The first gen XC90 was launched back in 2002, when Volvo wanted in on the ground floor of the SUV market shift. A lot of the brands saw a growing need for more SUVs as sales were rising. These figures continue to grow, with SUVs taking a massive share of today’s market. But the first gen XC90 was nothing special, and to be honest, before I tested this car, I could not even remember what the previous model looked like. This was mainly because it was a Volvo, and as a European kid, they were known for a couple of things; They made trucks and cars, both using the design philosophy of a cardboard box, and they were as safe as houses. For many years they have been considered the turtleneck of the car industry.  No flash designs, bland colours, and safe. Or for a more technical word that every enthusiast would use to describe a Volvo: boring. But all this changed back in 2012, when Volvo announced that the second generation XC90 would go into production, and the decision to take the turtleneck off was made.


First Impressions

If someone told me 5 years ago, that I would get aroused by a Volvo. I first would point and laugh at them thinking they are mental, and walk about confidently saying, “Like that would ever happen”……well that day has come, and it’s happened!!!!! The evolution is clearly there, but whatever they are pumping into their design studio, has enabled them to make a sexy looking box. This Volvo is not boring at all. Unlike the first gen model, it’s massive, and its stance gives this XC90 a lot of presence.

Available in 3 model specs, Momentum (base), Inscription (luxury) and R-Design (sport) and 3 engine specs, D5 AWD (2.0L i4 Twin Turbo Diesel), T6 AWD (2.0L i4 Petrol Turbo & Supercharged) and the T8 Twin Engine (Hybrid 2.0L i4 Petrol Turbo & Supercharged and Electric Motor). We had the D5 AWD Inscription for our review. The new design is clean and sleek, upmarket and elegant. As I walk around the XC90 there is not much about it I do not like.

The standard options list for the Inscription is impressive, and will put many other Euro brands to shame. On top of everything from the Momentum you get BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), Collision warning and mitigation support – front and rear. Keyless entry, 20 inch alloy wheels, automatic tailgate. Our model was also optioned with heads-up display, Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Keeping Aid and Pilot Assist.



Once I climbed on board, I found myself instantly comfortable. And let me tell you, this does not happen a lot. I can only think of one other car that has been this comfortable and form fitting, the 2010 Audi A6. I find it hard to explain, but it’s similar to your favorite spot on the couch. Once you sit in it, you know you are home. Again the inside is not what I had expected from a Volvo. It was modern, sleek, and stylish. Everyone I had in the XC90 over the course of the review commented on how nice the interior was, and that is not something that often happens with cars we review. The nappa leather on the seats was one of the better examples of fine leather, soft and luxurious to the touch, and combined with the comfortable plush seats, you felt you could drive for days and never ache anywhere.


The biggest change to this interior from most cars and the previous model, is the lack of buttons. You had a row of buttons for easy access just above the gear stick, standard buttons like hazards, front and rear defog, and 3 buttons for the audio system. And that was it. Everything else was on the integrated 8 inch central touch screen. Volvo have themselves an impressive system here, in the same design philosophy of Apple’s iPad; it was easy, quick and simple to use. Within several minutes I was fully aware of everything’s location. And if you didn’t like its layout, you can change it, just like an iPad. Just hold your finger down on the button you want to move, and drag it to where you want it. Finally……, digital interfaces that are fully customisable, well done Volvo.


The centre console was well designed too, split in three sections, with one top small storage compartment. The driver’s side section with gear stick, start/stop twist button and handbrake, and the passenger side section which was a large sliding cover, revealing two cup holders, and a large useable tray & storage compartment. This section may be somewhat boring, but it’s something that is overlooked in a lot of vehicles. They chase some flash design, but forget about usability. I loved this large sliding compartment, as it was a great area to just chuck your phone, wallet, or whatever you had on you into to and not have it slide around the car. The sound system was also impressive, and it was just the bog standard version, not the optional Bowers & Wilkins system. It was clear, and left you with a nice immersion of sounds from all directions.


