2016 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum Review

Rating: 8.0
$46,620 $55,440 Dealer
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The luxury SUV segment is as competitive as it's ever been and while the Volvo XC90 has always been popular, it needs to appeal to non-Volvo buyers to truly succeed in the Australian market.
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The luxury SUV ranks recently got a little more competitive at the outer edge of the size (and price) scale, with the 2016 Volvo XC90 joining the fray. A requisite price rise sees the new XC90 go head to head with the likes of Audi’s Q7, BMW’s X5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE on more than just luxury.

While the Volvo XC90 is a genuine seven-seater and the likes of the market favourite BMW X5 is not, the pricing is such that buyers who don’t need or want the third row will most likely cross-shop the Volvo with other (perhaps smaller) protagonists.

So, the XC90 is priced right in the middle of the segment, with base pricing starting from a tick under 90 grand. Despite the significant outlay, the luxury SUV segment continues to perform strongly and buyers show no signs of falling out of love with it anytime soon. While the XC90 has always had its loyal fans, it will need to appeal to buyers who might be looking at other brands to really achieve sales success.

Interestingly, there’s been plenty of debate around the traps about the new XC90’s pricing structure. Many pundits can’t accept Volvo pricing the XC90 up with some of the big guns. One thing is clear though: talk to existing Volvo XC90 owners and try to find one who doesn’t love the breed. And, further, try to find one who thinks it’s done anything other than deliver exactly what they wanted from it. Likewise, many I’ve spoken to have no issue with the price hike, stating that for the money, the XC90 measures high on the bang-for-your-buck scale.

While Volvo stated at launch that the T6 Inscription would be the engine and specification level to take the majority of sales, we’ve got the D5 Momentum on test in the CarAdvice garage. There’s plenty of standard equipment to appeal to buyers, but there’s also a few things we’d like to see standard, that aren’t. Let’s take a look at those details first.

You can read our full Volvo XC90 pricing and specification breakdown here.

You can read our Volvo XC90 launch review here.

Pricing for our test D5 Momentum starts from $89,950 plus the usual on-road costs. Added to that base price, we have metallic paint ($1750), linear walnut decor inlays ($700), 20-inch alloy wheels ($1825), heated front seats ($375), a panoramic sunroof with power operation ($2950), tinted rear glass ($850), drive mode personal settings ($160) and Illumination High Level ($300). Add those up and you get to a not inconsiderable $98,860 plus on-road costs. That figure tends to soften the value of the word ‘base’ in base XC90 pricing a little.

Now, while the whole idea of options is that you can pick and choose what you like, issue needs to be taken with a few things when we look through that list. The metallic paint is a personal preference but our test example looks classy, so we can live with that cost. The walnut decor inlays don’t look offensive, but we’d leave that box unchecked. The 20-inch wheels were also a hit in the CarAdvice garage, so we can cop that added extra. But heated seats for $375? In an SUV costing nearly 90 grand? Let’s make them standard Volvo. The extra charge for heated seats is almost hard to believe.

Likewise the tinted rear glass, drive mode personal settings and Illumination High Level. There’s a certain expectation among buyers that 100 grand - or near enough to it - will bring plenty of standard equipment, so it’s not too much to ask for those to be included in the basic price. I’m not a fan of sunroofs, so I wouldn’t tick that box either, but some buyers love them. Still, nearly $3000 is a hell of a lot of money for a big glass roof.

Our test D5 gets the efficient 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine, which generates 165kW at 4250rpm and 470Nm between 1750-2500rpm. Volvo XC90 buyers won’t care that 0-100km/h comes up in 7.8 seconds, but they will care about the ADR combined fuel claim - a very efficient 6.2 litres/100km. On test, we used an indicated 7.9 litres/100km, mainly around town, so it’s as efficient in the real world as you’d hope, especially considering the XC90 is no lightweight, coming in at 1970kg.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is usually smooth, although more than one CarAdvice tester noticed some strange shunting and hesitation at crawling speeds in traffic. It doesn’t happen often, but it did happen more than once to more than one tester. We deactivated the stop/start system and this seemed to smooth low-speed crawling out a fair bit too, so it could be the way the stop/start system and transmission work together that creates the hesitation.

