BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
First Drive

Volvo XC90 B5 review: diesel hybrid SUV hits the UK

Published: 19 Sep 2019

That’s still a handsome lump.

The Volvo XC90 is proving that the design renaissance kicked off by Volvo back in 2014 definitely has the ‘ages well’ gene. Ignoring the ancient and very-soon-to-die V40, the big XC90 bus is the oldest ‘new-age’ Volvo the company currently makes, so it’s up for mid-life tweaks.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Not that they’ve mucked about with the looks.

And why would they? The XC90 still looks solid and a little less brash, not quite as thrusting as a Range Rover Sport, BMW X5, Audi Q7 and so on. A concave-slatted grille is your biggest clue this is the updated version. 

They’ve been busier under the bonnet then?

Busy keeping promises. It’s been five years since Volvo vowed not to build another engine bigger than a four-cylinder. Since, Volvo said it would wind down development of diesels, and electrify all its models by 2019. Now, since all of its new-age offerings have a plug-in version, the easiest thing to do to reach that goal would’ve been to bin off the V40 pronto. But Volvo’s doubling down – so the regular XC90s are going hybrid too.

Advertisement - Page continues below


So, in addition to the flagship T8 Twin Engine model which delivers a 394bhp total from its petrol engine and electric motor (and can complete the school run on batteries alone), the rest of the range is dipping a toe into hybrid drive. This is the most intriguing one: the B5. It replaces the old D5 powertrain, and the first thing you need to know is that the ‘5’ is irrelevant. No five-cylinder histrionics here.

Let’s have the numbers.

What we have here is a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, with a 48-volt system to juice the starter motor, which also acts as a generator. You know the drill here: quicker-acting stop-start in traffic, electro-boost to reduce turbo lag, and engine narcolepsy when you’re coasting. Volvo says the savings in fuel appetite could add up to as much as 15 per cent, and quotes an average of 37-44mpg, depending on how big your rims are. 

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

What about my carbon footprint?

Well maybe don’t fly anywhere on holiday this year. Oh, the car. Well. Officially this is a 154g/km of CO2 machine, which seems preposterously low for such a big bluff box. Pity the UK tax man doesn’t agree. By the margin of a measly three grams, the XC90 B5 trips into a £530 first annual tax payment bracket. And because it costs over £40k – our Inscription trim test car is a £57,000 machine – that’s another £320 per year to The Man, ta.

The XC90 Set can afford that. What’s their new car like?

Unremarkable, which swings both ways as a compliment and a negative. The integration of a hybrid system here is second-to-none. There’s no stutter in power delivery, no distant whining of electrical gubbins, just a smooth step-off and an amusingly rapid turn of speed.

Claims of 0-62mph in a Toyota GT86-catching 7.6sec sound perfectly reasonable to us. The 354lb ft torque peak only lasts from 1,750rpm to 2,250rpm, but that’s the four-banger diesel’s comfort zone before it starts to sound strained anyway, so aim to plant the throttle in that wodge of torque and let the eight-speed auto do the heavy lifting. It’s up to the task, but panics when asked to kick down. 

Nothing about the XC90 says “I’m sporty” though – it doesn’t even have paddleshifters – so you soon let dalliances like 'spotting enticing gaps at roundabouts' become trivial matters for less emotionally developed motorists. In the creamy leather, soft wood cocoon of the XC90, you waft along, take in the view and wonder why anyone would buy a Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Before the diesel occasionally punctures the ambience, anyway. 

What’ll she do, mister?

I spent a weekend in the XC90 and subjected it to a choked London commute, 150 miles of blissful motorway cruising and a good dollop of A-road nonsense here and there. Credit where it’s due, it enriched these laborious journeys, soothing my brow when the gridlock closed in and wafting rather charmingly after it escaped the clutches of the capital. This is easily my favourite of the big SUVs. Not the best to drive quickly – that’s the Porsche Cayenne – and neither is it the simplest to operate, with all the controls living in a touchscreen.

But so endearing is the XC90 that the fact it settled at 32-34mpg didn’t really perturb me. Yes, that’s with a fair chunk of 70mph-ish cruise-control action. And yes, it did most of its mileage only one-up, not carrying a full complement of seven in its exquisitely finished and robust passenger cabin. 

I’d have liked to see economy settle in the higher 30s, but in fairness, hybrid assistance is less of a motorway help than it is in town, and when we  ran a diesel Land Rover Discovery last year, it’d have sold its wonky-numberplated soul to reach 30 to the gallon. And the XC90’s fuel tank will easily take it past 450 miles on one refill. 

Good car then?

Yep, another very well-executed Volvo that teams sensible, just-what-you-need-and-nothing more oily bits with a rich wellbeing when you’re on board. Unless you’re plugging in and recharging daily, this XC90 B5 has to be a more logical bet than the T8 PHEV, and while it’s probably not worth binning a recently acquired XC90 D5 for, it’s enough to reassert its position as one of Top Gear’s very favourite tall family wagons. 


1969cc 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp, 354lb ft
37.7mpg, 154g/km CO2
0-62mph in 7.6sec, 137mph

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine