This improved second generation Volvo XC90 aims to make the most of its sleek Swedish design values. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Volvo's second generation XC90 was worth the wait, a seven-seat luxury SUV that has given key rivals like Audi's Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery a lot to think about. Safe, efficient, clever, practical and stylish, it has re-established this Swedish maker as a credibly prestigious automotive brand. This revised version offers a slightly smarter look and some extra electrified tech. It's well worth a look.
The Volvo XC90 is just about the perfect example of a vehicle that created a niche for itself that no rival could seem to penetrate. If you wanted a 7-seat luxury 4x4 that was never really a sports utility vehicle, that was supremely comfortable and, above all, was neither shouty like a German nor trying too hard to fit in with the country set like a Land Rover, it was plum perfect. Nothing even got close.
Because of this, the first generation XC90 hung around for ages. After all, why mess with a winning formula?
Later versions, sold right up to 2014, tidied up the basic formula but were otherwise much the same as the models that first rolled into dealers in 2002. That's one heck of an innings. At least though, it paved the way for something different. There was no way that the second generation XC90 would be a mere 'evolutionary' design. Even so, few were ready for quite the radical change Volvo's Chinese owners Zhejiang Geely have funded. The low-key approach of old? It's fair to say that has been usurped by a much more extrovert look.
The key news with this revised MK2 XC90 model lies in the introduction of an advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system, which is coupled with the company's existing 2.0-litre internal combustion engines to create a integrated electrified mild hybrid powertrain, identifiable by the brand's latest 'B' badging. Otherwise, things are much as before. The car sits on Volvo's light, stiff 'Scalable Product Architecture' (SPA) platform. Most customers choose the 235hp B5 mild hybrid diesel but there are also two mild hybrid petrol models too, the 250hp B5 and the 300hp B6. The other option is the Recharge T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model, billed as 'the world's most powerful and cleanest large SUV'. This delivers a combined 386hp output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatchd in just 5.8s, yet this car can also give you 26 miles of pure electric driving range when fully charged.
All the engines drive all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Across the range, there's the option of an 'Active Four-C Chassis' package, which gives you four-corner adaptive dampers and electronic air suspension. Handling strikes a good balance between comfort and agility; cruising refinement meets the required executive standard; and there's the potential for a mild amount of off road prowess. A standard 'Pilot Assist' system offers a degree of highway-orientated autonomous driving technology. And you might be interested to know that conventional variants can tow up to 2,700kgs.
Design and Build
On the outside, this refreshed XC90 offers subtle upgrades to the original award-winning exterior design, such as new wheels, exterior colours and a revised front grille, among other details. Otherwise, things are much as before, with a sculpted bonnet flowing into LED front headlights with a distinctive so-called 'Hammer of Thor' design.
The interior still seems boldly-styled, with a massive tablet-like touch screen control console helping to create a cabin that's modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this XC90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including an optional gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors, the Swedish glassmaker, and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. This genuine seven seater features innovatively designed seats that also free up interior space for passengers in both the second and third seat rows. Even the third row can seat an adult up to 170cm tall.
As for the boot space on offer, well that's inevitably going to be a little restricted with all seven seats in place, though even in this configuration, you still get 397-litres of luggage space. Fold the 3rd row and you can load up to 1,102-litres, if you pack to the roof.
Market and Model
All XC90 variants come with 7 seats, automatic transmission and AWD and there's a choice of three core trim levels - 'Momentum', 'R-Design' and 'Inscription' - with additional 'Pro' versions of the latter twoh. Most UK buyers will want the volume 225hp B5 diesel version; the unique Recharge T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid variant is priced from around £68,000. Pricing for the mild hybrid XC90 models starts from around £55,000.
Top models can be ordered with features like 21-inch Inscription alloy wheels and powered, heated and ventilated seats trimmed in Nappa leather. Inside, the tablet-like touch screen in the centre console drives the minor controls and a whole host of Internet-based products and services. Audio services in the plushest variants come courtesy of a monster Bowers & Wilkins stereo that's juiced up by a 1,400 watt amplifier, 19 speakers, and the latest sound processing software. It even has air-ventilated subwoofers. The electronically controlled air suspension has choice of five modes, including one where the driver is free to tailor the settings to his or her personal taste.
XC90 safety gear includes a run off-road protection package which tightens seatbelts and activates energy-absorbing technology in the seats when the car detects challenging terrain ahead. Another system is the auto-braking feature, which cuts in if a driver pulls out in front of oncoming traffic. Both safety systems aim to bring Volvo closer to its vision of nobody being seriously injured or killed in any of its vehicles by 2020.
