you-there ability and flexibility. Even the diesels are fairly quiet, with only the slightest wind-noise noticeable around the wing mirrors.

The R-Design version gives the car a more driver-focused character and, on top of a special chassis, it features sportier upholstery, inlays, door panels and 19-inch wheels. The Volvo is also a very comfortable, refined long-distance motor and towing vehicle. The D5 diesel, for example, is capable of lugging up to 2250 kg, so anyone with a horse trailer or a caravan will find it ideal.

volvo xc90 side

Interior space

Inside, the Volvo is spacious and very practical with its seven seats. In the front five chairs, there is plenty of room for adults, but the rearmost seats are best for smaller children only. The middle row has three individual seats that slide and adjust separately and the rear two fold flat into the floor to enhance boot space.

What’s more, the tailgate is divided into a really useful upper and lower section for easy loading.

volvo xc90 boot

What to know before you buy

The Volvo XC90 is generally reliable and very well built, but when things do go wrong, it isn’t cheap. This is why you should buy an XC90 with a full service history. Models without it will be going for a song, but you will be playing with fire. The XC90 is really well put together inside, but when on your test drive, listen out for squeaks and rattles coming from the cabin. If there is lots of noise, the chances are the sounds are coming from poorly fitted panels.

If this is the case, think twice – the Volvo has, in all probability, been badly treated and may have undergone crash damage. Also, look beneath the XC90 for signs of off-road mistreatment. Remember to inspect the Volvo front and back for parking knocks too.

It's a giant car, so parking damage on used examples is common. In addition, make sure the XC90’s wing mirrors adjust correctly and look for fractures in the mirror glass, as these get damaged regularly, again, due to the size of the vehicle.

volvo xc90 interior

Alternative cars

The XC90 is a fantastic car, but it is costly to buy secondhand and not as precise to drive as its arch-rival, the young at heart BMW X5. The rather more gentrified Land Rover Discovery 3 is not bad either and has peerless off-road ability.

Another car to check out is the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, however this is even more costly to buy used, and the drive isn’t half as dynamic as the Volvo’s.

volvo xc90 alternative cars

Overall verdict

The XC90 does it all really. It is great for classy family transport, it looks good for business and it is just the motor for anyone needing a safe, grippy secondhand car for all seasons.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall