Review: Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015)
Handsome-looking, safe seven-seater brimming with kit and practical touches in its high-quality cabin. D5 is the one to go for.
A BMW X5 is a more accomplished drive on and off-road. Timing belt engines need new belts and waterpumps every 60k miles.
Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015): At A Glance
There are a few excellent four-wheel drive cars, like the Subaru Legacy, that ride at normal car height and handle like a normal car. There are lots of jacked-up, Jeep-like 4x4s that carry their passengers half a metre higher, and cannot quite manage to defy gravitational forces on corners. And now there is the Volvo XC90, which is essentially a jacked-up estate car.
What does a Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015) cost?
Buy a used Volvo XC90 from £43,750
Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015): What's It Like Inside?
- Boot space is 249–1837 litres
It's not much longer than a Lexus RX300 or BMW X5. Just 4.8 metres exactly (15' 9") But, amazingly, manages to contain three rows of seats with more than half a metre of luggage space behind them and reasonable legroom for everyone. "How did they do that?" you wonder. Then the designer, Peter Horbury, explains that using transverse straight 5 and straight 6 rather then ‘V' engines allowed the cab to "move forward" giving a lot more space inside.
They've been very clever with those seats. All have their own three point lap/diagonal safety belt. The middle row slide backwards and forwards individually, so the child seat in the centre can be pulled forward and the child in it gets a much better view of what lies ahead. Just as smart, the cushions of the rearmost seats slide away under the luggage platform, then the backs fold flat, individually increasing luggage capacity at the expense of seatspace. And, with the centre row also folded down you get a flat but high loadspace 1.89 metres long. You can even fold the front passenger seat flat to gain a loadspace 2.91 metres long, alongside a driver plus two passengers sitting tandem-style.
Child seats that fit a Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015) like to drive?
It's a handsome car. Big, tough looking, but not in the least aggressive. The deformable front is actually very friendly to any pedestrians who happen to walk out in front of it as there is plenty of space underneath to cushion them. There is a massively strong front box section crossmember. But there's also a special skid plate designed to meet the impact zone of a conventional car so anything the XC90 hits deforms progressively instead of being smashed to bits. After all, this is a Volvo.
The World gets a choice of three all-aluminium engines: Volvo's new 2,401cc 163bhp (120kW) 5-cylinder diesel; the 2,922cc 272bhp (200kW) 6-cylinder twin-turbo petrol from the S80 T6; and a revised 2,521cc 210bhp (154kW) 5-cylinder light pressure petrol. The UK will get the first two engines, but other markets may get all three.
Transmissions are still in transition. At launch, the diesel and 210bhp petrol came with a 5-speed Geartronic automatic which allows you to select the ratios yourself. The 272bhp T6 came with a 4-speed autobox and an ECU chipped to limit power in 1st and 2nd to avoid transmission damage. Soon this box will be replaced by a new, tougher 6-speed auto, and by mid 2003 the diesel will have the option of a 6-speed manual.
Climb behind the wheel of the diesel, adjust the steering wheel and seat to suit yourself, then get going and it's all very civilised. You can waft along fairly serenely with no hint of diesel clatter, then call upon a lower gear and the engine's strong 320Nm torque to pull you rapidly up the steepest of inclines. It really is very pleasant, and has that Mercedes SL quality of actually making you feel like cruising rather than pedal to the metal. Yet it's no slouch and 180kph on the motorway felt like no more than 120kph in a normal car. Close cross-examination of Volvo's engine man, Sivert Hiljemark, led to the info that though this is a belt-cam diesel and the belt drives the water pump, the old Audi pump bearing problem was sorted years ago and the belt really should last 120,000km. There's also no need to simmer the turbo after a long upward incline. Though only oil cooled, the oil is itself cooled by engine coolant via a special heat transfer case.
Probably because of the way it is chipped, the T6 didn't feel anything like 272bhp. It's still a lot quicker than the diesel, but because you don't feel the need to drive XC90s fast, most drivers won't regret plumping for the more eco friendly oil burner.
The mountainous roads above Lake Geneva gave us plenty of opportunity to check out the power and handling and, by virtue of gyro stabilisers and the low centre of gravity of the engines and axles, both XC90s took corners surprisingly well.
That wasn't enough for Volvo, though. Despite immense strength in the front of the car and especially the A pillars, we were still required to test the Roll Stability Control by driving the car through an Elk avoidance test. This means jinking sharp left, then sharp right without braking through cones at up to 75kph. Of course at the slightest hint of the car getting out of line, wheels are individually automatically braked and the car never even felt like a wheel had left the ground, it's that stable.
