Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
As the only diesel available, the B5 diesel delivers decent low-rev pull so it's a relaxed performer. The engine picks up from low revs smoothly, and getting up to motorway speeds is an effortless experience. It’s not what you’d call really fast, though; while it'll hit 0-62mph in a very respectable 7.6sec, bigger-engined rivals – such as the Audi Q7 45 TDI and BMW X5 30d – offer even better performance.
Then there are the petrols. Both the turbocharged T5 and, to a lesser extent the turbocharged and supercharged T6, need to be worked harder than the diesel. But when you do that the T5 is brisk enough, getting from 0-62mph in 7.9sec, while the T6 will manage the same spring in just 6.5sec.
Meanwhile, the T8 hybrid’s combination of a petrol engine and electric motor makes it properly quick and easily the fastest XC90 you can buy, racing from 0-62mph in just 5.8sec. It shoots away from a standstill with real urgency and follows up with enough surge for easy overtaking at faster speeds. The T8 also has a similar electric-only range to plug-in hybrid versions of its rivals, such as the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, and should take you around 20 miles on pure battery power as long as you drive gently.
Suspension and ride comfort
At low speeds on the standard passive suspension, the XC90 tends to pick up on cracks, bumps and expansion joints a fair bit more than its standout rival the Audi Q7. However, the ride becomes smoother at higher speeds, allowing the big Volvo to settle into a comfortable motorway cruiser.
The optional air suspension costs quite a bit. 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 still feel a harsh thud when you strike something sharp-edged. We’d save the expense and stick to the standard set-up.
Meanwhile, the T8, despite the increased weight from its heavy batteries, manages to remain as comfortable as lesser XC90s. Whichever model you choose, though, we suggest going for the smallest wheels possible. Essentially, the smaller the wheel, the more comfortable your XC90 will be, so stick to 19in wheels where possible and avoid the vast optional 22in ones at all costs.
The XC90 can’t match the sportier X5 and Cayenne for outright handling finesse, but it’s similarly wieldy as the Q7 and much sharper to drive than the wallowy Discovery. There’s minimal body lean unless you really throw it about, and it never feels like it’s going to topple over around a series of bends.
There isn’t much feedback through the steering wheel, but turn into a corner and there's enough weight build-up to instil confidence and allow you to place the car accurately on the road.
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 optional air suspension). For such a tall car, the Volvo stays pretty level through turns and has plenty of grip. Mind you, the T8 hybrid model has a greater tendency to sway about in bends, due to the weight of those heavy batteries.
Noise and vibration
When it's running on electric power alone, the T8 is the quietest XC90 when pootling around town. Push on a bit harder, though, and you’ll notice the petrol engine kick in, but even then it’s still far from unrefined. The T5 and T6 are much the same: quiet at low speeds, but make themselves heard as the revs rise without ever sounding harsh.
The diesel B5 makes the most noise at all speeds, and sends more vibration back through the controls than the petrols. Judged alongside the ultra-refined 3.0-litre diesel engines in the Q7, Discovery and Mercedes GLE, it's a bit gruff, but hardly a tractor.
Wind noise is relatively well suppressed in the XC90, but road roar from the tyres is nowhere near as well contained as in a Discovery or Q7. Suspension noise is also an issue, you’ll hear noticeable crashes and thumps over larger bumps, such as potholes and expansion joints. Thankfully they often sound much worse than they are.
All XC90s come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that can feel a little hesitant when you want a quick burst of acceleration. It’s nowhere near as laggy as the set-up in the Q7, but you’ll still find yourself getting frustrated when you put your foot down and you’re left waiting a second or two.