At other speeds, the shift between gears is almost seamless and the broad spread of ratios in the auto certainly assists the diesel in keeping that fuel usage figure low. On the highway, the transmission drops into top gear to keep engine rpm low and if you need to overtake it can slice back through the gears rapidly to help you pile on speed.

Our biggest bugbear over the course of a week behind the wheel was the diesel engine’s tendency to fall into a hole just off idle. XC90 buyers won’t care that their new SUV isn’t a rocket off the line, take that as a given, though they might, however, take issue with the doughy feeling as you step off the brake and roll the accelerator on. Take into account the amount of time an XC90 will spend between 0-60km/h around town and you start to see why it will get annoying.

Strangely though, especially given the heft of the XC90, its ability to pile on speed once you’re already up to speed is impressive. From 50km/h up, the XC90 will roll on to overtaking or highway speeds effortlessly, riding the wave of torque generated by the diesel engine. It’s on the open road that the diesel engine comes into its own and shows the positives you expect, but around town, where diesels often shine because of their effortless low-down torque, the XC90’s oiler is left wanting.

One of the glaring criticisms of the outgoing XC90 was a relatively poor turning circle - something that affected a lot of owners given the amount of XC90s you see in inner city urban areas around the country. That’s been sorted with this new model. The electrically assisted power steering is as precise as we’d like, but the physical turning circle is also now what we’d expect of a large SUV and maneuvering around the city is never a pain. The XC90 remains a physically imposing vehicle certainly, but it doesn’t feel as large as it is from behind the wheel.

We found this base model XC90 to suffer a little on poor surfaces from the steel spring suspension. I suspect the air suspension might iron all those issues out, but as you’ll see in our accompanying video, the steel springs can result in some sharp crashing over potholed, mismatched and uneven road surfaces. We’ve criticised other luxury SUVs for being a little on the stiff side, and without the air suspension, this specification of the XC90 is one of them.

The diesel engine is refined once it gets up to speed, but you’ll notice a little bit of clatter down low and from take-off as engine revs build. It’s not annoying or intrusive but it is definitely audible. At highway speeds, the cabin ambience is comfortable and quiet enough for the driver to converse with the passengers in the third row without yelling.

On the subject of cabin ambience, the Volvo is quite simply up there with the very best. Regardless of segment, manufacturer or RRP, the Swedes have a knack for cobbling together an interior of the highest quality. Sure, the swathes of light beige leather and fabric aren’t exactly family friendly or especially adept at hiding stains and marks, but the fit, finish and build quality oozes from every surface.

The driving position is close to perfect, visibility is excellent and the positioning of the major controls is beautifully thought out. The iPad-like 9.0-inch vertical centre screen responds quickly to touch commands and is easy to understand. We’d prefer separate controls for the HVAC system, but you do get used to the one-panel-for-all design of the screen.

In addition to the crisp centre screen, there’s an attractive 12.3-inch driver digital display that further cements the extinction of the traditional gauge cluster. I’m a traditionalist at heart and I love the look of a classic, mechanical gauge, but the way you can customise an interactive display, the addition of satellite navigation into that part of the system and the crystal clear nature of the readout is impossible to argue against.

The comfort on offer in the front pews translates through to the second row and – believe it or not – the third row, even for adults. There’s even ample headroom in the third row when taller adults are seated back there, as well as some luggage space available when the third row is in play. While both second and third rows fold flat to open up a whopping luggage area, there is a negative: there’s no easy way of folding the seats down remotely. You have to clamber in and around the interior to fold the seats down and for a vehicle that might conceivably see that happening regularly, it makes no sense at all to design the system that way.

While the D5 Momentum isn’t our pick of the XC90 range and it isn’t the perfect seven-seat SUV, it’s easy to see why so many people love it. Sure, it’s expensive and there are some minor bugbears as we discovered, the diesel is definitely the efficient alternative in the range. There are a few things we don’t like, but there’s a lot to love about the XC90’s family-focused interior, high-end build quality and all-round feeling of luxury and quality.

Click the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke.