We already know the second generation Volvo XC90 is good. What remained unclear was just how good it could be back here in Britain. Well, following the UK launch we’re prepared to admit that Volvo has well and truly nailed it. The all-new XC90 is a deeply impressive machine and a worthy successor to the original.
Make no mistake, there will be a few executives in Munich, Stuttgart and Ingolstadt having sleepless nights as a result.
For years we’ve positioned Volvo cars as worthy alternatives to the German rivals. The new XC90 changes the game. It’s good enough to place it ahead of the X5, Q7, M-Class. Now it’s the turn of the Germans to play catch up.
Put bluntly, the XC90 is simply brilliant. Seven-seat SUVs are supposed to be vulgar, brutish and charmless, whereas the XC90 is elegant, sophisticated and charming. We’re well and truly smitten.
Volvo XC90: On the road
The XC90 is the first Volvo to be built using the new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). All future Volvos will be released using the platform, so it has to be good. It’s properly flexible, with only the area from the front axle to the dashboard fixed, leaving the designers and engineers free to conjure up all manner of future products. Stay tuned for the new V90 and S90, due to arrive some time next year.
In the meantime, the XC90 represents the future of Volvo. And if the XC90 is anything to go by, the future is incredibly bright for the Chinese-owned Swedish company. The XC90 has no right to drive as well as it does. On some properly narrow, twisting and unforgiving Yorkshire roads, the XC90 felt surefooted, composed and supremely comfortable. It’s easy to forget you’re driving a seven-seat SUV.
And that’s because the XC90 seems to shrink to fit UK roads. An Audi Q7 might have felt cumbersome and oversized when trying to weave through some tiny Yorkshire Dales villages, but not the XC90. It has the nimbleness to shame a much smaller SUV.
Part of the appeal is the astonishing level of comfort. For £2,150 you can equip your XC90 with four-corner electronic air suspension, allowing you to float from A to B on a cushion of…well, air. We were initially tempted to mark it down as a must-have upgrade, but the XC90 is so good without it, we’re not so sure. Put it this way – the XC90 rides better with air suspension, but it does manage to blunt the otherwise excellent steering and turn-in. You pays your money, you takes your choice, etc.
It’s worth pointing out that the air suspension does mean you can order 21-inch alloy wheels and not sacrifice ride quality. It really is that good. However, we’d be tempted to save the money and put it towards the excellent Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system, but more on this later.
The powertrains on offer in the XC90 are derived from the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder architecture – a D5 diesel, a T6 petrol and a T8 plug-in hybrid. The D5 is an impressive unit, producing 225hp and emitting just 149g/km CO2, compared to the 200hp and 215g/km offered by the old 2.3-litre D5. The T6 is almost as good, with the combination of a turbocharger and supercharger helping it to produce 320hp and 295lb ft of torque. But it’s the additional 51lb ft of torque offered by the D5 which gives it the edge over the T6.
The D5 is more in-keeping with the XC90’s smooth and relaxed character, with the extra torque making for more relaxed cruising and overtaking. Neither engine feels particularly rapid, but you hardly feel shortchanged. One area of complaint would be the way in which the automatic transmission can feel out of sync with the engine, especially when exiting a corner. There’s a momentary delay as the transmission searches for the right gear, which is especially noticeable in the petrol version.
Unsurprisingly, Volvo expects the D5 to account for the majority of sales, thanks in part to the claimed 48.7mpg, compared to the 35.3mpg of the T6. Curiously, the 400hp petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is attracting a large number of pre-release orders, largely thanks to the business benefits of running a 59g/km CO2 SUV.
Volvo XC90: On the inside
If any area of the new XC90 justifies the premium prices, it’s the new interior. Jump into an XC60 after spending time in a new XC90 and it’ll feel like going back in time. Jump into the first generation XC90 and you’ll be heading back to the dark ages. The new interior doesn’t just feel premium, it is premium.
There are two trim levels available from launch – Momentum and Inscription – with R-Design following later in the year. Volvo expects 50% of buyers to opt for the Momentum trim and this is arguably where the greatest value lies. And that’s because the quality is first rate, even with this so-called entry level trim, while the level of standard specification is generous in the extreme. As the flagship of the brand, Volvo has decided to load the XC90 with toys, so all buyers will get Sensus navigation, LED bending headlights and active high beam, CleanZone air quality system, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, power driver’s seat, City Safety and Run-off Road Protection.
Central to the experience is the new 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used an iPad or other generic tablet device. Not only that, but the display is crystal clear and extremely user-friendly. The majority of the car’s functions – including the sat nav, audio, phone, car settings and climate control – are accessed through the display. Nitpicking, we’d say we’d prefer to change the climate control settings via a pair of dials, but the speech control function presents a strong counterargument against this.
