Volvo XC90 Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Car Review

Volvo XC90

£ 52,175 - £ 71,875
910
Published: 03 Oct 2019
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

All you care about is how quiet and smooth it is right? If not, you’re in the market for the wrong car. Concerned about performance and handling? Off you go to see Porsche about a Cayenne, what Volvo offers is calming, sensible progress, a relaxed ambience that… well, probably won’t last long if you’ve got five kids shovelled into the back seats.

The XC90 will do its level best to make things alright. In fact we can’t think of an SUV that’ll do more to help diffuse the situation. Cabin ambience is directly linked to the driving experience here. Unlike most German rivals, the dash layout is relatively uncluttered, which helps peace-of-mind when driving. The seats are downright superb, the driving position similarly fault-free. It relaxes you from the word go.

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Now, what’s important with the XC90 is to avoid the most popular trim level. 25 per cent of buyers opt for the R-Design trim. Wrong. It brings big wheels which means a firmer ride and more road noise, despoiling your inner calm.

If you can bear it, a standard Momentum on 19s is the optimum XC90 experience. The ride is cushioned and plush, noise kept to a minimum. Honestly, it’ll help lull the kids to sleep on long journeys. Don’t despair too much if your inner-aesthete insists on 20s, but do resist the temptation of the 22s. Volvo has always had a tricky relationship with ride comfort, and hasn’t yet conquered the big wheel/soft ride trick. But then no-one else this side of Bentley or Rolls-Royce has either.

Let’s not talk about handling, as that’s unbecoming of a Volvo. What you do need to know is that the XC90 is crisper to respond to its controls than say a Discovery or VW Touareg. They are more workhorse-like – you’re aware you’re asking a lot of weight to move. The XC90 is more biddable and responsive. The steering is lighter, it needs less effort to turn. Roll is well controlled through corners, with no old-school heave and pitch to worry about.

The updated 2.0-litre four cylinder B5 diesel engine is much improved. Still not the smoothest out there, but the addition of a 48 volt system with a small electric motor to spin up the turbo has not only improved throttle response, but ensured torque drop-off during gear changes is all but non-existent. It’s a good engine, and with 354lb ft of torque, it has all the grunt you need no matter how many seats are occupied.

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For us it’s a better all-round solution than the T8 hybrid. Yes, the T8 is faster (just 5.5secs to 62mph, where the diesel achieves 7.1secs), disguises its weight surprisingly well and can be driven on electric alone. If you live and do most of your driving in town and have off-street parking and a home-charger, it makes sense. Run engine-off most of the time and you might be able to get over 100mpg. But the reality is more likely to be an average around the 35-40mpg mark. Which is about what you’ll get from the diesel as well.

The long and short of it is that the XC90 drives biddably and ably. No nasty habits or unseemly behaviour. Ignore the various drive modes unless you want to lock the T8 into Pure (electric-only), and don’t panic if you can’t afford the air suspension upgrade. It’s only a further complication on a car that trades on its simplicity.

Highlights from the range

the fastest

Volvo XC90 2.0 T8 [390] Hybrid R DESIGN 5dr AWD Gtron
  • 0-625.8s
  • CO252.0g/km
  • BHP390
  • MPG
  • Price£ 66,575

the cheapest

Volvo XC90 2.0 B5P [250] Momentum 5dr AWD Gtron
  • 0-627.7s
  • CO2165.0g/km
  • BHP250
  • MPG
  • Price£ 52,175

the greenest

Volvo XC90 2.0 T8 [390] Hybrid R DESIGN 5dr AWD Gtron
  • 0-625.8s
  • CO252.0g/km
  • BHP390
  • MPG
  • Price£ 66,575
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