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2016 Volvo XC90 D5 review

The Good

  • Good looking
  • Immensely practical
  • Nice to drive

The Bad

  • Some body roll
  • Kia Sorento is a better drive

Rory Reid reviews the new Volvo XC90, a luxury SUV that gives just about every one of its rivals a run for their money.

In the world of mainstream luxury cars everybody has their place. At the top of the ladder there’s BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Range Rover. At the bottom there’s everybody else, and then somewhere in the middle there’s Volvo.

But in the new Volvo XC90, the Swedish firm might just have made a car that not only mixes it with those top players, it also surpasses them.


The new Volvo XC90 looks like a modern luxury SUV should; muscular, aggressive, imposing, yet sleek. The rear and side of the car are standard fare for Volvo, but the front has a swollen, fresh out-of-the-gym aesthetic. Highlights include a more prominent ironmark badge slicing its way diagonally across a huge central vent and some quite genius LED light strips designed to look like Thor’s hammer.


Inside, the Volvo XC90 is the most stylish Volvo ever. It’s understated, as all Volvos are, but there are some really nice, expensive-looking touches. The dashboard has three distinct horizontal layers, all of which flow nicely into the doors. The transmission tunnel is nicely appointed in high quality leather, and in the centre you’ll find a gorgeous piano black control panel that houses your parking brake, drive mode selector and an unusual twisting knob engine start button.

There are far fewer buttons on the dashboard of this XC90 than on its predecessor’s. Most features are controlled via a large touchscreen display aligned in an unusual, but still impressively useful portrait orientation.

The XC90 is a seven seater, and a proper one at that; two up front, three in the second row and two in the very rear. The second row has plenty of adjustability. Seats move forward and backward and can be reclined, with the seat bottoms sliding forward when you do so for extra comfort.

The middle seat is a little awkward to sit in, mainly because you have to straddle the transmission tunnel with your legs, but it does have a built in booster seat for kids, and you can slide it forward individually, so kids can be closer to adults up front. They don’t have to shout ‘are we there yet?’, they can just speak it soothingly right in your earhole.

The rearmost seats are good too. They’ll seat anyone up to 5ft 7 inches (5ft 11 inches at a push), so even adults can get back there. They’re the same size as the seats in the middle row and they’ve been pushed together slightly so anyone sitting here isn’t looking directly at the headrests feeling claustrophobic.

Hands-free boot opening comes as standard and you can adjust the height of the load area at the push of a button to make it easier to load large, heavy objects. Even with all the seats up you’ve got more space than your average hatchback – 470 litres. Fold the third row of seats flat and you get 1,102. Fold the second row flat and you’ve got enough for bulk shopping trips to Ikea.

Performance & handling

The Volvo XC90 is comfortable, cosseting and library quiet. It’s smooth, too; the eight-speed automatic gearbox facilitates near-seamless changes, while the steering is exceptionally light, which aids low-speed manoeuvrability.

Our test car was fitted with the optional air suspension, which can be adjusted to various levels of stiffness via a drive selector switch in the centre console. In its softest setting, it soaks up imperfections admirably, while harder settings provide slightly more stiffness, although the XC90 never feels too firm.

With such comfort, Volvo has had to make slight compromises in agility, with body roll rearing its head when the car is pushed hard through bends. It never feels like the sort of car that was set up to be driven through corners at pace, despite it having plenty of grip. A Kia Sorento offers a better drive with fewer compromises.

Notably, the XC90 actually drives itself; Volvo’s Queue Assist mode allows it to follow the car in front, braking, accelerating and even steering autonomously to take the boredom out of rush hour commutes at speeds of up to 50kmh. Above that, the Pilot Assist system does a similar job, at motorway speeds.

The XC90 comes with a choice of powertrains, all of which are four-cylinder. We tested the D5 diesel edition, which should be the biggest-selling model in the range. It’s quiet, composed and offers a good blend of performance thanks to 225hp, 470Nm of torque and a 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds. It never feels as rapid as its numbers suggest, though it never feels sluggish either.

Economy & environment

The T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid model steals the headlines in this area. It delivers a purported 112.9mpg along with 59g/km, although you’ll need to ensure you charge the battery up before every journey. Fail to do so, or embark on long journeys where those batteries expire and the petrol engine will be dragging around the dead weight of empty batteries, spoiling your economy.

Those looking for a reasonable starting price and low running costs should pick the D5 diesel. Expect around 50mpg and 149g/km. The petrol T6, meanwhile, offers 35.3mpg and 179g/km.

Equipment & value

Three trim levels with increasing levels of kit, including the entry-level Momentum, mid-range Inscription and range-topping R-Design are available. Even the standard car comes with a shedload of standard equipment here in the UK. All models includes seven seats, 9-inch touchscreen with Sensus navigation, Volvo On Call, Cleanzone air filter, a power tailgate that opens with a swipe of your feet under the bumper, keyless entry, cruise control, DAB radio, day-running lights, an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat and more.

Inscription and R-Design models have more equipment, but it’s worth investigating these features to see whether it’s even worth bothering to upgrade – the XC90 is that well-specced.

A variety of standalone upgrades are available, of course. We’d opt for the Intellisafe Pro Pack (£1,500) which includes adaptive cruise control, Queue Assist, Lane Keeping Aid, Blind Spot Inforamtion System and Rear Collision Mitigation, which minimises the chances of injury if someone rams you from behind.

It’s probably also worth adding the Seven Seater Comfor pack (£900) for its 4-zone climate control and 3rd row air conditioning.


Volvo takes safety seriously. The company invented the 3-point seatbelt, so its no surprise it has introduced a couple of world’s first safety features for the XC90, namely run-off road protection and auto brake at intersection.

The first detects when the car has left the road (i.e. driven over a ledge or otherwise become airborne), tightens the seatbelts and uses energy-absorbing technology between the seat and seat frame to soften your landing, minimising the risk of spinal injury.

Brake at intersection automatically brakes the car if it thinks you’re about to turn in front of an oncoming car at a junction.

Elsewhere there are enough sensors and airbags to convince us that Volvo is well on track to achieve its stated aim of having nobody die or be seriously injured in any of its cars after the year 2020.


Is this the first Volvo that properly mixes it with the established luxury set? Well, ‘yes’ is the simple answer. But also ‘no’ – because the XC90 might be even better than its rivals in some areas. It ticks all the basic important boxes; it’s lovely to drive, is one of the most practical cars we’ve ever tested and is stuffed to the gizzards with state of the art cabin and safety tech.

More surprisingly, perhaps, is the fact the XC90 can now be regarded as a car you lust after. Whereas the previous version was a car you bought with your head, this new model is aspirational, beautiful. It’s now a car you buy with your heart.


EngineD5 diesel
Acceleration0-60mph in 7.4 seconds
PriceFrom £45,750


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