What Car? says...
The original Volvo XC90 was something of a trailblazer. And yet, Volvo managed to up the ante with this second-generation model, with even more features designed to make family motoring safer, less stressful and more entertaining.
The engine line-up has changed over the years, but the basics are still here for the XC90’s sequel. It’s big, reasonably graceful and is a seven-seater as standard. In other words, it's well set up to appeal to well-heeled families crying out for an upmarket way to ferry around people and paraphernalia.
For all its strength, there are a few other seven-seat SUVs you'll want to consider before you rush out and buy an XC90.
So, how does it compare with the best of them – including the Audi Q7, the BMW X5, the Land Rover Defender and the Land Rover Discovery? That's what we'll tell you in this review, along with which version we recommend if you do get one.
Once you've decided which model is right for you, make sure you pay the lowest price possible by using our New Car Buying service.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Volvo XC90's entry-level petrol engine (badged B5) manages 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, but needs to be worked quite hard to achieve that. The more powerful B6 with 296bhp might be tempting, but we don’t think it’s worth the financial hit you'll take from higher running costs.
Meanwhile, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) T8's combination of a petrol engine and electric motor makes it properly quick. It's easily the fastest XC90 you can buy, getting from 0-62mph in just 5.4sec.
The T8 can officially do up to 43 miles on electric power alone, but you'll be lucky to get more than 35 miles in the real world. Its official electric-only range is longer than for the Land Rover Defender PHEV's but shorter than the X5 45e's.
Suspension and ride comfort
At low speeds, with the standard non-adjustable suspension, the XC90 tends to pick up on cracks, bumps and potholes a fair bit more than its standout rival, the Audi Q7. However, the ride becomes smoother at higher speeds. You’ll still feel the odd expansion joint thump through the base of your seat, but it generally settles into a pretty comfortable motorway cruise.
The top-spec Ultimate model has air suspension and costs quite a bit more than the two lower trim levels on standard springs. While it offers better absorbency over large lumps, such as speed humps, it doesn't improve the ride to any noticeable degree on patched-up city streets.
You’ll still feel a harsh thud when you strike something sharp-edged. We’d save the expense and stick to the standard set-up. The T8, despite the increased weight from its heavy batteries, manages to remain as comfortable as other XC90s.
Whichever model you choose, we suggest going for the smallest wheels possible for the best comfort. We’d stick to 19in or 20in wheels where possible, and avoid the vast optional 22in ones at all costs.
You’re unlikely to tackle a series of B-roads just for the hell of it in the XC90, but if you do, you'll find that it delivers impressive body control for a big SUV. Unless you really throw it about, there’s little body lean in the bends, and it never feels like it’s going to topple over.
The XC90 can’t match the sportier BMW X5 or the Porsche Cayenne for outright handling finesse, but it’s about as wieldy as the Audi Q7 and much sharper to drive than the wallowy Land Rover rivals (the Defender and the Discovery).
The T8 hybrid has a greater tendency to sway about in bends, due to the weight of those heavy batteries, but it's still more agile than other big PHEV SUVs, such as the X5 45e and the Mercedes GLE 300de.
There's not much feedback through the light steering wheel, but when you turn into a corner, there's just enough weight build-up to instil confidence and help you place the car accurately on the road. The meatier systems in the Q7, X5 and Cayenne are much better in this regard.
Noise and vibration
With its ability to run on electric power alone, the T8 is the quietest XC90 when pootling around town. If you push on a bit harder, you’ll notice the petrol engine kick in, but even then it’s still far from unrefined. The petrol B5 is much the same: the engine is quiet at low speeds, but makes itself heard as the revs rise without ever sounding harsh.
Wind noise is relatively well suppressed, but there's more road roar than in the Defender and Q7. Suspension noise is an issue, with noticeable crashes and thumps over larger bumps, such as potholes and expansion joints. Thankfully, the impacts sound much worse than they feel.
All XC90s come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that responds pretty promptly, requiring much less of a wait than that of the Q7. Under light acceleration, it’s smooth, although the changes become much more pronounced when you put your foot down.
