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Car review: Volvo XC90

Carlton Boyce / 30 August 2016

This safe, practical car handles with astonishing aplomb – and is great fun too.

volvo XC90 by a lake



A car with a reputation

The old Volvo XC90 was a middle-class staple for years, doing sterling service on the school run and the annual holiday in Cornwall where its commodious boot, seven seats, and four-wheel-drive ensured its place as one of the most practical cars you could buy. 

As a result, secondhand prices are buoyant, even after the release of the all-new XC90, a car with a tough reputation to live up to.

And live up to it it does. I’ve just driven one for 2,000 miles over four days along the length of Sweden and I’m hugely impressed. 

That it was safe and enormously practical didn’t come as any surprise, but that it was great fun did; for a car that weighs as much as it does, the XC90 handles with an aplomb that is astonishing.

A good-looking car

I lost count of the number of times my photographer and I commented on its looks. 

Nor were we alone; even in Sweden, the XC90 drew approving looks and thumbs-up wherever we went. 

While I’d be the first to admit that looks aren’t everything, being able to look back at your car and smile as you walk away is enormously satisfying and would add a frisson of pleasure that not every car could provide.

A sleek, simple and utterly intuitive interior

The interior is, if anything, even more wonderful. No one does simplicity like the Swedes, and that of the XC90 is up there with the very greatest car interiors on sale today. 

It’s sleek and simple and utterly intuitive in use; I jumped into one in Gothenburg and rattled off 500 miles in a single sitting without having to think about how anything worked. 

When I wanted adaptive cruise control my finger found the appropriate button by instinct – and when I needed to change the speed or following distance, I did so quickly and simply without taking my eyes off the road, something the elegant and clear head-up display encouraged.

A fast engine and adaptive cruise control

With the most powerful D5 engine it’s fast too, especially in the mid-range. 

Sweden has a variety of speed limits on the open road and moving from 50km/h to 120km/h and back via 70km/h, 90km/h and 110km/h increments within a few miles is common; being able to set the adaptive cruise control to ‘lock onto’ the law-abiding driver in front (and most are) makes this effortless as the engine has enough torque in reserve that it rarely needs to change down to accelerate back up, enabling the XC90 to deploy its cruise control party trick with nonchalance.

A potentially life-saving feature

The XC90 will also give a haptic tug to the steering wheel if it detects that you have strayed too near the white lines. 

The intensity can be altered, but I found that a light touch was enough to allow the car to self-steer a central course along the road, which was an interesting sensation, although it was one whose novelty wore off after a while. 

Still, it might save the life of a tired driver and moves Volvo one step closer to its stated aim of not having a single serious injury or fatality in any of its new cars from 2020 onwards.

Adjustable air suspension

The optional air suspension was just as impressive. The car can be raised or lowered depending on how high you need it: high for off-road use and low for high-speed touring and cross-country agility and a couple of points in between. 

It’s comfortable and adds significantly to the air of refinement that permeates throughout the entire car.

The alternatives

While I spent my time in Sweden behind the wheel of a diesel D5 engine, I have driven the alternatives back in the UK. 

There is a T6 petrol engine with 320bhp and a sub-30mpg thirst, and a hybrid T8 that can deploy a seriously impressive 407bhp.

The latter is the more interesting proposition offering, on paper at least, the frugality of the diesel with the performance of the petrol via a two-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine that drives the front wheels, leaving the hybrid electric motor to drive the rear axle. 

The real world fuel consumption might not match the hype but 40mpg and scalded-cat performance (5.6 seconds to 62mph and a top speed of 140mph) isn’t to be sniffed at, even if most will baulk at the £60-65,000 price. 

If you can afford it though, it’s a wondrous thing and comes with built-in environmental brownie points.

But back to the diesel D5, which accounts for the majority of XC90 sales. 

To say that it is an almost perfect family car isn’t to overstate its efficacy. It’s fast, reasonably economical, great to drive, and supremely practical. 

Yes, it’s expensive, but I can’t think of a better way to spend £50,000 on an all-purpose, all-weather estate. 

If, despite everything, £50,000 is too strong for you take heart; the price of secondhand cars has just dipped below £40,000 for the first time and at that price the XC90 is a steal.


Power – 221bhp

Torque – 347 lb ft

0-62mph – 7.6 seconds

Top speed – 137mph

Kerb weight – 2,009kgs

Official average fuel consumption – 48.7mpg

Honest John real world fuel consumption – 27.7mpg

CO2 emissions –152g/km

VED class – Band G

Towing capacity (braked) – 2,700kgs

Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs

Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles

Price – £51,550

Price as tested - £59,245 


The XC90 is such a compelling proposition that nothing else comes close.

The best of the rest

The Land Rover Discovery is getting a bit long in the tooth by now, but if off-road ability is important to you then it is still the standard by which all others are judged.

Left-field alternative

The Audi Q7 is enormous, but few of its rivals give such a sense of superiority and indefatigability.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.