The XC90 is thoroughly impressive, but it’s not without a few weaknesses. Ride comfort could be better and road noise could be more subdued – we think a luxury SUV should be more cossetting and quiet, and in these areas the XC90 is beaten by its best rivals. However, in other respects the Volvo performs very well.
It’s an extremely practical car. There’s a huge amount of space for five, and although the third row of seating is more cramped, it’s still a usable space. And unliked many seven-seaters, the boot has room for more than a briefcase when all of the seats are upright.
The way the middle row splits into three, not two, adds to the cabin’s flexibility. It also helps that the rear seats can slide forward to give those in the back more legroom, or recline to make a more comfortable position for a quick nap. But the XC90 is not just practical, it’s also superbly made, and the understated style of the cabin and exterior is very appealing.
Most importantly, this is a strong, stable all-weather tow car. The four-wheel-drive system puts the XC90’s considerable power to the road cleanly, even when the surface is greasy. Hill starts are straightforward.
On motorways and A-roads, the Volvo is very stable. It’s not immune to the bow-wave of a high-sided vehicle, but any wobble soon disappears. A more supple ride and less engine and road noise would allow the Volvo to make the case for five stars. But even with these criticisms, the XC90 is a very able tow car.
Strong, stable all-weather tow car; excellent legroom in front and rear
Ride comfort could be better; road noise could be more subdued
Volvo has updated the XC90 4×4, and the plug-in hybrid model gains a bigger battery for a longer all-electric range, while the diesel models are now mild hybrids. This means they use a 48V starter-generator to assist the engine, and recapture energy during braking and deceleration that would otherwise be lost.
This clever tech allows the latest XC90 to emit less and stretch a gallon of diesel further than before. The model we’re testing is the B5 AWD R-Design.
What are we looking for?
Does the mild hybrid drivetrain make a difference to the driving experience, and how efficient is it while towing? Have the updates to the Volvo kept it at the forefront of the large SUV class?
The Volvo was easy to manoeuvre on site, as happy to creep backwards as it was to tow at speed on the motorway
The XC90 remains a very heavy car. Volvo quotes a MiRO of 2172kg. We’ve checked with Volvo, and this includes a 90% full fuel tank and 75kg for the driver, so it’s what we’d normally refer to as the kerbweight.
That heft gives an 85% match figure of 1846kg, so the Volvo makes a sensible match for most big twin-axle tourers. That’s well within the legal towing limit of 2700kg.
Some of the big 4x4s, such as the Land Rover Discovery, have 3500kg towing limits, but given that the fully loaded weight of a caravan is unlikely to exceed two tonnes, the Volvo’s maximum is far higher than most caravanners would ever want to tow.
We matched the big Volvo to a Coachman Laser 650, with a MiRO of 1669kg, and took to the road.
The Volvo pulled up to speed easily, even with such a large and heavy caravan behind it. With 354lb ft of torque, the engine has exceptional pulling power, considering its 2.0-litre-capacity.
Volvo’s automatic gearboxes have a reputation for being a little slow to respond, but we found that this ‘box changed down promptly and smoothly when accelerating.
On country roads, the big Volvo held speed effortlessly, hardly slowing for hills and keeping the van firmly under control.
Damp roads didn’t faze the XC90. The Volvo felt surefooted when cornering and put its power to the road without any sign of wheelspin.
The hill start test was straightforward. The XC90’s electronic parking brake held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 slope, and released cleanly without allowing the car to roll back. There was no sign of strain or difficulty pulling to the top of the hill.
We headed out onto the motorway, where the Volvo continued to impress, reaching 60mph long before the end of the slipway, and maintaining speed without difficulty.
More importantly, the car was extremely stable. Once or twice we felt a slight nudge from the caravan when overtaking an HGV, but the car was never knocked off course.
When we arrived at the campsite, the Volvo was easy to manoeuvre, as happy to creep backwards at less than walking pace as it was to tow at high speeds.
A rear parking camera is standard, which helps when hitching up. Choose the Xenium Pack (£1600) and you gain a 360°-view camera (as well as a sunroof and an assisted parking feature). This really is very useful when reversing onto a pitch, or parking in everyday driving.
The towball and electrics cost £1075. The towing gear moves into place and retracts at the touch of a button, and the electrics are easy to access.
There’s a temporary-use spare wheel under the boot floor. We could see no warning against using this while towing in the handbook.
