A lot has changed in the past twelve years. Back in 2003, Eminem was someone, and Kim Kardashian was no one… and the Volvo XC90 arrived and took the family SUV world by storm.
With an all new model due to arrive soon, and while you can still buy a new one, we thought it would be a good time to take one last look at the big Swede, and see how it set the benchmark for luxury family transport for over a decade.
The XC90 was revealed to the world back in 2002 and went on sale in Australia the following year.
It’s hard to believe now, but it was Volvo’s first ever SUV. Back then, if you wanted a premium, seven-seat, four-wheel-drive, urban friendly vehicle – the only real competitor to the XC90 was the Land Rover Discovery 2. Considering we’re due to see the Discovery 5 next year is testament to how long and how well the Volvo has survived.
It has been popular too. The XC90 was Australia’s best-selling seven-seater for five-years running and the list of competitor models that have come and gone during its tenure reads like a recap of Game of Thrones.
There was a mild facelift in 2007, and improvements to engines and drivelines along the way, but for the most part, the XC90 has remained largely unchanged for 12 years. In all, there were 636,143 XC90s made – and it feels like it, as you rarely have a trip where you don’t see another.
How do I know so much about the Volvo XC90? I used to own one – a 2009 D5 R-Design in white.
The design has dated, but it is still a good-looking car. Our test car has the R-Design package ($73,090), which includes 19-inch wheels and colour-coded accents.
You can spot the final run of XC90s by the LED running lamps in place of the old halogen foglights in the front bumper.
The 147kW/420Nm five-cylinder turbo diesel is the pick of the engines. There is also a 179kW/320Nm six-cylinder petrol available and both are matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Volvo claim a combined cycle economy of 8.8L/100km – and you will see that on sustained highway runs, but real-world urban economy is closer to the 13L/100km mark. Not terrible, but considering a larger capacity, more powerful BMW X5 will see about 10L/100km in full urban cycle illustrates the age of the Volvo power plant.
Performance of the diesel is adequate, but not what you would call engaging. Off the line the big Volvo feels sluggish, but once you are up and running, the XC90 motors along quite happily.
The gear changes are smooth and non-intrusive, and sitting at 100km/h on a freeway gives a cabin sound level of just over 61dB.
The R-Design has stiffer springs and bigger sway bars, and gives a reasonably firm ride… but it’s not crashy or upsetting. You feel the road, but at all times the Volvo feels sure of itself, and dare I say it – safe.
One of the biggest bugbears I had with my XC90 was the 13.1m turning circle. It makes quick U-turns and swift urban direction changes a challenge – that really require some forward planning.
That said, the high glass house and excellent visibility makes parallel parking (a reverse camera is standard) and general manoeuvring an easy task.
Safety, being a Volvo mainstay, is still impressive – particularly given the age of the car. The safety gadgets however are limited to the blind-spot detection system and core ‘passive’ systems like the ten airbags, boron-steel safety cage and roll-stability control.
Inside the car, the view from the driver’s seat is where the XC90 shows its age the most.
There’s no giant touch screen or digital display taking centre stage. It’s all very analogue – you even need a key to start it!
There is no LCD data readout, no proximity sensors or remote tailgate buttons - but to give credit where it is due, the air-conditioning controls are very clear and easy to use.
The infotainment system – and let’s not mince words here, it’s basically the radio, is generations behind what you get in most modern cars. The functionality is all there, but accessing the menus through the combination of buttons and dials is counter intuitive to what you would expect in a modern car.
Pairing a phone took a bit longer than expected and the placement of the answer/hang up buttons on the steering wheel makes accidentally ending calls a regular occurrence.
The sound quality from the nine speakers is great though.
Navigation is another ‘retro’ feature here – the seven-inch TFT rises from the dash when activated, and can be controlled by a remote, or buttons ‘hidden’ on the back of the steering wheel.
The remote might be old and clunky, but it is handy if you want to leave navigation choices to your rear passengers. Overall though, the system is low resolution and pretty clunky for a 2015 car.
That said, the materials and finish still feels high quality and there is a sense of solidness about the Volvo.
The electrically adjustable seats are extremely comfortable (there is a memory function on the driver’s side). The leather is lovely and soft and they make long distance touring easy. And of course, for those chilly Scandinavian winters, both front seats are heated.
Despite this though, the Volvo XC90’s focus isn’t really on the driver – where this car still shines, is in the back.
The middle row seats are split 40/20/40 folding and can all be individually folded flat, and adjusted on sliding rails. You can even reach the middle seat from the front row – handy if you need to move a little person forward for even just a simple nose-blow.
Volvo has included a single-stage integrated booster cushion in the center too. The two outside seats have ISOFIX points and there are standard anchor points on all three positions.
Rear passengers get door bins, map pockets, cup holders, 12-volt power, air vents – the top of the center console even folds back on itself to work as a tray.
The best feature, particularly if the latest Top-40 hits clash with the driver’s choice of talkback radio – are four headphone sockets that allow passengers to choose a different input to the front seats. Volume and track selection are all then up to the passengers – bliss on a longer family trip.
The third row is already quite roomy and almost comfortable if the middle row seats are moved forward slightly. Impressive again is the list of passenger features – air vents, cup holders, storage bins and a center tray, as well as control for the optional third-row air-conditioning ($800).
Open the split tailgate with the third row up and there is a 249-litre boot. Not massive, but big enough for day-to-day use and the split doors help to keep everything in place.
Fold the lower gate – which acts as a seat, bench or ad-hoc baby change table – and the third row, to provide a 615-litre cargo bay. You can even go one-step further and fold the middle row flat for a total of 1,837-litres of space.
It’s a tremendous interior, and still leads many of the newer SUVs in this segment. It was designed for the most important cargo – your family.
List price on a brand new Volvo XC90 is $69,500 for the petrol and $73,090 for the diesel – that’s before options and on road costs.
We spoke to a number of dealers who are looking to clear their last stock of the first-generation XC90 and highly optioned cars can expect to hit the road for well under $70,000. Haggle and you might get closer to $60k.
That’s a huge amount of value for a car, which despite its age still impresses in the most important area – being a safe, functional and comfortable family wagon.
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