All XC90s come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which can feel can feel a little hesitant when you want a quick burst of acceleration off the line but is generally smooth thereafter.
The D5 diesel delivers decent low-down pull and has a reasonably broad power band that makes it a relaxed performer, but it cannot match the punchy performance offered by those XC90’s rivals with bigger diesel engine options. The T6 petrol needs to be worked harder because it generates its peak pulling power at higher revs. Meanwhile, the T8 hybrid’s combination of a petrol engine and electric motor makes it properly quick and easily the fastest XC90 of the lot. It shoots away from a standstill with some urgency, and follows up with enough surge for easy overtaking at faster speeds. It also has a greater electric only range than other plug-in hybrid rivals, such as the BMW X5 xDrive40e and Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid.
On standard suspension at low speeds the XC90 tends to pick up on cracks, bumps and expansion joints a fair bit more than standout rivals - in this respect – such as the Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7. However, the ride becomes smoother at higher speeds, allowing the big Volvo to settle in to a comfortable motorway cruiser.
The optional air suspension costs quite a bit extra. While it offers better absorbency over large lumps, such as sleeping policemen, it doesn't improve the ride to any noticeable degree on patched-up city streets, so we’d say save the expense and stick to the standard springs.
Meanwhile the T8, despite its increased weight from the heavy batteries, manages to be the most comfortable of all the XC90s. Whichever model you choose, though, we’d suggest going for the smallest wheels possible. Essentially, the smaller the wheel, the better your XC90 will ride, so avoid the vast optional 22in alloys at all costs.
Volvo XC90 handling
The Volvo XC90 can’t match the sportier BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne for outright handling finesse, but it’s a slightly wieldier beast than the Audi Q7 and much sharper to drive than the wallowy Land Rover Discovery.
There isn’t much feedback through the steering wheel, and the steering can feel a little light off centre, but as the weight builds through a corner with each degree of added lock, it instils confidence and delivers the precision you need to follow your chosen line.
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 it stays pretty level through turns with good stability over peaks and troughs in the road. Corner with spirit and you’ll also discover decent reserves of grip, while the standard four-wheel drive system gives you largely unflappable traction off the line.
The exception is the T8 hybrid model. It has a greater tendency to sway about in bends thanks to the weight of those heavy batteries used to power the electric motor.
Volvo XC90 refinement
Running on electric power alone, the T8 is the quietest XC90 of the lot 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 T6 is much the same: quiet at low speeds, but lets itself known as the revs rise without becoming tedious.
The diesel makes the most noise at all speeds and sends more vibration back through the controls, yet comparing it against rivals with similar four-cylinder engines it’s still impressively smooth. It’s only when judged alongside the ultra-refined 3.0-litre V6 diesels in either the Discovery or the Q7 that you start to think it sounds coarse.
Wind noise is relatively well suppressed in the XC90, but road roar from the tyres is nowhere near as hushed as the Discovery or Q7. Suspension noise is also an issue, which you’re aware of most at low speeds and in cars with larger alloy wheels.
Four-cylinder diesel is our pick of the range. It provides decent performance coupled with sensible fuel economy. Company car buyers might want to consider the T8 hybrid instead for its lower CO2, but the majority of buyers will find the diesel spot on.
This turbocharged four-cylinder petrol looks a little nonsensical next to the D5. It doesn’t provide vastly superior performance emits more CO2 and is less frugal. It does have better refinement at high revs, but ultimately we’d just avoid it.
Low CO2 emissions put it in the cheapest company car tax bracket, but like all hybrids you’ll struggle to ever meet the claimed fuel economy figures. It does, however, have the best electric-only range in the class and with both power units working together gives brisk performance.