Cost of Ownership
Volvo claims that the advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system introduced with this revised XC90 offers drivers up to 15 per cent fuel savings and emission reductions in real-world driving. This new brake-by-wire system interacts with the energy-recovery system and reduces fuel consumption and emissions by recovering kinetic energy under braking. The introduction of these XC90 'B'-badged cars represents a major step for Volvo towards its electrification ambitions.
On to the figures, all of which we'll quote to WLTP standards. In the B5 diesel most will choose, expect up to 42.7mpg on the combined cycle and up to 171g/km of CO2. Inevitably, these figures take a tumble with petrol power; the B5 manages up to 32.4mpg and up to 199g/km, while the B6 manages up to 30.7mpg and up to 210g/km. If you want to do better, you'll need to look at the top T8 Recharge petrol plug-in hybrid model, which delivers up to 63g/km of CO2, 100.8mpg and up to 28.6 miles of pure electric driving range. Maintenance should be relatively affordable for a car of this kind, with intervals every year or 18,000 miles. Three or five year pre-paid servicing packages are available to help you budget ahead. The warranty is the usual three year, 60,000 mile package.
Volvo seems to be flourishing under foreign ownership. You might have expected Chinese control to stifle the company's Scandinavian character. Instead, what we've been given here is a return to Swedish charisma and an emphasis on all the things that the Gothenburg brand does best - cool restrained style, real-world practicality and class-leading safety.
Of course, this Volvo's not perfect. There are still sharper-handling choices and more capable off roaders in this sector. In balancing these virtues though, this XC90 sets its own class standard and in doing so, establishes a family benchmark amongst luxury SUVs that rivals will struggle to match. Company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson would have liked this car. More importantly though, if you're shopping in this segment, we think you will too.
By Jonathan Crouch
Volvo's second generation XC90 was worth the wait, a seven-seat luxury SUV that gave key rivals like Audi's Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery a lot to think about. Safe, efficient, clever, practical and stylish, it re-established the Swedish maker as a credibly prestigious automotive brand. And it makes a great used buy in its pre-facelift 2014-2018-era guise.
5dr SUV (2.0 petrol T5,T6 / 2.0 turbo & supercharged T8 plug-in hybrid / 2.0 diesel D5)
Back in 2014, Volvo launched the second generation XC90, a family-sized luxury seven-seat SUV for a very different world. For the Swedish manufacturer, this wasn't just a new car: it represented an entirely new way of thinking. Chinese conglomerate Geely paid $1.3 billion to buy the brand from Ford in 2010, after which they invested nearly ten times that amount to re-establish it as a credible independent force in the automotive industry. With this MK2 XC90, buyers saw the first fruits of that capital injection, this model being the first of the company's modern-era designs to feature the newly-develop Scalable Product Architecture platform that has since featured on all of the company's cars.
Absolutely everything about this car was fundamentally new at launch and was engineered to set fresh class standards. On top of that, there's the sort of proper full-sized seven-seat versatility that few rivals can credibly offer and the kind of cool, authentic Scandinavian charm that back in 2014, we hadn't really seen from a new Volvo in a very long time. The original version of this MK2 XC90 was significantly updated in Spring 2019, but it's the pre-facelift version we look at here as a used buy.
What You Get
The look of this second generation XC90, according to its exterior design manager Anders Gunnarson, needed to be 'timeless'. This car's a little longer than the previous version - and a little wider too - but that's been carefully disguised as part of a design brief to make the shape look as compact as possible. So many large luxury SUVs appear bulky and intimidating: this isn't one of them.
Take a seat up-front and it really is very nice indeed, the work of Volvo's British interior design director Robin Page. He's created a cabin that's simple, elegant - and very uncluttered, with only eight buttons on the fascia. The remaining functions you'd normally access through confusing rows of little switches on the dash have been relocated into menu options that lie behind the big, easy-to-use icons you'll find on a smart infotainment colour touchscreen that's presented portrait-style on the centre console, like the system you'll find in a Tesla Model S.
We like the technical niceties too: the CleanZone interior air quality system for example. This automatically switches to recirculation mode if outside conditions change - say in a polluted city centre or when you enter a smoky tunnel. The 360-degree parking camera system is another nice-to-have feature, including a rear camera you'll want because over-the-shoulder visibility isn't all that great.
Your middle row passengers are well catered for, with individual seats that slide and recline for greater comfort on longer journeys. And you get proper seven-seat functionality. Third row seating in a car of this class tends to be designed only for children but here, Volvo has created rearmost pews suitable for anyone up to 5ft 7-inches in height. Getting to the back row takes a bit of muscular dexterity, but once you're installed, it is, as promised, surprisingly comfortable in the very back. The chairs themselves are exactly the same as those in the middle, so you're not fobbed off with the kind of fold-out occasional seats you get in some rivals. And they're positioned in so-called 'theatre-style', slightly raised and set inwards to offer a better view in your direction of travel.
As for the boot space on offer, well that's inevitably going to be a little restricted with all seven seats in place, though even in this configuration, you still get 397-litres of luggage space. Most of the time though of course, you'll probably be running the car with the third row chairs folded down, the retracting process much easier than the back-breakingly fumbly machinations you have to go through in a rival Land Rover Discovery to achieve the same end result. Once that's completed, there's a lot of room to play with, 775-litres if you load to the window line and as much as 1,102-litres if you load to the roof.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Most of the XC90 owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars - but inevitably there were a few issues. One owner had problems with a leaking panoramic sunroof. Another had issues with the air suspension, the parking sensors and the stop/start system, so check that all these features work properly on your test drive. Quite a few electrical and software issues were reported too, so go thoroughly over all the powered and infotainment functions of the car you're looking at. It's unlikely the XC90 will have been used arduously off road, but check the underside just in case. The big alloy wheels are very susceptible to kerbing. The T5 and D5 models have quite an appetite for front tyres so check there's some life left in the rubber. As usual, check the alloys for kerb scuffing and the rear of the cabin and the boot for damage caused by unruly kids or awkwardly-shaped luggage.
(approx based on a 2014 S60 D4) An oil filter costs in the £19 bracket and an air filter will cost around £42. A rear brake pad set sits in the £73 bracket for a set. Wiper blades sit in the £10-£245 bracket. A headlamp bulb is around £11. A water pump is around £50.
On the Road
When it comes to handling dynamics, large luxury SUVs from this period aren't too easy to pigeon-hole. There are still some cars in this class from this time that are better on road (think BMW X5) and others that are better off it (think Land Rover Discovery) but the differences aren't as sharp as they used to be. What we can say is that in our opinion, a Volvo XC90 gives you the best compromise between these virtues and in second generation guise, wraps it up in a rewarding overall package that in this MK2 model form is based solely around the use of 2.0-litre four cylinder power. Volvo reckons this to be the optimum recipe for efficient performance and backs up its thinking by delivering three impressive engines using that configuration in this car, all of which are mated to on-demand 4WD and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Most original buyers opted for the volume 225bhp twin turbo D5 diesel variant. Alternatively, there's petrol power courtesy of an engine using both turbocharging and supercharging to develop 320bhp. That unit's offered in standard form in the conventional petrol T6 model. Or you can get it mated to an 87bhp electric motor in the clever T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric Plug-in hybrid version, a car that mates 400bhp performance with supermini-style running costs. The two conventional variants will be more rewarding to use if you get a car with the 'Drive Modes Settings' system fitted, which alters throttle, steering and gearshift timings to suit the way you want to drive. The optional air suspension we'd also recommend functions through the same set-up and improves low-speed ride. Whatever spec you choose, there's as much off-road prowess as most owners will want and tarmac handling is assured, crisp and responsive for this class of car.
This second generation XC90, the first of the brand's modern-era SPA architecture cars, marked a return to Swedish charisma and an emphasis on all the things that the Gothenburg brand does best - cool restrained style, real-world practicality and class-leading safety. To be specific, this is a large luxury SUV with a look and feel that's refreshingly different to that on offer from obvious rivals. A car that'll seat seven adults more comfortably than any other in its segment. And a model that in terms of crash protection, takes its responsibility for your family's safety to a whole new level.
This XC90 boasts other important attributes too. The brand's chosen four cylinder 2.0-litre 'Drive-E' engine formula offers everything you need and nothing you don't in this class of car. As a result, if you're looking at a conventional variant like the D5 diesel model that most original buyers chose, you'll find no other AWD rival from this era that's more efficient. Opt instead for the top T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid version and, as we've said, you'll get yourself the world's cleanest and most powerful SUV from this period.
Of course, this Volvo's not perfect. There are still sharper-handling choices and more capable off roaders in this sector from this period. In balancing these virtues though, this XC90 set its own class standard and in doing so, established a family benchmark amongst luxury SUVs that rival of its time struggled to match. Company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson would have liked this car. More importantly though, if you're shopping in this segment, we think you will too.