Let’s get this statement out of the way straight away: the Volvo XC90 never gets anywhere near the ride and handling traits displayed by rivals including the BMW X5, Mercedes ML and Land Rover Dicsovery.
That’s not to say it never has; in its day, around five to 10 years ago, the XC90 came close to achieving the road-biased driving characteristics of saloon/estate cars while maintaining faithful to the SUV brief. Its steering, at the time, felt car-like and body roll and vertical movement felt like that of an S80.
Volvo has done little to boost the XC90’s rolling and mechanical refinement, however, in recent years. 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 Discovery, ML and 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.
Extreme off-road work is limited by the XC’s all-independent suspension and relatively low-set floorpan, but it tackled our deeply cratered test course with disdain.