Overall, the XC90 makes a thoroughly impressive tow car. We know some owners would prefer a full-size spare, and ride comfort while towing doesn’t match the serene progress of a Land Rover Discovery. But the Volvo is very capable, however heavy the tourer, however bad the weather.
In everyday driving, the Volvo accelerates briskly and handles well. It shifts along keenly when you put your foot down, and corners neatly for such a big car. The mild hybrid drivetrain makes it more efficient, but you don’t really notice this at work.
Owners have a choice of driving modes. ‘Eco’ makes the throttle less responsive, so the car is better to drive in ‘Comfort’. The ‘Dynamic’ setting sharpens up the throttle and gearbox, and lends extra weight to the steering. This does add something to the driving experience when the road starts to twist and turn, but otherwise we left the car in ‘Comfort’ mode.
The suspension settings don’t change, unless you opt for the Active Four-C Chassis. This £2150 option adds adaptive dampers and air suspension. The sporty R-Design comes with steel springs as standard, and 20-inch alloys. This combination makes for a frustratingly fussy ride.
At low speeds in particular, it thumps into big bumps and doesn’t feel settled. Things improve at speed, but it’s still not as comfortable as an Audi Q7 or a Land Rover Discovery.
For a large, luxury 4×4, the Volvo is also surprisingly noisy. The engine is too vocal when accelerating hard, and there’s a lot of road noise at speed.
A BMW X5 is more fun, a Land Rover Discovery more comfortable, and the Audi Q7 is a better all-rounder.
The Volvo’s cabin is a fine place to spend time: roomy, well made and extremely practical.
Travel in the front of the car, and there’s enough legroom for even the tallest drivers. Our road tester (6’3″) had plenty of rearward travel left with the seat in a comfortable position.
Volvo has a deservedly good reputation for seat comfort, and we had no aches or twinges after a long day at the wheel.
It has taken a very clean and minimal approach to the design of the dashboard, which looks elegant and uncluttered.
However, this does mean that frequently used functions, such as the air temperature controls, are within the touchscreen. This takes a precise touch to use, and the screen didn’t always register every finger press.
Although our car was fitted with a sunroof, there was still plenty of headroom in the front and middle row.
There’s more than enough legroom for passengers in seats three to five, too, even if the driver and front passenger are tall. The width of the cabin and the relatively small transmission tunnel make it possible to sit three abreast in comfort.
Making your way to the third row is a bit of a clamber, best attempted by someone young, small and nimble. However, it’s possible to squeeze in a couple of adults, especially if those in the middle of the car are willing to slide their seats forward a bit.
Even with all seven seats upright, there’s enough boot space for several bags of shopping. With the back seats stowed, there’s lots of room, and with the middle row folded as well, there’s a huge space that should accommodate all of your holiday luggage.
In this specification, the Volvo costs £56,585 (before options). That’s a lot, but compares well with the cost of an Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery.
What Car?’s research suggests dealers are willing to offer big discounts – savings of £5000 or so should be possible.
The mild hybrid drivetrain improves the economy of what was already one of the most efficient luxury SUVs. The car now achieves 37.7-44.1mpg on the combined cycle. We achieved 24mpg while towing the Coachman.
Volvo is renowned for safety, so it’s no surprise to learn the XC90 has a five-star rating from the experts at Euro NCAP. For an extra £500 it has Intellisafe Surround, which includes Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alert with Autobrake and Rear Collision Mitigation.
The car should be worth 48% of the price after three years and 36,000 miles, much the same as a Land Rover Discovery.
How much will it cost on finance?
Volvo Car Financial Services is offering the B5 AWD R-Design for £529 per month. The initial rental is £7458, and the contract runs for 48 months. The deal allows for 10,000 miles per year. Go over that distance, and your excess mileage will be charged at 7.56p per mile for the first 5000 additional miles, and then 10.08p per mile after that.
If you liked this… READ THESE:
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, why not get the latest news, reviews and features delivered direct to your door or inbox every month. Take advantage of our brilliant Practical Caravan magazine SUBSCRIBERS’ OFFER and SIGN UP TO OUR NEWSLETTER for regular weekly updates on all things caravan related
|Engine Size||1969 cc|
|85% KW||1846 kg|
|Towball Limit||110 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||2700 kg|
|Torque||354 lb ft|
|Offical MPG||37.7 mpg|
|Towing MPG||24 mpg|