Volvo XC90 review

Category: 7-seater

The XC90 seven-seat SUV is classy inside, practical and well-equipped

Volvo XC90 front cornering
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  • Volvo XC90 interior infotainment
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  • Volvo XC90 PHEV charging socket
  • Volvo XC90 interior front seats
  • Volvo XC90 interior middle seats
  • Volvo XC90 interior detail
  • Volvo XC90 interior infotainment
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  • Volvo XC90 front cornering
  • Volvo XC90 interior dashboard
  • Volvo XC90 boot open
  • Volvo XC90 interior infotainment
  • Volvo XC90 right driving
  • Volvo XC90 front cornering
  • Volvo XC90 front cornering
  • Volvo XC90 PHEV charging socket
  • Volvo XC90 interior front seats
  • Volvo XC90 interior middle seats
  • Volvo XC90 interior detail
  • Volvo XC90 interior infotainment
  • Volvo XC90 badge detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

It might be fair to assume that if you’re reading this Volvo XC90 review, it’s probably because you have lots of offspring and need a big car with plenty of seats to cart them all around in.

After all, it was the spacious SUV proportions and seven usable seats that made the original XC90 – launched in the early Noughties – such a rip-roaring success.

This latest, second-generation model is even bigger, but is it still the SUV to go for if you have a reasonably big budget and need a seven-seater?

Well, there are some spectacularly good rivals to consider, most notably the Audi Q7 and Land Rover Defender. There's also the Land Rover Discovery and the even bigger (and even more expensive) BMW X7.

So, why not keep on reading and we’ll tell you all there is to know about the Volvo XC90, how it rates against the best seven-seaters and which version makes the most sense.

Volvo XC90 rear cornering

Overview

Despite being long in the tooth, the Volvo XC90 is a fine seven-seat SUV that combines a high quality and versatile interior with plenty of kit and impressive safety credentials. The Audi Q7, BMW X7 and Land Rover Defender 110 are all better all-rounders, but then they cost more. Go for the B5 petrol in entry-level Core trim if you want the best value for money.

  • Classy interior
  • Seven seats come as standard
  • Plug-in hybrid option
  • Road and suspension noise
  • Rivals offer a more comfortable ride
  • Fiddly infotainment system
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Our Pick

OurPicksRRP £61,670
Volvo Xc90 2.0 B5P [250] Core 5dr AWD Geartronic review
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

The entry-level petrol Volvo XC90 (badged B5) can manage 0-62mph in a respectable 7.7 seconds, although it needs to be worked quite hard to achieve that. The more powerful B6 might sound tempting, but we don’t think it’s worth the financial hit.

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 5.4 seconds.

The T8 can officially do up to 45 miles on electric power alone, although you'll be lucky to get much more than 30 miles in the real world. Its official electric-only range is longer than that of the Land Rover Defender P400e's but shorter than the BMW X5 50e's (although that's a five-seater).

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 closest rivals, the Audi Q7 and the Defender. The ride becomes smoother at higher speeds, although you’ll still feel the odd expansion joint thump through the base of your seat.

The top-spec Ultimate model has air suspension. This delivers better absorbency over large lumps, such as speed humps, but doesn't improve the ride significantly on patched-up city streets, and you’ll still feel a harsh jolt when you strike something sharp-edged. 

Whichever model you choose, we'd suggest avoiding big wheels. We’d stick to 19in or 20in alloys, avoiding the vast optional 22in rims at all costs.

Volvo XC90 image
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Handling

The XC90 can’t match sportier SUVs, such as the X5 and Porsche Cayenne, for handling finesse. However, among seven-seat rivals it's far from embarrassed. 

True, there isn’t much sense of connection with the front wheels through the steering wheel, but at least the steering delivers the precision you need to follow your chosen line through corners.

And while you’re unlikely to tackle a series of B-roads just for the hell of it in the XC90, it’s good to know that body control is impressive with either suspension option (standard passive springs or air suspension).

Overall, the XC90 isn't isn't quite as agile as the Q7, but it's far less wallowy than a Land Rover Defender or Discovery. The heavier T8 hybrid model isn't as good as the B5 and B6 petrols, though. It has a greater tendency to sway about in bends, due to the extra weight of its battery pack.

Noise and vibration

With its ability to run on electric power alone, the T8 is the quietest XC90 when you're pootling around town. If you push on a bit, you’ll notice the petrol engine kick in, but this is far from a rowdy experience. The petrol B5 and B6 models are much the same: their engines make themselves heard as the revs rise, although never sound harsh.

Wind noise is relatively well suppressed, but there's more road roar than in an Audi Q7, BMW X7 or Land Rover Defender. Suspension noise is an issue too, 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. Under light acceleration, shifts are smooth, although the changes become much more pronounced when you put your foot down harder.

"For maximum comfort and quietness, you'll want to opt for one of the smaller wheel options and a non-R-Design trim, as well as spring for the T8 hybrid (if it suits your lifestyle)." – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Driving overview

Strengths Rapid acceleration from plug-in hybrid; decent handling for a big seven-seat SUV

Weaknesses Harsh ride on 22in alloys; suspension and road noise

Volvo XC90 interior dashboard

Interior

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, this is one of the most comfortable seven-seaters, helped by brilliantly supportive seats.

The seats in top-spec Ultimate trim are trimmed in soft Nappa leather and even 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, because while the dashboard looks clean, some of the icons are small and divert too much of your attention away from the road.

Even the climate control has to be operated using the touchscreen, which is far more distracting than using old-school physical dials and buttons. Thankfully, a voice control system comes as standard and pretty good at understanding simple commands, such as changing the temperature.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

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 rear 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 XC90's 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, with automatic high beam assist to help you see better at night. Go for Plus or Ultimate trim and the headlights are upgraded to ones that can automatically shape their light pattern to illuminate as much of the road ahead as possible, without dazzling other drivers.

Sat nav and infotainment

The XC90’s 9.0in touchscreen is starting to look dated compared with the larger screens in many rivals. True, the graphics are decent enough, but the icons could be bigger and the response time isn’t always the quickest.

And, anyway, trying to use an iPad-like device while driving is far from ideal – especially when the operating system isn't particularly intuitive. We'd prefer a rotary controller – as found in the BMW X5 and X7 – for safer operation while driving.

The Google-based infotainment has Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, but Android Auto isn’t available. The standard 10-speaker stereo sounds decent enough, but there’s a 13-speaker Harman Kardon upgrade on Plus models and an excellent 18-speaker Bowers & Wilkins upgrade with Ultimate trim.

Quality

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.

Top-level Ultimate trim feels the plushest, with its 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 you find in an Audi Q7 or BMW X7, but that’s more down to those rivals excelling than Volvo dropping the ball.

"The XC90 has an airy, open feel inside and its driving position is pretty lofty, meaning you get a commanding view of the road ahead." –  Claire Evans, Consumer Editor  

Interior overview

Strengths Smartly finished interior; excellent driving position; good visibility

Weaknesses Touchscreen is small and fiddly; no Android Auto

Volvo XC90 boot open

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

Like all its main rivals, the Volvo XC90 offers more than enough head and leg room to keep even tall adults happy up front. There’s also generous shoulder room, if not quite as much as you get in an Audi Q7 or 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 left for other smaller items. The glovebox is opened electronically and is large enough to store much more than just the user manual.

Rear space

The second-row seats in the XC90 are up to the challenge of accommodating taller passengers. Head room is ample, and while the Q7 and BMW X7 offer a whisker more leg room, the XC90 still offers more than some other rivals, including the Land Rover Discovery.

There's even room for three adults sitting side-by-side, although the narrower middle seat isn’t as comfortable on long journeys as the broader one in the Defender 110. The panoramic roof (Plus and Ultimate trims) eats into head room a bit, although you’d need to be seriously tall for this to be a problem.

All XC90s come with seven seats as standard – even the T8 PHEV. There’s enough room for smaller adults or children on the third row, 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 Defender, Discovery or X7 instead.

Seat folding and flexibility

The three seats in the middle row can be slid forwards and backwards independently to improve rear leg room for anyone sitting behind, or to maximise boot space when you don't need to use the third row. Middle-row passengers can also adjust the angle of their seatback.

Unlike its competitors, including the Discovery and Q7, the third row of seats isn’t power-operated and has to be lifted up manually, but it's easy to do with one hand. When not in use, the third-row seats lie flush with the boot floor.

Boot space

Even with all seven seats in use, there’s room for a couple of large bags in the boot, plus some additional underfloor storage. That's more than you get in a Discovery. With only five seats in use, the boot space swells to enable two large pushchairs, a couple of sets of golf clubs or 10 carry-on suitcases to be carried with ease.

The boot isn't only big – it’s also practical. 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.

The T8 PHEV loses a bit of load space compared with other XC90s, but this is restricted to underfloor storage (the battery pack takes up some of this space). 

"The two fold-out rear seats can be a faff to get into, because the middlerow seats are awkward to move to gain access, but they’re big enough for kids or average-sized adults." –  Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Practicality overview

Strengths Seven seats as standard; big boot; plenty of space for middle-row passengers

Weaknesses Third-row seats must be lifted and stowed manually; some rivals are better for third-row space

Volvo XC90 interior infotainment

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

Although it hides its age remarkably well, the Volvo XC90 is an old model now so it's available with some seriously tempting discounts. That helps make it a cheaper option than an equivalent Audi Q7 or Land Rover Defender, and way cheaper than a BMW X7.

We reckon the cheapest B5 mild-hybrid petrol is the best buy, although don't expect spectacular fuel economy. Officially, it can average around 32mpg but, in the real-world, 25mpg is more realistic.

The PHEV version – the T8 Recharge – has a much higher list price than the B5 and B6 petrol versions, but is does make sense for company car drivers because its low CO2 output places it in a low benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bracket. Mind you, if you can live without seven seats, the BMW X5 50e and Range Rover Sport P460e are even cheaper company cars.

Equipment, options and extras

Entry-level Core trim is our pick. Adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats (heated in the front and outer middle row), a heated windscreen and steering wheel, a powered tailgate, 19in alloy wheels and four-zone climate control all come as standard.

Mid-spec Plus adds 20in alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon sound system upgrade, ambient interior lighting and integrated sun blinds for the rear side windows.

Meanwhile, range-topping Ultimate adds air suspension, 21in alloy wheels, a head-up display, rear privacy glass, laminated side windows and a Bowers & Wilkins stereo, but it's too pricey to recommend.

Reliability

Volvo finished in ninth place in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey – a strong performance that put the Swedish brand above Audi, BMW, Land Rover and Mercedes. What's more, the XC90 was the reported to be the most dependable seven-seater in the entire survey.

All XC90s come with a three-year, 60,000-mile manufacturer warranty the covers most components. The T8 models have their battery packs covered by a separate 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 back in 2015, it scored well across all of the categories, including protecting adults, children and pedestrians. It impossible to compare results with those of newer SUVs, though.

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 also fitted.

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.

"On our test route, the XC90 T8 proved decently economical once its battery had been depleted, managing more than 30mpg and bettering a lot of its rivals." – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Costs overview

Strengths Big discounts; impressive reliability; well equipped across the range

Weaknesses Euro NCAP safety rating has expired; rivals plug-in hybrid SUVs offer even cheaper tax bills

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FAQs

  • The XC90 was the most reliable seven-seat SUV in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, proving more dependable than the Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery

  • We reckon the cheapest B5 mild hybrid is the best engine in the XC90 range, and entry-level Core trim gets you plenty of standard equipment.

  • It depends on your definition of luxury. Compared to a Bentley Bentayga or Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the Volvo XC90 isn't especially luxurious. On the other hand, it's far more sumptuous inside than a Nissan X-Trail or Peugeot 5008. 

At a glance
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RRP price range £61,670 - £83,130
Number of trims (see all)4
Number of engines (see all)3
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol parallel phev, petrol
MPG range across all versions 235.1 - 33.6
Available doors options 5
Warranty 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
Available colours