Strengths Quick performance from plug-in hybrid; decent handling for a big SUV
Weaknesses Harsh ride on biggest alloys; suspension noise over bumps
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
All Volvo XC90s come with electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, including adjustable lumbar support, so finding a comfy driving position shouldn’t take you long. In fact, it’s one of the most comfortable seven-seat SUVs for a driver to sit in, helped by the Volvo ability to develop brilliantly supportive seats. The seats with top-spec Ultimate trim are trimmed in soft Nappa leather and have a massaging function.
The pedals line up nicely with the steering wheel to ensure there’s no skewed driving position, and dashboard buttons are kept to a minimum. Most features are operated from the tablet-style 9.0in touchscreen. That's not as great as it sounds: while the dashboard looks clean and minimalist, it’s not always easy to use the small on-screen buttons without diverting your attention from the road.
Even the climate control has to be operated using the screen, which is far more distracting than using old-school physical controls. Thankfully, a voice control system is standard and pretty good at understanding your commands, which can include changing the temperature.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Happily, large windows all round make the XC90 easy to see out of, and relatively slim front pillars help when navigating roundabouts and junctions. Even the over-the-shoulder view is good considering this is such a big car (unless tall passengers' heads are in the way, of course).
Every model comes equipped with front and rear parking sensors as standard, making it easier to manoeuvre the car's large bulk into a tight parking space. You also get a rear-view camera, while a 360-degree bird's eye view camera is standard on mid-spec Plus and above. LED headlights are standard, too, with automatic high beam to help you see better at night.
Sat nav and infotainment
As these systems go, the XC90’s 9.0in screen is starting to look and feel dated compared with rivals and their larger screens. The graphics could be sharper, the icons could be bigger and the response time isn’t the quickest.
Touching an on-screen icon is trickier on the move than pressing physical buttons or selecting items on a menu using a rotary controller. And with so many operations incorporated into the screen, the XC90’s menus can be confusing to work through. The least distracting infotainment systems are those controlled using a rotary dial – as found in the BMW X5 for example.
DAB radio, Bluetooth and voice control come as standard, but the Google-based infotainment system only has Apple CarPlay (wired) available. Android Auto isn’t available at all. The standard 10-speaker stereo sounds good enough, but there’s a 13-speaker Harman Kardon upgrade on Plus trim and an excellent 18-speaker Bowers & Wilkins upgrade on Ultimate.
The XC90’s interior is of typical Volvo quality, with a mix of smart materials across the dashboard and around the centre console. There’s convincing chrome trim, plus gloss-black fascias around the infotainment screen and gear lever.
The top-level Ultimate trim feels the plushest, with leather-effect dashboard trim and a unique touch: a blown-glass gearlever. Sourced from a specialty Swedish glassmaker, it looks and feels lovely.
Even entry-level Core trim offers a sharp-looking, high-grade interior finish. High-quality materials are used in all the key places, along with substantial-feeling switches and buttons. It has to be said that you don’t get quite the sense of impeccable robustness that you do in the Audi Q7 but that’s more down to Audi pushing to extreme boundaries than Volvo dropping the ball.
Strengths Classily finished interior; excellent driving position
Weaknesses Touchscreen infotainment can be fiddly; no Android Auto
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Like its main rivals, the XC90 offers enough head and leg room to keep even tall adults very happy up front. There’s also generous shoulder room, if not quite as much as you get in the Audi Q7 or the Land Rover Defender.
Two large cupholders and a storage bin are positioned between the front seats. The two door pockets can each hold a large water bottle and still have space for other items. The glovebox is opened electronically and is large enough to store much more than just the car’s manual.
The back seats of the XC90 are well up to the challenge of accommodating taller passengers. Head room is ample in the middle row, and while the Q7 offers a whisker more leg room, the XC90 still offers more than rivals, including the Land Rover Discovery.
It’s roomy for three, although the narrower middle seat isn’t as comfortable on long journeys as the wider, almost flat-floored Land Rover Defender. The optional panoramic roof eats into head room a bit, but you’d need to be seriously tall for it to be a problem.
