Un-boxing the Volvo XC90

The edges may be rounded, but the boxy Volvo shape is still present in the design of modern Volvos. Also still present is the high build quality and numerous safety features. Spending time with XC90 gave me the opportunity to unwrap this Swedish icon for myself.

There are multiple engine variants in the seven-seat All Wheel Drive XC90 range including petrol, hybrid and diesel options all paired with an 8-speed Geartronic transmission and I spent a week with the petrol-powered T6 R-Design. It has a 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged engine that produces 246kW of power and 440Nm of torque, which is enough to keep you interested. It will do 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds and has an official combined fuel consumption of 8.5L/100km and for my time with the XC90 I used an average of 12.4L/100km. This is on the high side for a 2.0L engine, but understandable considering the T6 weighs 2,034kg.

When I stepped into the XC90 the first thing I noticed was the pleasant smell and really nice dash/cabin design. I really like the carbon fibre roller cover on the centre console and the use of carbon trim on the dash and door; it’s high quality and looks great.

Rather than having a push button to start, Volvo has a knob that you twist and this feels a bit like you are turning a key to start the engine. The second thing I noticed was that the steering weight is lovely and light.

The ride in the XC90 is quiet and comfortable whatever drive mode you are in. You get four standard drive modes to choose from Eco, Comfort, Polestar Engineered and Off-road. There is also an Individual drive mode where you can adapt presets, your driver display and selections for steering force, powertrain characteristics, brake characteristics (brake pedal feel) and suspension control if desired.

Under the carbon fibre roller cover there are two cup holders, one of which has a wireless key charger. In front of the cup holders is a third area for your phone to sit and a 12V outlet for charging. At the very front of the centre console is a ‘secret’ spot, which is the perfect size for the car key, so I’m surprised the wireless key charging pad isn’t placed here instead? Under the arm rest are two USB port and an OK-sized storage cubby for your microfibre cloth that you will need to wipe the fingerprints off the infotainment screen.

The front seats are beautifully designed, very comfortable and supportive. My XC90 had heated front seats and three memory positions for driver and passenger and the buttons for these are easy to reach near the door speakers. You can even move the passenger seat using the driver seat controls, which is handy

I like the vertical infotainment screen as it’s a nice change from the horizontal option provided in most other cars. From here under Settings you can personalise pretty much every aspect of your XC90. Your ambient lighting can be selected via temperature or one of the seven colour choices, for exterior lighting you can select how fast Active High Beam activates and the list goes on.

You can configure the driver’s dash display for look and colour and also what is shown between the taco and speedo either map, current media playing or it can be left blank. The head-up display can be adjusted for position and brightness and can display navigation info, road sign info, phone call info and driver support.

There are three screens to flip through on the infotainment system. The first gives you quick access to media info, apps and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. You can adjust you sound experience on the excellent Bowers and Wilkens premium sound system, which is part of the Premium Pack option that costs $5,500 and also includes a panoramic sunroof and tinted rear glass. Here you can also configure whether the whole car hears music or just the front passengers, which is good if your children are asleep in the back and you still want to listen to music.

Your media options include AM/FM, DAB, Bluetooth, USB iPod plus Gracenote Online Search and videos using Div X, but you need to register your device for this and videos are only played while the car in stationary. You can also set up your phone as an in-car hot spot if desired.

You will spend the most time with the second screen displayed as it has media, nav and phone info and you can expand these when selected for more options. Rather than manual input you can use voice control which works well for making calls and is OK for setting a destination.

The third screen gives you access to quick links for things that you want to adjust on the go like auto start/stop, cameras and parking assistance. The XC90 has an excellent 360o view camera with 360o sensors or you can select individual cameras to get a closer look.

From the screen you can adjust the temperature and air speed for the second row climate control and you can also turn the third row climate on and off. This is good because with the air speed on anything other than ‘1’ in the second row the noise from the air blowing is loud and annoying for front seat passengers. Even the glove box of the XC90 is cool, literally; it has a power opening button and you can cool it by opening and closing a lever inside the glove box.

Moving back into the second row the innovations continue and you can individually move each of the three seats, so you can adjust them so that your shoulders are not touching the person next to you and it gives you a feel that there is more space. This is also handy for juggling child car seat placement with the two ISOFIX/three rear tether child seat restraint points.

The central seat has a built in booster seat, but it’s very firm and would not be comfortable to sit in for long trips. The centre seat also folds down as an arm rest and has two small drink holders. You have larger drink bottle storage cubbies in the doors, but the bottle rattles in here.

The XC90 has four-way climate control so there is individual temperature selection for rear passengers. There are vents in the B-pillar and the rear of the centre console and here there is one 12V outlet and a 220V standard plug for up to 150W of output. There are also manual blinds on the windows, great for keeping the sun out of your little one’s eyes.

The third row of seats is accessed via manually opening a latch on the shoulder of the second row seat. The third row seats need to be pushed up manually from here as well and can’t be raised from the boot, only lowered. There is a plastic step to tread on to prevent carpet wear and the opening is large enough for an adult to step in. With the second row of seats set is a position for an adult to fit; it is tight for adults in the third row. It is ideally suited for tweens who are out of a car seat, but not yet fully fledged teenagers, not just for size but also because the third row has no child seat restraint points.

You do not feel claustrophobic in the third row though as there is a large window and air vents in the C-pillar and under the second row seats. There are small drink holders in the wheel arches and large storage pockets, but no USB ports. Here there is a nice Volvo-esque design feature; a hook that holds the third row seat belt when not in use so they don’t rattle while you’re driving and there is an easy to remove mat for cleaning out the third row.

The boot has gesture opening boot, but not closing. There are two bag hooks and four tie down points and you get a space saver spare tyre. You can also  raise and lower the XC90 with buttons in the boot making it nice and low for loading items in. With the third row of seats in place there is enough room in the boot for school bags, but there is nowhere to store the cargo cover, so you will need to leave it at home or it will take up boot space. With the third row of seats are folded down the boot is huge and will easily take a pram and the weekly shop.

Volvos are renowned for their safety systems and this is something they still excel at. The XC90 has City Safety for collision mitigation and braking support. Intellisafe Assist, which includes your adaptive cruise control and pilot assist. The pilot assist on the Volvo is one of the best I have ever used, it works very well and automatically disengages when you indicate to change lanes and then re-engages automatically. Lastly there is Intellisafe Surround, which includes blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert and rear collision warning.

Naturally the XC90 has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating and also a very good score for passenger safety of 37.0 out of 38 (97%) for adult occupant safety and 43.0 out of 49 (87%) for child occupant safety. The Volvo has front airbags, driver’s knee airbag, side impact protection system with airbags in the front seats, inflatable curtain airbags and a whiplash protection system.

All new Volvos come with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which includes 24 hour road side assistance. You can also purchase a service plan that covers scheduled servicing for the first three years or 45,000km, whichever comes first and for the petrol XC90 models this costs $1,795.

The XC90 model range starts at $94,990 for the D5 Momentum and the T6 R-Design starts at $104,990 plus on-road costs and as tested my XC90 was $115,390 plus on-roads. The XC90 is a very good seven-seat SUV and you will be hard-pressed to find a better quality large SUV on the market at this price point. Visit you preferred Volvo dealer to see for yourself how good Volvos in the 21st century are.

Pros Cons
Excellent Pilot Assist system Noisy second row air conditioning
Lovely ride quality High-ish fuel consumption
Thoughtful design elements Limited dealer network

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.