It’s a uniquely Swedish interior, which in itself is the perfect antidote to the me-too offerings from Germany. The leather used on the seats is supplied by Bridge of Weir, the carpets are influenced by Swedish rugs and the colours are said to be influenced by Swedish landscapes. Had the interior been a dog’s dinner, it would have been easy to laugh at such marketing waffle. But it has been executed so superbly, you can’t help but sit back and nod with approval. Little details like the beautifully finished start-stop control switch, the small Swedish flag on the driver’s seat and the feel of the electric window switches highlight the work that has gone in to creating one of the most convincing cabins you’ll find.
All seven occupants should be happy in the XC90. The seats are all-new and will be used in all future Volvo products. Crucially they are smaller than before, helping to provide more space inside the cabin. Which in turn means the third row seats can be the same as those found in the second row, so there’s little in the way of compromise for those relegated to the back. Sure, adults won’t thank you for sending them to the back and access isn’t brilliant, but it’s hardly a tight squeeze.
It helps that the seats are laid out in theatre style, meaning you sit higher up the further back you go. There’s stacks of leg and headroom in the second row of seats and even the middle seat is OK for adults. For occupants a little younger, it’s possible to fit an integrated child booster seat in the middle. It’s part of the Family Pack, which also includes power child locks for the rear doors, a load protection net and integrated sun curtains. At £275, this is a steal and is sure to prove popular in one of the XC90’s key markets.
The boot offers 451 of space in seven-seat configuration and now includes a slot to store the load cover when the third row of seats are in use. The loading lip is on the high side, which won’t be good news for arthritic dogs, but buyers who have fitted the air suspension will be able to lower the car’s height via a button on the inside of the boot. The tailgate can be opened by doing a merry dance under the rear bumper with one of your feet. Best foot forward, and all that.
A word on the Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system, which at £3,000 – including Senses Connect – is hardy cheap. But it’s up there with the best in-car audio systems we’ve experienced and features 19 speakers and a jewel-like tweeter on top of the dashboard to provide a more ‘spacious’ sound. Order this and you can play your music through a Gothenburg Concert Hall setting. Sounds naff, but it isn’t. We took the XC90 to a top of a Yorkshire Dale and did our own rendition of Last Night of the Proms. We stopped short of waving the Union Flags.
Volvo XC90: Running costs
Sure, the Volvo XC90 is more expensive than the previous model, but then it’s so much more than the car it replaces. Prices start from £45,750 for the D5 Momentum, rising to £63,650 for the T8 Inscription. Volvo will also offer a choice of seven option packs, so it’s possible to spend serious cash on the car. Historically, the XC90 has held its value better than other Volvos and we see no reason why this should change with the new model. Demand is likely to be high on the used car market.
Understandably, the T8 offers the lowest running costs, with a claimed 112.9mpg and 59g/km CO2. That said, it probably only makes real sense for business users, who can take advantage of its 5% BIK rate. In the real world, you’d be better off saving the £10,000 outlay and opting for the D5 diesel.
Being hyper-critical, we’d argue that the XC90 can get super-expensive once you’ve add a few must-have options and accessories. One of the cars available to drive had £14,000 worth of options added, taking it up to just shy of £65,000.
You’ll find yourself looking at some of the packs and thinking you can’t do without them – like the rear camera, which you’ll need because rear visibility isn’t all that great. It comes as part of the £2,000 Xenium pack, which also features the excellent power slide and tilt panoramic roof and Park Assist Pilot.
You’ll also want the Winter pack, with its heated seats and steering wheel, plus head-up display. In short, be prepared to spend more than the list price.
Volvo XC90: Verdict
The Volvo XC90 is worthy of a full five-star rating. Not only does it feel worth the money, it also feels like you’re getting something extra, a rare commodity in a car costing upwards of £45,000. We’re not saying that isn’t a huge amount of cash, but the level of quality, generous level of standard spec and a massive feel-good factor combine to more than justify the expense.
Everything feels new and yet it still feels like an XC90. Volvo’s traditional hallmarks of safety and comfort are there in abundance, but the new-found sophistication and confidence takes Volvo to a new place. Make no mistake, the new XC90 is an exceptional car and Volvo will sell many more than the 5,500 it is forecasting for the UK.
Get your order in early to avoid disappointment. Waiting lists are likely to be lengthy.
Specification: Volvo XC90
Engines 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel
Gearbox Six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic
Prices from £45,750
Power 225hp – 320hp
Torque 295 – 346lb ft
0-62mph 6.5 – 7.8 seconds
Top speed 137 – 143mph
MPG 35.3 – 49.6
CO2 149 – 186g/km