All XC90s come with seven seats as standard, even the T8 PHEV. There’s enough room for average-sized adults and children, but anyone tall will find them tight on a long trip. If space for seven adults to travel together is a priority, look at the Discovery instead, or the more expensive BMW X7.
Storage space for those in the rear is good, with cupholders, storage nets on the back of the front seats, and useful cubbies on the doors.
Seat folding and flexibility
The three seats in the middle row can be slid forwards and backwards independently to improve rear leg room or maximise boot space. Middle-row passengers can adjust the angle of the seatbacks or, to accommodate longer loads, the middle row can be folded away.
Unlike its competitors, including the Discovery and Q7, the third row of seats isn’t power-operated and has to be lifted manually, but that's at least easy to do with one hand. When not in use, they lie flush with the boot floor.
Even with all seven seats in use, there’s room for a couple of large bags in the boot, plus some additional underfloor storage, which is more than you’ll get in a Discovery. With only five seats in place, the boot space swells to enable two large pushchairs, a couple of sets of golf clubs, three large suitcases or 10 carry-on suitcases to be carried with ease.
It’s not just a large space – it’s also practical. As it’s one of the longest boots in the class, you are less likely to have to fold down the middle seats to carry lengthy items, and its relatively square shape, non-existent load lip and large aperture help when loading bulkier items.
With air suspension fitted, it’s even possible to lower the rear end of the car by a few centimetres at the touch of a button, which makes lifting in heavy items slightly easier.
As with PHEV rivals, the T8's boot space is reduced slightly to help squeeze in a battery under its floor, but you’re only losing underfloor storage space.
Strengths Seven seats as standard; enormous boot
Weaknesses Third-row seats must be lifted and stowed manually; some rivals are better for third-row space
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Volvo XC90 is slightly cheaper to buy outright than the equivalent BMW X5 but costs more than the Audi Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery.
The PHEV version – the T8 Recharge – costs significantly more, but makes a lot of sense for drivers of company cars because its low CO2 output places it in a competitively low tax bracket for a big seven-seat SUV.
The BMW X5 45e sits in the same BIK tax band but the lower list price will make it slightly cheaper. As with all PHEVs, the T8’s promise of extremely low fuel consumption will only be realised if you do most of your driving on electric power. Once the battery is depleted, the petrol engine becomes rather thirsty, hovering around 30mpg.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level Core trim is our pick. Adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights and wipers, leather seats (heated front and outer middle row), heated front windscreen and steering wheel, a powered tailgate, 19in alloy wheels and four-zone climate control are all standard.
Mid-spec Plus adds adaptive LED headlights, 20in alloy wheels, a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound system upgrade, ambient lighting and integrated sun blinds for the rear doors.
The range-topping Ultimate adds air suspension, 21in alloy wheels, head-up display, privacy glass, laminated side windows and a Bowers & Wilkins stereo.
Volvo finished in ninth place in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey – a strong performance that puts the Swedish brand above Audi, BMW, Land Rover and Mercedes.
All XC90s come with a three-year, 60,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty. The T8 models have their battery packs covered by an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Safety and security
The XC90's five-star Euro NCAP safety rating has now expired, but when it was tested in 2015, it scored well across all of the categories, including protecting adults, children and pedestrians.
Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance, a traffic-sign recognition system, six airbags, traction control and Isofix child-seat mounts on the outer two middle-row seats. Blind-spot monitoring is available as an option.
Security experts Thatcham Research awarded the XC90 top marks for its ability to resist being stolen and good marks for guarding against being broken into.
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Strengths Plug-in hybrid is competitive company car option; well-equipped across the line-up
Weaknesses Plug-in hybrid real-world electric range; safety rating has expired
The XC90 is longer and taller than the BMW X5 but is also slightly narrower.
The B5 and B6 petrol achieve the lowest fuel economy figures, at around 30mpg. The diesel fares better, with mpg figures in the high 30s. While the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) T8 can travel on its battery for around 40 miles, expect fuel economy figures to be similar to the petrol when its depleted.
|RRP price range
|£62,140 - £83,130
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|petrol, petrol parallel phev
|MPG range across all versions
|235.1 - 32.4
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£999 / £5,626
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£1,998 / £11,252