Currently reading: Used buying guide: Volvo XC90 (2002-2014)
The Mk1 XC90 was a trailblazer with true staying power: it was in production for 12 years. It remains a resilient SUV today, we reckon

The Volvo Volvo XC90 was a real gamechanger. Not only did it represent a significant new step for Volvo, as its first SUV, but it also played a major role in changing the overall market.

Previously, the MPV ruled the family car roost, but with the XC90, buyers began to drift out of the dowdy people carrier and into the ‘lifestyle’ SUV. The age of the SUV had truly begun.

Unveiled at the 2002 Detroit motor show, the XC90 was the largest car based on the P2 platform, which was also used by the Volvo S80 and Volvo S60 saloons and the Volvo V70 and Volvo XC70 estates. Modern car life cycles average about six years, but the original XC90 carried on for a staggering 12 years with the help of facelifts. Comfort, versatility and safety remained key selling points throughout its tenure. 

It was spacious enough for seven people and had a then unusual folding arrangement that let you maximise boot space without removing seats. Its comfort focus was reflected in the chassis and suspension tuning, which proved well suited to soaking up big mileage.

Many XC90s also had four-wheel drive, although it was biased to operate in front-wheel drive most of the time – and some models were actually front-wheel drive only. The XC90 was an SUV intended for Tarmac rather than mud.

The 2002 launch model kicked off with two engines. A 161bhp 2.4-litre diesel D5 proved very popular in the UK, but there was also a twin-turbo 2.9-litre petrol T6 with 268bhp and 280lb ft. A more conservative 210bhp 2.5-litre petrol T5 model was added in 2004, at which point the D5 was uprated to 183bhp. 

In 2006, the first XC90 facelift came along, with exterior design changes and higher-quality interior trim. The T6 moved up to a 3.2-litre unit, but the range-topper by then was a 311bhp 4.4-litre V8. R-Design spec arrived in 2009, before a furtherimproved 2.4-litre diesel joined the line-up a year later. A final D5 diesel was added in 2011. (Unsurprisingly, the D5 is the most common engine in the classifieds.) The model received a second and final facelift in 2012 before it was replaced in 2014 by an all-new second generation XC90.

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As for equipment, even the early entry-level models were enticing. But look for cars from 2009 for a specification sweet spot, because all were equipped with adaptive suspension, cruise control, sat-nav, climate control and parking sensors.

Fancy extras were added as you went up the range, including heated seats and leather upholstery, and SE Lux trim gained electrically adjustable massage seats as well. Executive trim meant an upgraded speaker system. For a more dynamic experience, SE Sport, on sale from 2006, had the more racy petrol V6, twin chrome-plated exhausts, larger sports seats, satin silver trim and an absence of roof rails.

When the XC90 was launched in 2002, prices spanned £28,400 to nearly £50,000. Today, you can bag one for little more than £1000 if you’re brave, although safer buys await those with at least £5000. Either way, be picky: that 14-year lifespan means there’s lots of choice.

An owner’s view

Keelan Clarke, Volvo XC90 Owners Club: “My experience with the XC90 has been absolutely fantastic. The comfort and space make it a pleasure, and even though it’s a big vehicle, it never really feels like that when I’m driving it. 

“There’s plenty of muscle in the engine, but the most appealing aspect is the room. I’ve yet to come across another vehicle that offers so much of it. It handles all that a family needs and wants. Like any vehicle, they age and that can bring problems, but generally they’re worry-free.”

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Buyer beware…

Steering: A recall took place in 2006 to fix a fault that meant the steering could fail with heavy use over an extended period. A total of 18,728 cars were affected, so ensure any pre-2006 models you’re looking at have had this work done.

Body: Some owners report a problem with the tailgate that causes the metal hinge rod of the boot handle to rust, swell up and jam, meaning the boot won’t open. The fix isn’t difficult, but it is tedious, because it requires removing the tailgate’s trim panels. Volvo forum posts show how to fix it.

Engine: Some aged D5 diesels can struggle to start in lower temperatures. Beware. Starting issues can be caused by injector faults – expensive to fix. 

Drivetrain: Worn-out splines within the four-wheel drive system can make some XC90s lose the ability to drive all four wheels. The problem isn’t shown by a warning light, but one way to check is to see if the front wheels spin on loose surfaces. In a working system, all four should grip equally. Repairs can be up to £1000.

Brakes: Any heavy car like the XC90 can be hard on its brakes, so check them carefully. Don’t overlook the parking brake, either. A failure to hold the car properly or a grating noise could mean it needs rear new shoes, which isn’t uncommon with XC90s.

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Also worth knowing

A special-edition XC90 was produced in 2005, coinciding with Volvo’s sponsorship of sailing’s round-the-world Ocean Race. The car received unique blue exterior paint and a bespoke interior trim. Only 800 Ocean Race cars were made. Even so, there are a fair few listed in the classifieds if you’re after something a bit more unusual.

How much to spend 

£1000-£2999: Models nudging 200,000 miles in a mix of specs but mostly entry-level diesels.

£3000-£4999: A few more powerful 2.9-litre petrols and some XC90s from around 2009.

£4000-£7499: Mid-production models, some barely having covered 100,000 miles.

£7500-£9999: A much wider selection of engines and trims, with a few R-Design cars and mileage below 75,000. We found a pair of V8s here – the only two seemingly available at the time of writing. 

£10,000-£14,999: End-of-production cars in excellent all-round condition.

£15,000 and above: The best cars from 2011 or later, usually with fewer than 50,000 miles.

One we found 

Volvo XC90 2.4 D5 S AWD Geartronic, 2009, 85,000 miles, £6595: This automatic seven-seater is a twoowner car being sold with a six-month warranty by a dealer. Its MOT is until next March and it will be serviced before sale. It is packed with kit and, with the 182bhp diesel unit, should be cheaper to run than equivalent petrols.

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