One mind-blowing figure I came across was when I opened the boot. It was enormous, so much so I was surprised there wasn’t an echo. To put this in perspective, it’s a 7 seater. And with every seat up and being used, it still has a 451 litre boot, which is not far off the size of the boots in most of its competition. And if you put the third row of seats down, this space opens up to 1102 litres, nearly twice what the competition offer. And if you then drop the second row of seats down, you get 1951 litres, which is incredible. And to add to this, each and every seat lies perfectly flat, give you an enormous and useable space..


All of this space has not compromised any of the seating positions either; I am 6ft 7 and I comfortably was able to sit in any of the seats – front, second or third row. Volvo has obviously mastered the tech behind the tardis, as the XC90 is not that much bigger than most of its competition, but they have managed to give you a lot more useable space. The other reason I think they have mastered this magic tech is the soon to be released Hybrid T8 model, which has the same petrol engine from the T6, combined with an electric motor and battery. And they have managed to put the battery in somewhere with little or no effect on existing interior design.


The main dash was also fully digital, and have some nice and subtle animations when you started the vehicle, as everything moved into place. You were able to change the colours of the rings around the dials, but I would have liked to see some more customisable features on this display. The HUD unit was a great feature for this car, however its adjustment placement was right on the limit for a tall person. When I first got the vehicle I could not even see it, so the previous driver must have been quite short, but when adjusting it, I had to go all the way to the lowest position, and even this was really not enough, as the top of the numbers or speed limit sometimes got cut off for me, and my seat was at its lowest position too. Most of the time, it was visible, but could have done with a few more degrees of movement.


The Drive

At first I was not sure about the 2.0L Twin Turbo Diesel: would it be enough for this massive XC90? Upon startup, it sounds similar to any other diesel, with that signature diesel sound faintly in the background. The same again with acceleration, however when cruising around, you sometimes forgot it was even there, as it was so quiet. This engine produces 164kw of power, and 470 Nm of torque. As I have outlined in previous reviews, this torque figure is the important one. Many years ago it was all about litres and Kw, but now it’s all about Nm. When driving the D5, it certainly didn’t feel sporty, but it also didn’t feel heavy or lacking in power. It was pretty much in that goldilocks zone, of just right. Volvo claim a combined fuel useage of 7.8L per 100km, however for most of the review the XC90 sat around 9.5L per 100km. No matter how eco friendly I tried to adjust my driving, I could not get it any lower.



The ride itself was smooth, and combined with the light steering, the XC90 was a easy vehicle to maneuver. The suspension did not have any modes of adjustment, this is only available in the R-Design model, but it did not wallow around. It was firm, to give you enough information from the road, yet it absorbed all of the bumps and potholes effortlessly. This could also be to do with the large wheels, and their massive footprint. This model was running 21 inch rims, with 275/40 tyres. If you found yourself on a empty back country road, which I did and decided to open it up, you will be somewhat surprised. It’s no sports car of course, but you are able to enjoy yourself and feel firmly planted on the road at the same time. So much so, I really want to test the R-Design model now.


I found the XC90 a surprisingly calming place to be when driving the day to day. If out on the motorway, or stuck in traffic, you were so comfortable and relaxed, you didn’t really care or get worked up about the exterior surroundings. The array of safety features packed into the XC90 could also have added to this feeling.  City Safe (including Automatic Braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection and intersection braking) Driver Alert Control, RSI (Road Sign Information), BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) CTA (Cross Traffic Alert), WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System) and Collision Warning and mitigation support, front and rear. With an line up like that, it’s no wonder Volvo aim by 2020 to have no one killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.


Generally we do not go out of our way to test a lot of these features, as we would require a controlled safe environment. However during our review, I did get an opportunity to experience some of these features. CTA, was useful when reversing out of carparks in shopping centres, indicating if there are vehicles on the way, not just something close by. And City Safe, was experienced when I was following a vehicle at a safe distance, and another car decided to jump into the space on front of me without indicating. The XC90 before I could even do anything immediately flashed a warning and started braking. I was impressed by how quick the warning comes on, before you even had registered what had happened. So quick that if you were not paying attention or had been distracted, it could be the difference between stopping and crashing. With all these features, and its size you did feel like you were as safe as you could be in any vehicle.


