The skinny: Volvo’s XC90 is a big bus for big families, and in T6 Inscription guise it’s big on luxury as well.
It’s got size and space to spare, a willing turbo motor and enough technology to wow even the most jaded of your teenaged offspring.
It's comparatively pricey compared to some of its German opposition (particularly the entry-level 2WD models of the X5), but don't let that turn you off. The XC90 T6 Inscription packs a lot of features, high-end quality and performance into its premium asking price.
Vehicle Style: Large luxury SUV
Price: $100,950 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 235kW/400Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.5 l/100km | tested: 13.0 l/100km
Even well into its twilight years, the previous-gen Volvo XC90 was a consistently popular member of the Volvo family.
Size, space and that legendary Volvo reputation for safety are obviously big drawcards for any family buyer.
The car that replaces it, then, has some big shoes to fill. Not only must it prove itself against its predecessor, but with a new pricing structure that puts it much closer to its European rivals, it's now got a tougher fight on its hands.
Quality: “Luxurious” doesn’t quite capture just how well-finished this interior is. “Opulent” comes closer, but the quality of the XC90’s interior - especially in Inscription trim - needs to be experienced to be believed.
Supple Nappa leather covers the seats and steering wheel, soft-touch plastics are everywhere and the metallic mesh trim on the centre console and doors looks very upmarket. It might cost more than the equivalent BMW X5 or Mercedes GLE, but it looks and feels like it should.
The light interior colour scheme of our press car wouldn’t be our first choice of colour, but the fit, finish and presentation of this interior is incredibly high and more than justifies the XC90 T6 Inscription’s six-figure price tag.
Comfort: Besides being wrapped in rich leather, the XC90’s front seats are generously proportioned and electrically adjustable for slide, recline, lumbar and squab length.
They'll accommodate a broad range of bodytypes, and the comfort they offer is impressive. Whether darting to the shops or embarking on an hours-long road trip, these seats won't leave you feeling sore.
Second row occupants get air-vents on B-pillars AND the rear of the centre console, with their own capacitive control panel for the rear two climate control zones.
The seats are every bit as supple as those in the front as well, and there's enough room for three adults across the centre bench.
It's a little squeezier in the third row, but provided the second row is schooched forward a tad it's actually not too bad for smaller adults.
Headroom isn't bad, there's a reasonable amount of seat padding (the backrests are the same size and shape of those in the second row), there are vents on the C-pillars and the big windows provide a decent view of the outside world.
Equipment: The centrepiece of the XC90’s interior is without doubt its large tablet-like infotainment screen.
Oriented in portrait format rather than the more typical landscape, it sports a slick interface that’s easily one of the most responsive we’ve ever experienced in a car - faster even than the Tesla Model S’s gigantic touchscreen.
The main screen gives you quick access to the navigation system, audio and phone, and the interface itself is easily-read, intuitive and unchallenging to anyone who's used a smartphone.
Swipe left from the home screen to get to access infotainment apps, swipe right to access a page of virtual buttons for vehicle controls. Swipe down from the top of the screen to fiddle with various vehicle settings - such as the colour of the ambient lighting.
Besides the screen, there are plenty of other toys on the Inscription-spec XC90.
Quad-zone climate control, a powered tailgate, LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and sat-nav are all standard, plus a high-end Sensus audio system.
Keyless entry and ignition are also standard, and the Inscription features a hands-free opening tailgate - perfect for when you're returning to the car with an armful of groceries and/or offspring.
Heated front seats are a cost option, however, which seems like an oversight on the high-spec Inscription. Heated outboard rear seats can also be had, again at extra cost.
That’s not the only feature that’s curiously been left to the options list. A digital radio tuner - standard on most of the XC90’s competitors - will run you an extra $500, while a single-disc CD player costs $160 no matter what grade you take!
Storage: Volvo says the XC90 can take 1102 litres of cargo with the third row stowed and the full height of the cabin utilised, but doesn't provide a figure for when the retractable cargo blind is in place. Lower both the second and third row, and a huge 1951 litre cargo space opens up.
It must be said, however, that stowing and deploying the third row seats can be a pain.
There are no handles accessible from the boot side, so you must go in from the rear doors, flip the second row forward, then lean in and raise the third row seatbacks. If you're short statured or have back issues, this isn't ideal.
