“Bit of a tank, isn’t it mate?” the friendly old boy in the car park small-talked at me. I raised my eyebrows slightly and gave a mock startled look combined with a slight grin, which he seemed satisfied with, and left it at that.
Having, I assumed, never driven one his opinion was probably one quite a lot of people would have when faced with this Behemoth of family transportation. It was also ironic, as I’d just come come back from exploring the country lanes around Bovington, a village in the Dorset countryside with not much else than a ruddy great big area of land that is home to the army’s tank training centre. So the locals see far larger tanks rolling up and down their roads every day of the week and didn’t even bat an eyelid.
Design and Styling
When I was in that car park, to be fair, I was parked next to a Daewoo Matiz, so it did look a bit ridiculous as it totally dwarfed it. Other than the sheer scale of it, the menacing looks are enhanced on this particular example, as it has gone fully black both inside out, save for the bright trimmings of chrome capped wing mirrors and brushed aluminium roof rails, to create a car big in size and in imposing presence. If there were an American badge on the grille, the FBI might well be using it as a daily runabout. So I suspect this could be the kind of thing the Gothenburg secret police (if there is even such a thing) could well using.
It proudly sits on optional matt black 18 inch alloy at each corner, which really completes the look when set against the metallic Sapphire Black of the bodywork. Volvo only offer a small range of standard bodywork colours to choose from, with the more attractive finishes being the wider range of metallics, but bear in mind that any of these will attract a £700 – £1,000 upgrade cost dependent on the actual shade you opt for. Although it might look a bit of a tank, but if you get technical and look at the stats, it actually has a drag coefficient of just 0.36, which makes it just as slippery as a Porsche Cayenne. That sleek design work even continues round at the back, as you can spec your XC90 with a detachable towbar, if you so desire. Go to get inside and you’ll notice the chunky door handles that open to let you step up into the elevated cabin; the doors are heavy and close with a satisfying thud.
The driving position lets you look down on practically every other road user, literally if not metaphorically, but no-one could really blame you for doing both, such is its dominance on the road. The seats are a delight, trimmed in soft off-black leather, with the front seats being fully electronically adjustable and come with three memory settings. The two-stage heated front seats are a £300 premium but are worth the cost to ensure your ‘go anywhere’ car keeps you in comfort in all weathers. You’ll be glad of them when you take the family on a skiing holiday.
Leg room is ample on both rows of rear seating, helped by the fact that all three seats on the middle row can move back and forward independently to obtain the maximum level of comfort for all passengers. The climate control air conditioning lets the driver and passenger select their own temperature setting, whilst there are also air con vents on the B pillars, so rear occupants benefit too. Opt for the ‘Family Pack’ and you’ll also get air con vents for the 3rd row of seats as well as tinted rear windows and the convenience of a control unit situated on the B pillar for passengers to plug their headsets into.
If you’re planning spending plenty of time in the driving seat of any car, you’ll want a steering wheel that is comfortable to use and feels nice to handle, and the XC90’s soft leather clad offering will not disappoint. You may even feel the uncontrollable urge to give it a little stroke every so often. Behind that, the chronometer-style speedo and other dials are crisp and unfussy, and illuminate beautifully clearly at night.
The audio centre and the sat nav essentially operate as two separate units with little integration. The sat nav screen rises up from the top of the dashboard and is operated either by remote control or by a set of buttons behind the right hand side of the steering wheel. The test car came fitted with the optional premium sound system, a £1,000 upgrade, which gets you a Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound system with an amplifier and 12 speakers. It’s easy to connect your phone via Bluetooth, both for phone calls and to stream audio. For other devices, there is an auxiliary socket beneath the flap that covers the front cup holders. Alternatively, there is always good old radio or the CD player.
Behind the Wheel
When you first get in and look back over your shoulder and then forward to the end of the bonnet it does seem to go on forever but it will quickly ‘shrink around you’ once you get some miles under your belt. Though it’s certainly got some length at 4.8 metres, it’s not actually as wide as you might imagine at 2.11 metres including mirrors, just 10 cm wider than a Ford Focus.
Once we’d gone through Bovington itself there are some good old country lanes, most of which are flinch-inducingly narrow in a massive Volvo. These winding roads will ascend you to some idyllic viewpoints, looking out over rolling fields and the sea, so that’s where we headed next. Yes, it is a bit big to take down such lanes but it’s actually easier than in a normal hatchback as, firstly, people see you coming towards you and get out the way, and secondly, if they can’t get out the way, you can: mounting a bit of grassy embankment or having a wheel go into a minor ditch is child’s play to the XC90, so you can simply shift sideways into the countryside to let someone past and then rejoin the tarmac without batting an eyelid. Making great use of the permanent all-wheel setup, I mounted the grass verge at the cliff top viewpoint without fuss, and probably made it look a bit too easy for the Peugeot driver behind me, who decided he was fine to have a go too, and promptly ripped off the front skirt and lifted one of the back wheels clear off the ground, much to the dismay of his wife in the passenger seat.
On an urban school run it can look a bit gargantuan, but when it’s axle deep in greenery it just looks right, like a sleek panther slinking through the undergrowth. However, as well as proving it can deal with a bit of mud and grass, I also managed town centre reverse parking and shopping centre multi-storeys without drama, despite there there only being parking sensors on the rear and no reversing camera. Although it is undoubtedly big to use around town, because of what you can see of the bodywork from the driver’s seat, you are visually very aware of its dimensions, so you know where it starts and ends and can position yourself accordingly with accuracy.
Engine, Gearbox and Performance
The XC90 is powered by a five cylinder 2.4 litre diesel engine, that will hoick over 2.1 tonnes of Swedish metal from 0-60 mph in a respectable 9.7 seconds. In my book, getting any vehicle of this size under the 10 second mark is good enough, plus it’ll go on to a top speed of 127 mph.
The low revving diesel will redline at just 4500 rpm but chucks out a ton of torque (420 Nm to be precise), with 200 horsepower being sent through to the six speed automatic gearbox. When in ‘drive’, you can simply palm the shifter across to the left and push or pull respectively to change up or down gears manually. This is the only engine and gearbox configuration available: no petrol engines or manual gearboxes are to be found on the options list, but realistically very few people who are looking at this model would be likely to opt for either, even if given the choice.
There are plenty of options for varying the XC90’s storage capacity dependent on the number of seats you require in a given situation. Even will all seven seats in use, there is still a boot of 249 litres, which is plenty big enough to take a few bags, plus a split tailgate is always great, even if just to provide you with a take-anywhere welly putting on bench. If you’ve got some serious possession shifting to do the you can trade seats for boot space up to a maximum of a cavernous 1837 litres.
Suspension and Steering
The suspension is forgiving and will iron out most of the lumps and bumps you can throw at it. Exploring the pot-holed roads of rural Dorset, and several of their verges, I can confidently say there is very little that you’ll come across in everyday driving that will faze it. The XC90 sits high at 1.8 metres tall, meaning that if you throw it into a corner on a country lane you will experience some roll. The responsiveness of the steering is sensibly set up, in that it’s not so soft that you feel you’re not in full control, yet not so brutally firm as to give your arms a work out if you had to do a three point turn.
Safety and Security
Volvo leads the way in safety on all its models and the XC90 is a shining example of this commitment to driver, passenger and pedestrian safety. It feels exceptionally well put together and this inherent strength gives you confidence in the constant safety of you and your passengers. Unsurprisingly, the XC90 scores five stars on the Euro NCAP test, with them commenting in their report that it “has an immensely strong body that provides safe, all-round protection for its passengers.”
The XC90 has a wide range safety systems, including two-stage airbags in the front as well as inflatable curtain airbags to the side, along with Volvo’s well-known SIPS (Side Impact Protection System). All seven seats come with head restraints, meaning your occupants will stay safe in the event of an impact wherever they happen to be sat. As well as all of that going on inside, you can also see and be seen effectively thanks to the xenon headlights, and there are also bright white LED daytime running lights that, as well as providing a safety function, look good too.
Prices, Equipment and Options
The on the road price for the SE Lux model we have on test is £43,265 – a fairly sizeable chunk of dosh you might think. However, other than a few luxury comfort options which you or may not decide you really need, the XC90 comes with an impressive level of standard equipment that you’ll be very pleased you do have. There’s not a massive price differential between the top and bottom of the range, with the entry level ES trim costing £37,115. However, if you do fancy your XC90 with a more sportier edge, there is also a range topping R-Design version available at £43,615.
Add in a few options such as the premium sound system and the family pack and price wise you’ll soon be heading into the late 40’s rather than the early 40’s. For example, our fully loaded test car, with all the trimmings would cost just over £47,000, but for that you are getting an incredible mix of presence, performance, practicality and safety.
Cost of Ownership
As you might imagine, road tax is not going to be cheap due to the XC90’s CO2 emissions of 215 g/km, which place it in tax band K. First year tax is a hefty £620 but is then a more acceptable £280 per year. In terms of fuel economy, official consumption on the combined cycle is 34 mpg, so not a ground breaking result in that respect either. Insurance may also not be cheap, as the XC90 is in either group 41 or 42 depending on which trim level you opt for. However, despite these costs being higher than you might have hoped, it’s important to remember that although the XC90 could be described as a ‘bit of a tank’, it’s also built to be as strong as a tank and designed to last, so you shouldn’t find yourself pouring too much of your hard earned cash into ongoing maintenance issues. It’s a true work horse that will just keep on going.
If you’ve got a whole troupe of family and friends to transport and can’t face the thought of doing so in a dowdy people carrier, then there can be no better way to convey seven people in comfort, safety and style. Volvo have recently announced that they’ll be releasing an all-new XC90 in the near future, which will sport a whole raft of new technology. The current XC90 has got a lot going for it, so we can’t wait to see what the next generation model will have to offer.