Volvo XC90 Review

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  • Performance

  • Practicality

  • Reliability

  • Value For Money

arianne's review of Volvo XC90


“We bought our Volvo XC90 from new in March 2006. It's...”

Written on: 04/06/2008 by arianne (13 reviews written)

Good Points
Fuel economy on D5 diesel at 35mpg.
Value for money compared to Merc M class, Audi Q7 and BMW X5.
Practical 7-seater lifestyle car that pretty well does everything.
Refined & fast pan-european autobahn cruiser.

Bad Points
Minor cabin rattles spoil otherwise quiet journeys.
D5 engine no longer the best of the exec SUVs.
ICE lacks mp3 socket on pre-2007 models.

General Comments
We bought our Volvo XC90 from new in March 2006. It's a 2.4 D5 turbo diesel coupled to a manual, 6-speed gearbox. We've covered 52,000 (as at June 2008) which is a mix of fast, rural A-roads in the Scottish Borders, commuting to Edinburgh city centre and pan-European trips to Austria twice yearly (ski and summer hols). Our previous car was a Ford Galaxy 1.9TDi Ghia.


Throw almost any challenge at the XC90 and it'll complete the task. As a mini-bus the seven seats are super. We frequently use all seven seats shifting friends from one place to another. The rearmost seats can be used by adults for journeys of an hour or so - the middle seats all move on rails separately and must be moved forward to create sufficient leg room for adults in the rear. All seats fold effortlessly with a very simple one-touch system. All fold flat into the floor. Even the front passenger seat folds flat for those really long loads. The boot space is cavernous and the tailgate has a split bottom lip to aid loading - it makes a great seat for two when parked up with a cup of coffee! The boot is still useful even with the rear row of seats in use - small cases, carrier bags and coats can be stacked for all passengers.


The D5 engine is a five cylinder unit. Coupled to a manual gearbox there is plenty of pulling power in the 185bhp version. Earlier (pre-2006) D5 engines produce only 168bhp and owners say that this is insufficient. So be careful as it's hard to distinguish the two versions from the car alone (the rear badges are identical but are placed in different positions). Check the paperwork. If you can afford the 185bhp unit then it's well worth it. Despite this, it's fair to say that the other exec SUVs have better outright performance - they have bigger (and thirstier) engines, often 3.0 litre +. The Volvo suffers from turbo lag which you get used to. By selecting the right gear you learn how to get the best from the power range and then the XC90 will whoosh past most other cars with panache - just like an exec SUV should! The first gear is short so you're changing up very quickly - tiresome in town. This because there's no fancy off-road low-ratio gizmo so this is the off-road crawler gear. Handling is so-so and this is no BMW X5. On rural country roads its weight and size means that it's hardly nippy in fast corners but its far, far better than my previous Galaxy MPV. The XC90 is most capable as a fast, refined motorway cruiser. Our trips to Austria take us through Germany with some sections of unrestricted autobahn. So 110mph is legal and perfectly fine for getting to the Alps quickly - the XC90 commands respect from other autobahn users in a country where the outside lane can be a frightening place to occupy. I have a big gripe with the parking brake which is operated through a fourth pedal in the pedal box coupled with a pull-lever on the dash. In manual gearbox mode it's clumsy, tiresome and make hill starts a real challenge. I'm an experienced driver but needed to learn how to use this over several months of ownership. Not nice!


Our XC90 covers farm tracks with ease. We've done little more serious than this. The Volvo lacks the off-road gizmo technology of the other exec SUVs so if you're a serious off-roader then this XC90 is not for you. Video footage shows that it can handle steep gradients and quite challenging stuff but not as well as the others in this class. We really appreciate the 4-wheel drive system for our ski holidays. We run winter tyres and have never needed the snow-chains. The XC90 has beaten soft and hard-packed snow on steep inclines not seen in the UK. The drive system detects which wheel is struggling and compensates accordingly - you hardly detect any of this. If you drive in the Alps in winter then you too will appreciate not having to freeze while fitting and removing snow chains! Just be careful when descending though - the XC90 gives you a feeling of security but all cars have similar grip on the downhill gradient so beware of the hairpins! A winter holiday is made all the better by having one of these cars with you.


This is a spacious, well appointed SUV worthy of its 'exec' label. The list is endless but most notable are the wonderful seats, standard leather trip (at SE and above), heated front seats, high quality ICE CD sound, memory driver seat settings, folding mirrors, see you home lights, cruise, dual climate control, rear vents, parking sensors (front optional) and trip computer. The sat-nav was a £1700 option on my model so we dropped that - a shame when compared to the standard kit of other less expensive cars. We complete the 12hr dash from the Austrian Tyrol to Dunkirk ferry port in Northern France and still feel 'human' when we arrive - that's a testimony to the comfort of the XC90.


