The new Volvo XC90 has proven itself to be a very appealing seven-seat SUV, offering a comfortable and practical cabin, refined on-road manners and plenty of kit. In entry-level Momentum trim it’s a very smart looking car, too, but some might find its looks a little too subtle or want something that’s slightly more rewarding to drive.
To fulfil exactly that kind of demand, Volvo is offering a sporty R-Design version. It gets 20in alloy wheels, dual exhausts, a more striking front end design and tinted rear glass. Inside you’ll find sports seats with electrically adjustable thigh support, a perforated leather steering wheel and different pedals and carpets.
It also comes with more kit than the entry-level Momentum version on which it is based, including hill descent control, wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, an electrically adjustable passenger seat with memory function and a larger 12.3in driver’s display.
Opting for an R-Design will cost you £49,285, a premium of £3535 over the entry-level Momentum model, though. Considering the amount of extra equipment on offer, however, that doesn’t seem an unjustifiable increase.
What is the 2015 Volvo XC90 D5 AWD R-Design like to drive?
We tested the least expensive version of the R-Design, which comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. That might sound like an underwhelming option for such a big SUV, but it actually delivers remarkable performance. Volvo claims a swift 0-60mph time of 7.8sec and progress always feels rapid, thanks in part to a decent amount of mid-range pull.
Another key factor in the Volvo’s ability to make swift progress is its eight-speed automatic gearbox, which will readily drop a gear or two to deliver prompt acceleration when required, although it can occasionally be a little jerky. The R-Design also gets wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, which allow for manual gear shifts on command. This, compared to normal versions of the XC90, gives you a little more control.
Admittedly the Volvo doesn’t feel as muscular as some six-cylinder-engined rivals, and in some cases you find yourself working the engine quite hard to maintain higher speeds. Fortunately, the D5 is quiet, smooth and eager to rev, so it doesn’t intrude excessively when you’re pressing on. Economy shouldn’t be too bad, either. Previously, in What Car?’s True MPG tests, the D5 returned 36.5mpg. On a full tank, as a result, it should cover around 560 miles.
The XC90 even handles relatively well, with slick, precise steering and plenty of grip. It does roll in corners, which isn’t surprising given how tall it is, but the R-Design’s sports seats are more supportive than the standard items, improving high-speed comfort.
The steering is well weighted, too. You can also adjust the R-Design’s responses and steering weight with the ‘Drive Mode Settings’ function, which is otherwise optional on other XC90s. It’s still not as satisfying to drive as a BMW X5 or Audi Q7, in any mode, but what it lacks in performance it more than makes up for with its kit, practicality and price.
On the standard suspension system the Volvo deals with big bumps easily, although cracks and sharp edges can send a bit of a dull thud through the cabin, and rougher surfaces can cause a few vibrations. The car we tested had Volvo’s four-corner electronic air suspension fitted, which costs an extra £2150. It does cut body roll in corners, but it doesn’t make a huge difference to the ride quality otherwise. Either way, don’t feel compelled to tick that option box.
All versions come with four-wheel drive, which makes them more secure-feeling in poor conditions. If you do want more performance, then you can opt for the more expensive T6 petrol version, or the flagship T8 plug-in hybrid.
What is the 2015 Volvo XC90 D5 AWD R-Design like inside?
The Volvo’s cabin is one of its key selling points. You get plenty of room and a commanding driving position up front, while in the back there’s plenty of space for three adults abreast. More importantly, the two rearmost seats – the Volvo offers seven seats in total – are big enough to accommodate adults, too.
With a wide range of steering column and seat adjustments it's easy to find a decent driving position, which in conjunction with comfortable seats makes the XC90 a very pleasant companion on longer trips. It's only a shame that over-the-shoulder visibility isn't great, due to wide B-pillars.
You can't argue with the storage space, though. With the third row of seats folded down there's masses of room on offer in the boot, and even with the seats up there's still more space than you'd find in a Volkswagen Golf.
Standard equipment levels are excellent, including a sharp 12.3in driver's display, a 9in touchscreen media and sat-nav system, cruise control, LED headlights, automatic wipers and lights and a DAB radio. As you'd expect of a Volvo, there's masses of standard-fit safety kit, too.
The cabin quality is impressive, with neat finishes, upmarket trims and fine attention to detail throughout the cabin, all of which adds to the high-end feel. The only thing that really lets the Volvo down inside is some intrusive wind noise from the mirrors at speed and some tyre roar over rougher surfaces.
Should I buy one?
If you’re sold on the more aggressive, stylish looks, then you’ll find a lot to like here. This version of the XC90 is also slightly better to drive than other versions, thanks to its standard-fit drive mode selector and gearshift paddles.
That said, if you’re not particularly fussed by the cosmetic and kit changes, we’d recommend buying a Momentum version instead, which offers a similar overall experience, and adding some options. In particular, we’d opt for the £700 surround-view parking camera, which makes the big Volvo infinitely easier to park, consequently making it easier to live with.
What Car? says...
Volvo XC90 D5 AWD R-Design
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £49,285 (est)
Torque 347lb ft
0-62mph 7.8 seconds
Top speed 137mph
Fuel economy 48.7mpg