There used to be petrol engines in the line-up, but it's no surprise that there's just the one choice nowadays: most buyers went for the D5 turbodiesel even when there were other options. It comes only with an automatic gearbox and can be hesitant at low revs, but it’s just about strong enough for a car of this size.
The XC90 disguises its bulk pretty well and doesn’t feel cumbersome on country roads. It’s not as sharp as a BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, however, and the steering is numb. Supple suspension gives a smooth ride on most roads, as long as you avoid the bigger alloy wheels that are available. Normally, the four-wheel drive system sends most power to the front wheels, but it automatically varies the ratio if it senses a wheel is starting to slip.
This is one area where the XC90 doesn’t hide its age well at all. Its engine sounds gruff at low speeds and sends a lot of vibration through the steering wheel, plus it roars when you accelerate and emits a persistent bassy drone at cruising speeds. Road noise is at least well subdued, but there’s a bit too much wind noise around the base of the windscreen and the door mirrors.
The XC90 undercuts its key rivals on price, and big discounts are available. However, its engine is thirsty – it averaged a paltry 35.1mpg in our True MPG tests –and high carbon dioxide emissions put it in a high band for company car tax.
The cabin feels like it will stand up to hard use, but the dashboard design and switchgear look very dated. There was better news for those considering an XC90 in the last JD Power customer satisfaction survey, because owners rated it excellent for mechanical reliability.
The XC90 was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP, albeit under the older, less stringent crash rating system. It comes with twin front and side airbags, cabin-length window airbags, active anti-whiplash front head restraints and stability control. However, the stability electronics are quite slow to react compared with those in newer rivals. An alarm, an immobiliser and deadlocks make the XC90 as theft-resistant as other Volvos.
Although the XC90’s centre console looks busy at first glance, all of the controls are logically positioned and simple enough to use. The driver’s seat is very supportive, plus there’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help you find a comfortable driving position. Visibility is good, too.
The XC90's seven-seat cabin is MPV-like in its versatility. Space in the front two rows is plentiful, but the rear pair is only suitable for kids. The rearmost seats fold under the floor when not in use to create a massive boot. The three middle seats also slide individually and are easy to fold flat.
All XC90s have dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a CD player with aux-in and USB sockets, but entry-level models miss out on Bluetooth, leather and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat. You have to upgrade to SE trim to get these, while SE Lux brings electric passenger’s seat adjustment and upgrades the SE’s leather-faced seats to full leather. R Design trim gives the car a sporty makeover, while Executive swaps this for additional luxury equipment.
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