It's a Volvo. It's Volvo's flagship model. Need I say more? Well yes......a host of active and passive safety features protect you and your passengers. But Volvo has gone further and designed an SUV which gives others a fighting chance of surviving should they collide with the XC90. It's designed to help ensure the XC90 does not ride over smaller cars in a head-on collision. So not only are you safe but your conscience will rest a little easier too perhaps. The active safety centres on the electronic stability and traction control system. This constantly monitors the XC90 and kicks in to try and avoid loss of control. This includes the risk of tipping over or yaw. SUVs like the XC90 with their high centre of gravity are prone to toppling in what is known as the 'elk test'. Volvo minimise this risk with their computer gadgets. You can override the system should you wish but we rarely notice its effect so we leave it on, as recommended. Passive safety abounds. Side impact protection beams, anti-whiplash seats, almost every conceivable type of airbag for all occupants and a body shell that includes a strengthened roof to ensure the cabin integrity is maintained even in a roll-over scenario. In bad, wet or snowy weather you really appreciate the money Volvo have sunk into the safety and build of the XC90. Top notch!


Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. But there seems a general consensus in the media that the XC90 is a pretty car from most angles. It has an imposing aspect when one appears in your rear view mirror - the XC90 has daylight running lights. And it appears big when you've pulled up behind it. The Volvo brand has a strong image. Perhaps not as strong as BMW or Mercedes but it stands for something different. Feedback from friends and colleagues at work demonstrate that people consider the XC90 highly desirable. The XC90 has that 'special' feeling when you're driving it.


Only one major fault has occurred over 52,000 miles. The rear wheel bearing became noisy at 23k. This is a known fault and the dealer replaced them with improved components without any fuss. There have been two recalls. Otherwise, the problems have been annoying cabin rattles which the dealer has tried to solve with varying levels of success - these are difficult to trace and solve but I admire the resolve of the dealer. Servicing is at 18,000 mile intervals - quite amazing. Typical cost of each service is approx £320. Not cheap but with those 18k intervals it works out cheaper than my previous Galaxy with its 10,000 intervals / £250 services by Ford. My Volvo dealer is a dream - they will collect and return our car or provide a courtesy car with no fuss (we live 23 miles from the dealer too). The car is valeted inside and out, tyres dressed and bumpers cleaned and treated - all at no additional cost. Engaging with the dealer staff is a pleasure and they cal just before the servicing date to check if anything else requires attention and again after two weeks to check if all if satisfactory. Our Volvo delivers an average 35mpg. Drive it hard and you'll get 29mpg plus tyres that wear out very quickly. Drive very carefully and you achieve 38mpg and a headache - driving like this is hard work! Rubber costs between £100 - £150 per corner and will last about 20,000 miles. Buy from on-line suppliers and you'll pay towards the bottom end of the range - my dealer fits them at no additional cost! The D5 manual is a band F car costing £220 road tax (approx). All other variants, including the D5 auto / geartronic, are band G and will cost £400.


A few niggles which include those grey bumpers which need treatment with bumper-spray to stay looking like new. Otherwise the bumpers appear stained even after washing. The front parking sensors detect water spray from other vehicles and so the alarm sounds when commercial vehicles throw up spray. But the system deactivates above about 10mph so it only happens while in slow traffic or jams.

Buy new, nearly new or used and the XC90 is a super car. Always buy with a full dealer service history. Far better value than a VW Touareg. Cheaper to buy and run than an Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class. Other than the Q7, only the Volvo has 7 seats and it has the best rear row of all in this group.

The Volvo XC90 does everything you ask of it - a luxury car, soft off-roader, 7 seater, safety. Other cars beat the XC90 is one or two areas but rarely can they pull it off across all areas.

As you probably can tell, we love our XC90. But after 52,000 miles and 2.5yrs of motoring we think we're in a good position to relay our experience. All the best.

  • 2006

    Year Manufactured

  • 2.5 Years

    Length of ownership

  • 5


  • Performance

  • Practicality

  • Reliability

  • Value For Money

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390306_Cowiesag's Response to arianne's Review

Written on: 08/08/2008

I've owned two XC90's 2003 and 2006 both have had rear bearing failures at 20k miles, Volvo seem to know about but have not improved the components in 3 years

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Itserve's Response to arianne's Review

Written on: 03/01/2010

I found this review very helpful because...
<br/>The owners use of the car is uncannily imilar to our own! Well written and objective. Thanks!

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