When it comes to luxury, family-friendly SUVs, the Volvo XC90 is a stand-out proposition. Volvo has a long history of developing and implementing family-focussed safety technology, having designed the world's first rear-facing child seat prototype way back in 1964 and launching its first integrated booster cushion in the 960 in 1990.
Over the past 52 years, the Swedish company has continued to invest in child safety research and, drawing on the the knowledge gained over those decades, has developed an in-built two-stage booster seat that can be found in number of its models including the XC90, and has released a range of child seats. Volvo was also the first to introduce a pedestrian airbag that deploys from under the bonnet near the windscreen in the event of a pedestrian collision.
Having pioneered so many safety concepts, it's no wonder Volvo's reputation for building near-impregnable vehicles that offer high levels of family protection, is so strong. Sure, they may not have always been the most exciting looking cars, but the XC90 is arguably one of the best looking SUVs we've ever seen from Volvo, with some questionable design language that's hung around like a bad smell for many years prior (in this writer's opinion anyway) having been softened and smoothed out in this iteration.
Competition at this end of the large SUV market is tough, with the Germans, Japanese and British also producing luxury family-haulers with impressive levels of safety technology either included as standard or available as optional extras (check out our eight-way luxury SUV comparison here for a look at the Volvo's competitive set, pricing and comparable features).
And with such stiff competition, the new-generation XC90 had to be impressive. We waited long enough for it – 12 years between the previous generation and our first look at the new one at the 2014 Paris motor show. It arrived here in late 2015 and on first impression it certainly appeared to be everything we expected and then some.
The XC90 range consists of three trim-levels; all have seven seats, are all-wheel drive and have an eight-speed automatic transmission. The entry level Momentum and mid-spec Inscription are available with either a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine or a 2.0-litre four cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine. The top-tier R-Design comes with either the petrol or diesel engine, or as a plug-in hybrid with that turbo-supercharged petrol engine plus an electric motor.
Interestingly, the D5 diesel variants are cheaper than the T6 petrol, with the entry-level Momentum priced at $89,950 before on-road costs. Our test car is the Inscription at $96,950, and then there is the R-Design at $97,950. Opting for the petrol over the diesel engine will add a $4000 premium at any trim-level, while the petrol hybrid R-Design is $122,950.
When Volvo first launched the XC90, the full suite of safety features wasn't standard, but it has recently announced that the $2600 IntelliSafe pack (also available in a $4000 driver support package) that includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, lane departure mitigation, low-speed queue assist and distance alert, will be standard for MY17 which is yet to arrive here.
Currently as standard, the D5 Inscription scores low-speed autonomous emergency braking with vehicle, pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, cross-traffic alert, rear collision warning and understeer control. Our test car was also fitted with the optional $4000 driver support pack that includes the IntelliSafe pack plus a 360-degree camera and head-up display. It also has optional adaptive air suspension that adds $3600.
Safety isn't the only focus for the XC90 though, there are luxurious inclusions like a 9.0-inch infotainment screen plus the traditional instrument cluster has been replaced by a configureable 12.3-inch digital display, the seats are Nappa leather, it has a hands-free auto tailgate and LED headlights that are auto levelling, auto bending and dusk sensing. The interior is beautifully appointed with lashings of leather and metal – it's a nicely balanced mix of modern technology and classic style.
The Nappa leather seats are luscious. The material is gorgeously soft and the seats are well cushioned and supportive. Power adjustable seats are standard across the range which is considerate – there's something odd about climbing into any premium car and having to reach down and pull a lever to manually adjust your position and it instantly detracts from the prestige feel. A visual representation of the seat adjustment is shown on the infotainment screen – not entirely necessary, but still kind of cool.
Navigation with road sign information is standard across the range, as is park assist with front and rear sensors and a rear-view camera. Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity are included, as are USB, AUX and 12V outlets. Apple CarPlay is available for $650 while a CD player is $160. Want digital radio? That'll be an extra $500.
The large tablet style infotainment system is touch and swipe sensitive, and it's intuitive and relatively easy to find your way around with loads of features, though you may have to dig through the menus at times while you're learning the system. Because so many functions – including driving assist features – are controlled via the large screen, the dash design is clean, minimalistic and simple.
The cabin looks nice, feels nice and is a very comfortable place to be. There's even an air-conditioned glove compartment and four-zone climate control to ensure your rear passengers also have a pleasant travel experience.
The second row is roomy, particularly for outboard passengers because the seats are shaped very similarly to the driver's and front passenger's – leaving the middle a little light on for comfort. Again, for the outside passengers, head, shoulder, knee and toe room is good and the second row features Volvo's integrated booster seat and ISOFIX points. The temperature can be controlled via a small touchscreen located above the air-vents on the back of the centre console bin, and there are more vents in both the B and C pillars for the third row.
The two seats in the third row have an armrest and cupholder and they are easy to pop-up or stow away from the rear doors. However if you're trying to lift them up while leaning through the boot it's not as easy. Though adults may find it a little squishy up the back, the kids will have a decent amount of room and the seats are comfortable enough.
Boot space is impressive, with 451-litres of space even with the third-row in action, but if you only need five seats then that cargo volume expands to 1102L, or a whopping 1951L with the second row folded too. With all of those extra seats folded down the surface is nice and flat, but there are grooves and gaps to watch out for when sliding large or heavy objects in.
The 2.0-litre four cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine produces 165kW and 470Nm and does tend to struggle at low speeds, particularly if you've been ambling along then ask it to up-the-ante lickety-split. Once you're cruising at higher speeds, it responds more promptly to any requests to add a little more speed, making overtaking a breeze. It just feels a little underdone and the diesel doesn't quite match the performance of that supercharged and turbocharged petrol offering.
It feels like a much smaller car than it is on the road, the steering is direct and the wheel feels compact in hand. Body control around corners is pretty good, though if the road surface is bumpy it can feel a bit unsettled.
Though the engine feels like it works hard, the transmission is smooth and intuitive. It's not sluggish and doesn't sound gruff or overly noisy for a diesel. The cabin is a quiet and calm place to be with very little road, engine or wind noise permeating the space.
Overall it's an engaging drive and feels composed – even if you take it off sealed surfaces. It bumps around a little bit but isn't uncomfortable, even on its 20-inch alloy wheels. The air-suspension option includes drive modes with electronically controlled damping and it creates a lovely smooth ride both on- and off-road.
When it comes to the safety features, some are worth their weight in gold, and others can be a little overly-sensitive and intrusive. Lane departure warning doesn't jump the gun, it waits until you're on the line before it alerts you, however the collision warning system hyperactively senses danger and it's sometimes necessary to adjust the scanning distance so it doesn't jump in when it's not needed. Adaptive cruise, cross-traffic alert and rear collision warning are all great and offer peace-of-mind.
Combined claimed fuel consumption is 6.2-litres per 100 kilometres and we saw an average of between 7 and 8L/100km. Though on our eight-way comparison it was slightly higher at 9.7L/100km thanks to some vigorous driving. But putting around town and on the highway, that dropped and settled a little lower.
Volvo doesn't offer the most competitive ownership package – a three-year/100,000km warranty with servicing due annually or every 15,000km plus three years of roadside assist isn't segment leading. However Volvo does have a good reputation in this regard and it's rare to meet an owner that has had major ongoing maintenance issues.
The Volvo XC90 is a confident, luxurious and technology-packed family SUV. It pays homage to Volvo's more serious and sedate history, but manages to integrate modern design elements and features that take this to a whole new level. Though the petrol engine may be the pick over the diesel, the XC90 range is worth close consideration for any family shopping for a luxury SUV.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.