From £35,525
Engine and styling refresh achieves little in updating an ageing SUV that’s practical, but at the same time noisy and crude.

Our Verdict

The XC90 led the charge for seven seat SUVs when it launched in 2003

The Volvo XC90 is a big seven seat SUV in desperate need of modernisation, despite still having some strengths

  • First Drive

    Volvo XC90 2.4 D5

    Engine and styling refresh achieves little in updating an ageing SUV that’s practical, but at the same time noisy and crude.
  • First Drive

    Volvo XC90 D5 SE Sport

    Sport spec makes for a more involving drive - and sleeker look - but without making the XC90 uncomfortable.

What is it?

Unfortunately for Volvo, it’s a perfect illustration of how fast class standards improve at the premium end of the car market: it’s the latest Volvo XC90.

This car has been given a the mildest of late-life refreshes for 2011. There’s a little bit of extra chrome on the radiator grille, some more widely colour-coded bumpers, some new watch-style instruments inside, and a new ECU for the car’s 2.4-litre five-pot diesel engine which liberates an extra 15bhp and 15lb ft of torque, as well as allowing for EURO V exhaust emissions compliance.

Otherwise, this is the same practical, slightly retiring SUV that we’re already well familiar with – which is both good and bad news.

What’s it like?

197bhp and 310lb ft is just enough to motivate this two-tonner. Dig deep and this Volvo will move along at a reasonable enough pace, but it’s still more sedate than the latest premium diesel 4x4s. More important, however, is that the XC90’s six-speed automatic gearbox, engine and four-wheel drive system have been reconfigured for quicker response from a standstill – so, unlike the original car, it doesn’t seem to take such an eon to pull away at a roundabout.

Volvo has done little to boost the XC90’s rolling and mechanical refinement, however. Compared to younger rivals, the car’s chassis seems clunky and crude. It crashes even over relatively minor bumps, and although wind noise is minimal, the car’s engine isolation seems poor: there’s just too much thrash from that five-pot powerplant that finds its way into the cabin.

Combined that shortage of mechanical refinement with some unnecessary weight and a lack of natural feel in the car’s steering, and it makes the XC90 quite an unpleasant car to drive at times. Large 4x4s such the current Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes ML and BMW X5 have become highly refined cars in the time since Volvo’s XC90 first appeared, and it would seem that Gothenburg just hasn’t done enough to keep up.

Should I buy one?

Don’t dismiss the idea completely; there are still plenty of ways in which this family 4x4 appeals. It’s well screwed together, it’s got a decent boot, its seven-up seating layout is great, as is the child seat integrated into the sliding 2nd row middle chair. And it’s well-priced.

But nine years is a long time to expect any new car to remain competitive with its rivals, let alone rivals as talented as the XC90’s. In 2011, in more ways than one, this car seems well past its sell-by date.

 

Volvo XC90 2.4 D5 Geartronic SE

Price: £38,095; Top speed: 127mph; 0-62mph: 10.3sec; Economy: 34.0mpg; Co2: 219g/km; Kerbweight: 2121kg; Engine: 5 cyls in line, 2400cc, turbodiesel; Power: 197bhp at 3900rpm; Torque: 310lb ft at 2000 – 2750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd automatic

Join the debate

Comments
8

7 March 2011

...and with new XC90s available from brokers at £27.5K Volvo are selling more of them in the UK than ever before. It is compared to the Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes ML and BMW X5 yet sells for the price of a Freelander, Merc C-class and X1. At current prices nothing does all that this old thing can.

7 March 2011

Pressed the return key too soon. I meant to add that it could be argued that the XC90 is an indication of how slowly this part of the market has developed: it is surprising how competitive a 2002 design remains.

In particular no other manufacturer has managed to match the packaging efficiency of this design in this segment, and let's not doubt that many SUVs are bought by those looking for space but find big MPVs just too dull.

8 March 2011

Some years ago I took one of these out on a Volvo 4wd organised event. Went in to a field, the instructor had me doing doughnuts with all the various traction devices on/off which was great fun, we travelled down a stream where the water was over the headlamps in places, up and down very steep slopes - definitely not for the faint-hearted - this car was a marvel. I'd just bought a V70, it had me wishing I'd spent a little more cash...

Then reality hit - my car's never off-road, why on earth would I want to buy one of these? And if I did want to go off-road - would I want to take near £40k of my own money thru that lot?

Admittedly these things are so much fun, but utterly pointless unless you're a farmer. (and a rich one at that!)

Pye

8 March 2011

I remember seriously thinking about buying one of these 5 years ago, the dealer was very accommodating with a decent overnight test drive and it was in my price range and I liked the car. What stopped me was the dated looks and underpowered engine. I just kept thinking that they must be launching a new model soon and I didn't want to get stuck with the old duffer. You then see what's possible when they launch the XC60 and I still feel the same. However I've seen new ones on offer for just over £30K and it's hard to argue with the value these things offer - they even appear to hold their value quite well so Volvo must be doing something right.

8 March 2011

We nearly went for one last year, the leasing deals were - and are - amazing. My wife had wanted one for years and when we were finally in a position to get one she was really disappointed on the test drive. It was an auto, which she doesn't like, but it was slow and noisy. I'd driven one about 7 years ago so knew what to expect.

The car itself was lovely inside and the space was terrific but you felt like were plodding along and fuel consumption even at modest speeds was poor. We get an easy 40+ mpg on a run up the M6 to Scotland in our CR-V and, without anything to back it up, it felt like the Volvo might get 30! Shame.


jer

8 March 2011

Makes me think what a mfer needs to do to keep a car up to date without spending a fortune on a new platform. In this case the design is contemporary the interior is excellent the failings are refinment and on the road. Surely an update in these areas would be enough to garner good reivews.

This is the same engine as in the V60 that was in manual form competitive, more characterful than a 4cyl. It's an iron block, reviewers are taking a dim view on refinement of these comapred to the quieter better balanced aluminium alternatives. Nevertheless double time budget on the nvh and old fashioned sound proofing. There should be plenty of scope to to tune noise paths to the cabin with a small engine in this big body. Hydraulic engine mounts, balance shafts, perhaps review the injectors and stiffness of all componements. 10% improvement makes a big difference.

Tune the chassis in the UK. Pay some bucks for Lotus to tune an adaptive chassis suitable for a large 4wd such as this. I'm no engineer but this tech seems more off the shelf now. Key is to get the right people to tune it.

Update the auto software - done.

Fit some off the shelf energy efficient alternator, promise a battery pack supported hybrid in the future.

Voila another 5 years use.

8 March 2011

Update the auto software - done.

Or buy the manual version (the only one of the large SUVs, I believe, that offers this)

8 March 2011

[quote ballyblack]Or buy the manual version (the only one of the large SUVs, I believe, that offers this)[/quote]

Not any more I'm afraid, Geartronic only on the facelifted version - no one bought it and the residuals were terrible. Big 4x4's need to be diesel autos to sell in the UK.

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