In-cabin storage is plentiful, with a deep centre console box, large door bins and various other nooks and crannys dotted about the place. It's a family vehicle first and foremost, and there's plenty of room for your tribe's gear.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Those familiar with Volvos of recent years may be surprised to know that there's no turbocharged inline-six beneath the XC90 T6's bonnet. Under Volvo's new 'badging' system the "T" prefix still means "turbocharged petrol", but the 6 now signifies its power output rank in the range rather than its cylinder count.
Instead of a big six there's a turbo 2.0 litre four up front. But with 235kW and 400Nm, this small-capacity engine punches well above its weight.
Its broad torque band comes courtesy of a high-boost supercharger and turbocharger combo, and doesn't sweat when asked to push the XC90's 2-tonne-plus bulk.
Peak torque comes on at 2200rpm and doesn't quit until 5400rpm, and with an eight-speed automatic taking power to all four corners there are few moments where the XC90 is caught out of breath.
In fact Volvo says the T6 will sprint to 100km/h in a hot hatch rivalling 6.5 seconds when the accelerator is floored, something you may not be expecting in a four-cylinder SUV.
It’s not terribly efficient though. Volvo claims an 8.5 l/100km return on average, but our real-world result of 13.0 l/100km was well off that mark. Highway driving returns good fuel consumption, but urban and suburban schlepping sees the T6 guzzle fuel.
Refinement: Though powerful, the XC90's mechanicals are also very refined. The engine is quiet at cruising speed and there's little driveline vibration to speak of. External noise suppression is also excellent.
Ride and Handling: For chassis balance it's no BMW X5 rival, but to the Volvo's credit it certainly has a glued-to-the-road feel.
The ride on the Inscription's huge 20-inch alloys can be sharp at times, and you definitely feel the impact of the shorter sidewalls on choppy roads. On the flipside, steering response is good (though steering feel is lacking) and body roll is well-suppressed.
Braking: It might be a big ol' bus, but the XC90 stops on a dime thanks to its large all-disc brake package and firm, responsive pedal.
ANCAP rating: The MY15 Volvo XC90 has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: A full suite of six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain) are combined with anti-whiplash headrests, pretensioning front seatbelts, ABS, EBD, traction control and stability control.
Active safety aids on the Inscription grade include lane departure warning, a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, a reverse parking camera, auto high beam, autonomous emergency braking and a collision detection system.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Volvo’s SmartCare servicing packages allow owners to pre-pay for their car’s maintenance with one all-inclusive payment, which can cover either three years/45,000km or five years/75.000km of ownership.
Plans for the petrol XC90 variants range in price from $1925 for the 3 year/45,000km plan to $7175 for the 5 year/75,000km plan.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW X5 xDrive35i ($107,510) - The XC90 manages to put out more power and the same torque as the bigger-engined X5 xDrive35i, though it’s not quite as agile through the corners. Both cars hit 100km/h in an identical 6.5 seconds.
Then again, how many mums and dads do you see attacking a mountain road in their school-run SUV? Not many. The Volvo wins the value-for-money equation against the X5, and it’s that contest that’s of more relevance than chassis dynamics. (see X5 reviews)
Mercedes-Benz GLE 400 ($109,900) - The newly-named GLE 400 has a twin-turbo 3.0 litre V6 with a throbbing 245kW and 480Nm to help propel it to 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds.
That’s pretty darn quick for a family SUV.
It’s a pricey option, but the GLE 400 gets things like a 360-degree camera view, glass sunroof, heated front seats and high-end 14-speaker audio system as standard to compensate. (see GLE reviews)
Audi Q7 3.0 TDI ($103,900) - Okay, so the diesel-only Q7 isn’t exactly the most equal competitor to the XC90 T6, but it certainly competes well on price.
200kW and a monstrous 600Nm torque output also put it in good stead against the Swede, and the standard electrically-folding third row and standard DAB+ radio tuner are things we wish were included in the XC90 T6.
Then again, the XC90 leads in other areas of specification, and it’s just as nice to drive as the Q7. If you look past the badge cachet of the Audi, it’s pretty much line-ball between the two. (see Q7 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For us, the XC90 hits the mark. The sticker price is high, but so is the value for money equation, build quality and presentation.
And if you're sceptical about whether Volvo should be charging six-cylinder money for a four-pot, don't be. The T6 engine has more than enough muscle for this SUV, and few drivers will be disappointed.
But given the pricing parity with volume-selling X5, GLE, Q7 and even Cayenne models, it's unlikely that the XC90 will be stealing much market share away from the dominant Germans - which is a shame.
However if you're looking for a high-quality SUV that's a little different, a little more unique, scope out the XC90. Thank us later.