What it’s up against

This section of the market is like a Las Vegas Super Heavyweight fight night. It’s epic, and if you want to make waves you need to throw and land every punch, which is exactly what Volvo have done. The price on first glance may look similar to Lexus, BMW and Audi, but only Lexus offer a similar number of additional features to the XC90. Both Audi and BMW need and expensive array of extras to match its specification.

Large Luxury SUVs

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km Boot Capacity Seats Price Highest to Lowest
Jaguar F-Pace 2.0L Turbo Diesel N/A N/A N/A 5 N/A
Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d 2.0L v6 Turbo Diesel 190kw / 620 Nm 7.6 L /100km 680 Litres  ** 7 $139,900
BMW X5 xDrive 25d 2.0L i4 TwinPower Diesel 160kw / 450 Nm 5.8 L /100km 650 Litres  ** 5 $112,900
Audi Q7 3.0L V6 TDi 160kw / 500 Nm 7.3 L /100km 650 Litres  ** 5 $112,900
Volvo XC 90 D5 2.0L i4 Twin Turbo Diesel 165kw / 470 Nm 7.8 L /100km 1102 Litres  ** 7 $110,900
Lexus RX 350 Limited 3.4L V6 Quad Cam VVTi 221kw / 370 Nm 9.6 L /100km 446 Litres  ** 5 $107,900
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 2.0L i4 Turbo Diesel 155kw / 400 Nm 5.6 L /100km 394 Litres  ** 5 $94,900
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX Diesel 2.8L i4 Turbo Diesel 130kw / 450 Nm 8.0 L /100km 742 Litres  ** 7 $99,990
VW Touareg 3.0L V6 TDi 150kw / 450 Nm 7.4 L /100km 580 Litres  ** 5 $91,900
Ford Everest Titanium 3.2L V6 TDCi 143kw / 470 Nm 8.5 L /100km 1050 Litres  ** 7 $87,990


** Boot Capacity calculated on third row seats being folded away.



Pros Cons
  • Great design, modern, stylish and clean
  • Comfortable interior, would be great for long trips
  • Easy to drive and life with every day
  • Boot space for the entire family, and maybe more
  • Amazing media unit, easy simple, and customisable
  • As safe as houses, due to all that tech
  • Great value for money
  • Huge array of standard features
  • The buttons on the steering wheel, not  as tactile as I would have liked
  • Head up display placement, could be annoying for taller people


What do we think?

I am still amazed by this SUV and what it delivers, I really had to get picky to find stuff I did not like about it, which means that they have spent the time and energy to think about how people will interact and use it. Volvo have reached a breaking point, and all you will have to do is test drive one. You will be just as surprised as I was and left rethinking your position on Volvo. As a result we have given the XC90 our highest rating of 5 Chevrons, and with that I can safely say we are going to see a lot of these awesome SUV’s on the roads over the next year.



Rating – Chevron rating 5 out of 5

2016 Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription

Vehicle Type Front Engine, AWD Large Luxury SUV
Starting Price $ 110,900 NZD
Tested Price $
Engine 2.0L inLine 4, Twin Turbo Diesel
Transmission Eight Speed Geartronic
0 – 100 kph 7.8 seconds
Kerb Weight 2130 kg
Length x Width x Height 4950 x 2008 x 1776 mm
Cargo Capacity 1102 Litres
Fuel Tank 71 litres
Fuel Efficiency Combined – 7.8 L/100km
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Stars


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John Galvin (JSG)
It started at a young age with bedroom posters, the Countach of course. This slowly grew into a super car die-cast model collection, fifty five 1:18 models at the last count. At which point it had almost taken full control, the incurable Mad Car Disease ran deep though my veins all the way to the bone. And things for my loved ones just got worse as the cars where now being bought at 1:1 scale, after a BMW, HSV, and couple of Audi's, the disease reached my brain, pushing me over the edge and down the rabbits hole into the world of the bedroom poster.


  1. John, great review. I hope the XC60 gets the same type of reviews – as thats the one I’m interested in.

    I would like to know the reliability level of these new volvos, as reports in the UK suggest that the ‘wizbang’ electronics could be a bit flaky.
    Do you know if anybody in NZ is keeping track of how reliable these cars are?



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