This week we’ve had the new Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription in for review and road test. Is the new XC90 a worthy successor to the game-changing original?
It was way back in 2002 – an eternity in the car world – when Volvo launched the XC90 as a Swedish take on what an SUV should be. But the XC90 was very much Volvo’s view of what an SUV should be.
Instead of promising their SUV could traverse the roughest terrain on the planet, or promise it could attack back roads like a well-sorted sports saloon, Volvo concentrated on making their XC90 safe, practical and comfortable. No one seriously thought it would sell.
But as families started to realise the XC90 offered all the practicality of a people carrier, the high-riding stance of an SUV and a properly safe and comfortable cocoon to transport their brood, XC90 sales grew. And then grew again.
By 2006, Volvo were shifting 85,000 XC90s a year, and even in the last proper year of production they were still shifting an impressive 18,000 units of a car that was 12 years old.
So the new Volvo XC90 has an awful lot to live up to if it’s going to have anything like the impact Volvo’s first XC90 (and first ever SUV) had, and we’ve got a week to find out just how good the new car is with this, the 2016 Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription.
Inside and out
Although the new XC90 is a completely new car – from its Scalable Platform Architecture to its Drive-E engines – it still looks like an XC90, albeit a bigger, more grown-up XC90 (at nearly five metres long and over two metres wide it’s wider, and almost as long, as a Range Rover).
Clever detailing and smooth surfaces conspire to disguise the XC90’s bulk, and although it doesn’t succumb to the fad for a coupe roofline – the new XC90 is defiantly ‘boxy’ – it doesn’t for a minute look like a big two box SUV.
From the statement grille and ‘Thor’ running lights to the cohesive back end with its upright tail lights, the XC90 just looks right. Not just right, but sophisticated, modern, premium and hugely appealing. It’s a design that looks set to stand the test of time, just like its predecessor.
But the real treat is the XC90’s stunning interior.
At first encounter, the XC90’s interior looks almost plain. But it’s not. It’s a brilliant blend of minimalist design and very high quality materials that make the competition look like they’re trying far too hard to add glitz and gloss to appear premium. But the XC90’s interior is arguably more premium than anything normal premium SUVs offer. It’s certainly on a par with the Range Rover.
The huge portrait-shaped infotainment screen which dominates the dash is a master stroke, delivering everything you need at the prod of a finger. And a finger that can even be gloved as the XC90 uses a breakable surface beam to detect what you intend.
Everything you’d use on the move is big and bold and impossible to miss, the HVAC controls are always accessible at the foot of the screen, seemingly endless options and settings are available with a swipe right or left, or a drop-own from the top, the clear mapping can be zoomed in or out with a finger pinch, and the ‘Home’ screen gives one prod access stuff like Sat Nav, Radio, Phone and whatever you’ve been playing with recently.
Lovely details like the turn knob for starting and stopping, and a knurled rotary wheel to option driving modes, are simply classy, the seats are predictably Volvo good and so very easy to get comfortable in, there’s acres of leg and headroom in the sliding and reclining middle row, and the back two seats are more easily accessible than in any other SUV, and more commodious. Yes, real people can fit in the third row.
And even when you’ve got all seven seats up, there’s still as much room in the boot as you’ll find in a hatchback (you can easily accommodate a couple of medium-sized dogs – we know because we did; seven-up and two dogs was a breeze), and when you drop the back row there’s enough room to party. Drop the back two rows and you could house the homeless.
The standard spec on this Inscription XC90 is huge, but Volvo has thrown more toys in to the mix, including Intellisafe Pack (£1,500) which adds Adaptive Cruise, Queue Assist, Lane Keeping and BLIS with Cross Traffic, Winter Pack (£575) which adds Heated front seats, windscreen, steering wheel and washers, Family Pack (£275) with rear door sun curtains, 2-Stage booster seat, power child locks and load protection net, and the Seven Seat Comfort Pack (£900) which adds 4-Zone climate, 3rd row Air Con and power folding 2nd row headrests.
But what’s also been added is the Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers and Wilkins, and although it’s a £3k option it really is something you should consider having if you appreciate quality sound.
Apart from the NAIM system in the Bentley we reviewed a couple of years ago, this Bowers and Wilkins set-up is probably the best in-car audio you can get. It is sublime.
Performance and on the road
The original XC90 was a very comfortable place to be, although the engines often felt a bit harsh and the handling wasn’t exactly dynamic.
So we rather expected Volvo would be tempted to go the route of just about every other ‘Premium’ SUV and hone its on-road dynamics to be Nurburgring ‘good’. But they haven’t.
Instead, Volvo has delivered an XC90 which has absolutely terrific body control, and has managed to do that whilst at the same time delivering a level of comfort that borders on perfect.
In part, that’s down the the optional air suspension fitted to this XC90, but optional or not it manages to curb the inevitable weight transfer in such a big, and tall car brilliantly, and with the (again, optional) 20″ alloys it’s very difficult to unsettle the car, even in bends you’ve attacked too vigorously.
The steering is not endowed with an excess of feel, but it is very crisp, and its lightness makes the XC90 feel a much smaller and more controllable car than you could reasonably expect. And that lightness, and the sensors and cameras, make the XC90 surprisingly easy to park, despite its bulk.
