Volvo does things a little differently from other premium brands in the automotive world. For this Swedish manufacturer, safety and kid-friendliness are just as important as luxury amenities and driving performance, and in no vehicle is this more apparent than the Volvo XC90.
The XC90 has had two lives. For more than a decade it soldiered on as a comfortable, practical and — above all — safe choice. Its long-overdue redesign kept all of those characteristics, and added a heaping helping of new technology and gorgeous Scandinavian design. On its release, the second-generation XC90 set itself apart from the crowd in a big way. Whether you’re looking for a practical used bargain, or a premier contemporary experience, one of the XC90’s generations should be on your list.
Current Volvo XC90
The Volvo XC90 is a four-, five-, or seven-passenger luxury midsize crossover SUV that is offered in four trim levels. It may seem a bit complicated, but if you know what you want from your SUV, you’ll find it’s just a matter of putting the right Volvo features together. Even better, the base trim doesn’t sacrifice the excellent interior design.
Volvo’s three engine options are referred to as T5, T6 and T8. The T5 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp, while the T6 adds a supercharger to the same engine that bumps output to 316 horsepower. The T8 is a plug-in hybrid system that takes the supercharged and turbocharged engine and adds an electric motor for a total output of 400 hp and an all-electric range of 14 miles. The T5 can be had in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive arrangements, while the T6 and T8 are AWD only. All versions use an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The XC90’s trim levels start with the base trim called Momentum. Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, hands-free power liftgate, eight-way power front seats, 40/20/40-split folding second-row seat, and a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, navigation, app integration, and a 10-speaker sound system. The Momentum can be had with the T5 or T6 powertrain. With the less-powerful engine, it’s a five-passenger setup only. Buyers looking for seven seats will need to opt for the T6.
The R-Design trim features larger, 20-inch alloy wheels, sport seats with leather upholstery, Apple CarPlay integration, and unique styling cues. All three engine options are available, with the T5 once again being five-passenger only, while the T6 and T8 get the seven-passenger layout, as well as four-zone climate control and a few other equipment upgrades. The Inscription trim is largely the same as the R-Design, with the same range of engine choices, but with luxury rather than sportiness as its focus. It gets upgraded leather upholstery and heated and ventilated front seats.
At the top of the range is the Excellence trim, which maxes out the XC90’s luxury. It replaces the rear two rows with a pair of reclining captain’s chairs with footrests, and equips all four seats with a massage function as well as heating and ventilation. A built-in refrigerator, heated and cooled cupholders with custom crystal glasses, and a touchscreen controller for the car’s functions are also added.
Features such as power-folding mirrors, a 360-degree camera system, blind-spot monitoring, a heated windshield and steering wheel, parking assist, and Volvo’s very cool semiautonomous driving system that pairs adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist are all available as optional extras.
In reviews, we have praised the XC90’s design — both inside and out — and exceptionally modern feel, as well as its outstanding safety ratings. The cabin is roomy, quiet and filled with top-quality materials, and the touchscreen interface works well. However, both the T5 and T6 engines lag behind the class in terms of performance, although they return above-average mileage for a vehicle in this class. The more advanced T8 plug-in system feels like a better match, but many drivers will be perfectly happy with the gas-only options, especially if the car’s other qualities appeal to them. If you’re in the market for a new luxury crossover, the XC90 is definitely worth experiencing.
Used Volvo XC90 Models
Volvo launched the current second-generation XC90 in 2016, completely revamping the vehicle and pioneering new interior and exterior design language that is slowly making its way through the rest of Volvo’s lineup. In 2017, the range-topping Excellence trim was introduced, and some minor updates to driver the assistance systems and infotainment were made.
The previous first-generation XC90 was produced from 2002 to 2014, and debuted with models that corresponded to engine size. The original base engine was a 208-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged inline five-cylinder (known as the 2.5T) coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. It was replaced by a 3.2 six-cylinder for ’07. Used XC90 shoppers will also come across T6 models (sold from 2003 to 2005), which had a 268-hp, twin-turbocharged 2.8-liter inline-6 paired to a four-speed auto. Although acceleration was adequate with either of these turbo engines, their power delivery wasn’t well suited for duty in a heavy SUV.
A 4.4-liter V8 joined the fray for ’05. It was rated at 311 hp. For 2007 and ’08, there was a surprisingly fun V8 Sport model, which added unique exterior trim, a firmly tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, quicker steering, heavily bolstered front seats, blue gauges and a sporty steering wheel. This was essentially replaced by the R-Design models for ’09, which featured most of the Sport’s mechanical enhancements, but could be had with the 3.2 engine as well. The V8 R-Design was dropped for 2010, while 2011 would be the last for any V8 version of the XC90.
It should be noted that non-V8-powered XC90s were available in both five- and seven-passenger seating configurations until 2010, when the third row became standard. Other changes were restricted to some features added here or there until ’07, when the XC90 got slightly revised exterior styling. New standard features included an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio, while Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) was added to the options list. The V8’s Executive package was added for 2009, and with items such as massaging and ventilated front seats, a so-equipped XC90 would be quite a used-car find.
In 2011, the XC90 received more standard features, and the previously R-Design-only wristwatch-style gauge faces were introduced to the rest of the lineup. Notably, Bluetooth and satellite radio were made standard in 2011. Bluetooth audio streaming became standard in 2012, so buyers looking for phone connectivity will have an easier time shopping for XC90’s produced from then.
Standard equipment highlights included 18-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, and a built-in child booster seat. The R-Design trims added larger alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension/steering system, sporty exterior styling cues, a sport steering wheel and special leather upholstery. A rear-seat entertainment system with dual screens, a DVD-based navigation system and a surround-sound audio system were available as options.
On the road, the XC90 drives just as you’d expect a safe, heavy Volvo SUV to drive. Acceleration from the inline-6 is just adequate. Those looking for more energetic performance should know that the V8-powered models are considerably more satisfying to drive. Ride quality is smooth and the cabin stays quiet, while handling is competent but not particularly sporty. Equipped with AWD, the XC90 makes an excellent snow vehicle but isn’t intended for serious off-road romps.
To its credit, the XC90 had a first-rate interior, good overall driving dynamics and excellent safety scores. By the end of its 12-year run, the XC90 was showing its age, as many rivals felt considerably more modern and luxurious both inside and out. Still, the Volvo XC90 is certainly a nice luxury crossover, and buyers who value safety and practicality should definitely give it a look.