In fact, the XC90 probably offers the best compromise between dynamics and comfort we’ve ever encountered in an SUV. It’s perfectly capable of making brisk progress on country roads, is quiet and comfortable around town, and as good a motorway cruiser as you could ever hope for. It’s also quiet. Very quiet.
In fact, the only way to get any real noise in to the cabin is to thrash the 2.0 litre D5 engine to within an inch of its life. Then there’s an unappealing four-pot harshness in the background that’s more surprising than irritating. But why would anyone – apart from car reviewers – want to do that?
The D5 Drive-E delivers 222bhp and 347lb/ft of torque, enough to get the XC90 to 62mph in 7.8 seconds, and the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox delivers the power without hiccups to all four wheels (although mostly to the front unless driving style, or road conditions, dictate otherwise.
You can also delve in to the Drive Mode settings on this car (a £395 option), but why would you want to when ‘Comfort’ gives you all you want? Yes, there’s a Dynamic mode that makes everything a bit more responsive, and an Eco mode that dials everything down for improved economy. But leave it in Comfort – it’s practically perfect.
Economy, although nowhere near the ‘official levels, was more than impressive at nearly 31mpg in a week of very mixed motoring, and we have no doubt 40mpg would be achievable on any sort of run.
In truth, the XC90 doesn’t hold a candle to the Porsche Cayenne for dynamics, and it can’t come close to the off-road abilities of anything Land Rover produces. But how many buyers actually go off-road on a regular basis, or by an SUV for its M5-bashing abilities?
We always liked the old XC90, and we did wonder if the new XC90 would have to forego some of its comfort and practicality to compete on a level playing field with the German premium SUVs and the offerings from Land Rover.
But Volvo has stayed true to its ambition of offering a big, premium SUV that is the ultimate transport for an, admittedly better-off, family, with a level of comfort, style and safety that beggars belief, and in the process has re-defined what a premium SUV should be.
Yes, every aspect of the XC90 is a compromise to some degree – as is every SUV on the market, premium or not – but in our view the new XC90 has the balance of compromise absolutely spot on.
True, the XC90 won’t keep up with a Cayenne on a back road blast, and it will be left stranded when the going gets really tough and the Range Rover sails to the top of the muddy, grassy slope.
So if you want your SUV to do a very passable impression of a high-end sports saloon, then forget the XC90 and buy a Cayenne.
If, instead, you want to be able to roam around your country estate, traverse the farm and indulge in some green laning, then visit your nearest Land Rover dealer and grab a Range Rover, Range Rover Sport or even a Discovery.
But if you want the ultimate family transport which can accommodate all the people, pets and stuff you can imagine, a ride that borders on the sublime, a cabin that’s the better of just about anything you can imagine, and a suite of safety technology that would make a manic depressive with a death wish safe from themselves, then the XC90 really is the only option.
All of which sounds a bit like an advert for the XC90, or a single reviewer who found the XC90 to be the perfect car. But its appeal is far wider than that.
From the Cayenne-driving to the big car phobic at Cars UK, the conclusion was the same, a friend of one of the team went out and ordered an XC90 after a lift to a meeting won him over, and the XC90 was subjected to the Waitrose Car Park window knockers (the first car since the Jaguar XJ was new and shiny) asking “Is this the new Volvo?”, “What’s it like?” and “Isn’t the engine too small?”.
The answers to which were “Yes”, “It’s practically perfect” and “No, it’s really not”.
Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription Review Photos
Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription Review Quick Specs
- Engine: 1969cc, 222bhp
- Performance: 0-62mph 7.8 seconds / Top Speed 137mph
- Economy: 49.6mpg – Official / 30.8mpg – Test
- Emissions: 149g/km
- Price: £50,185 / Price as tested £62,275
- Test car supplied by Volvo UK
Test car options
Intellisafe Pro – £1,500
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Queue Assist
- Lane Keeping Aid
- Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA)
Winter Pack – £575
- Heated Front Seats
- Heated Front Windscreen
- Headlight Steering Wheel
- Heated Washer Nozzles
Family Pack – £275
- Integrated 2-Stage Booster Cushion for Centre Seat, Second Row
- Power Child Locks – Rear Doors
- Load Protection Net
- Integrated Sun Curtains – Rear Doors
Seven Seat Comfort Pack – £900
- 4-Zone Electronic Climate Control including Cooled Glovebox
- 3rd Row Air Conditioning
- Power Folding 2nd Row Headrests
- Premium Metallic Paint £1,000
- Laminated Side Windows £450
- Four Corner Electronic Air Suspension £2,150
- 20” 5 Double Spoke (Diamond Cut/Matt tech Black) with 275/45 Tyres £0
- Drive Mode Settings inc. Adjustable Steering Force £395
- Tempa Spare Wheel and Jack £150
- Apple CarPlay™ with 230v/150W 3 Pin Plug Socket £300
- Dark Tinted Windows – Rear Doors and Cargo Area £400
- Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers and Wilkins £3,000
Detachable Towbar – 13 Pin £995