At around £30k in the UK the XC90 is up against luxurious SUVs such as the Lexus RX300 Harrier, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Mercedes ML, the more expensive BMW X5 and more car-like equivalents, such as the Subaru Legacy Outback 3.0 and the Audi Allroad. It's not really fighting the LandRover Discovery because it's much smaller, much more car-like and much better to drive. But it will steal sales from 7 seater 4x4s like the Landcruiser Colorado and Mitsubishi Shogun.
Just as much as the practicality, the honest good looks are going to sell this car. It's quietly tough; strong, yet gentle; not in the least garish or ‘look at me'. And that's just perfect for the sort of people who are going to buy it.
UPDATE: 2006 CHANGES
What happened since that launch surprised even Volvo. It introduced the company to an entirely new niche and one that has demanded increasingly upmarket versions.
So naturally Volvo has responded. First with ‘SE Lux' and ‘Executive' trim, then with a more powerful 185bhp D5 engine, and now with a heavily refreshed range, including two important new engines.
Most important is the all-new I-6, a chain-cam 3.2 litre all-alloy short block straight six, also destined to find itself under the bonnets of the Jaguar XJ, the Jaguar S-Type and the new Land Rover Freelander. It's being built for Volvo by Ford at Bridgend in Wales.
Complementing that, and moving the car further upmarket to compete against top X5, Range Rovers, Mercedes MLs and GLs and Porsche Cayennes is a 315PS Yamaha-developed narrow-angle all-alloy chain cam 4.4 litre V8. Price range is £44,225 to £53,965, which doesn't seem to be a problem for the 10% of XC90 buyers expected to go for the guzzler.
The 3.2 is an exceptionally smooth, sweet, free-revving engine, but despite a flat torque curve, with only 320Nm of the precious stuff it has its work cut out to haul along the two tonne XC90. You need to use the Geartonic shifter constantly to get the best out of it and fast motorway cruising often requires 5th and even 4th on the inclines.
But I have to admit, we so enjoyed the engine's sweet nature and the car's good handling, informative steering and comfort we forgot to treat it like a big 4x4. 180kph was a frequent sight on two lane blacktops. On motorways we cruised comfortably and quietly at 160 - 200kph and managed to top out at 210kph, its maximum speed. The fact I'm even mentioning a slight lack of puff at 120mph tells you the true nature of the beast. I simply wouldn't dream of driving a Range Rover or a LandCruiser at those sort of speeds. Yet the XC90 was so stable and so quiet, 120 felt more like 80. All that came at a slight price, of course. 18.1 mpg. We actually had to stop to refill with petrol. However, normal driving should easily achieve the 23.9mpg combined figure of the EU comparative tests.
With 440Nm at 3,900rpm the 4.4V8 doesn't lack torque and gathers speed much more rapidly. It also sounds wonderful. However a gear-speed of 37.5mph per 1,000rpm in 6th means you still need to change down to 5th on motorway inclines. We wondered if its lazier nature would actually work out more economical than the 3.2 I-6. It didn't. We got 15.2 mpg. But if you have to ask the fuel consumption of a vehicle like this you can't afford one anyway.
The XC90 is not much longer than a Lexus RX300 or BMW X5. Just 4.8 metres exactly (15' 9"). Yet amazingly, it manages to contain three rows of seats with more than half a metre of luggage space behind them, and reasonable legroom for everyone.
They've been very clever with those seats. All have their own three point lap/diagonal safety belt. The middle row slide backwards and forwards individually, so the child seat in the centre can be pulled forward and the child in it gets a much better view of what lies ahead. Just as smart, the cushions of the rearmost seats slide away under the luggage platform, then the backs fold flat, individually increasing luggage capacity at the expense of seat space. And, with the centre row also folded down you get a flat but high loadspace 1.89 metres long. You can even fold the front passenger seat flat to gain a loadspace 2.91 metres long, alongside a driver plus two passengers sitting tandem-style.
It's a handsome car. Big, tough looking, but not in the least aggressive. The deformable front is actually very friendly to any pedestrians who happen to walk out in front of it, as there is plenty of space underneath to cushion them. There is a massively strong front box section crossmember. And there's also a special skid plate designed to meet the impact zone of a conventional car so anything the XC90 hits deforms progressively instead of being smashed to bits. After all, this is a Volvo.
Under their bonnets, the D5 185 replaces the D5 163, the 238bhp 3.2 I-6 stands in for the 210bhp 2.4T, and the 315bhp 4.4 V8 blasts the old 272bhp T6 into the weeds.
Transmissions are now 6-speed manual or 6-speed Geartronic auto on the D5, and 6-speed Geartronic only on the 3.2 and the 4.4. And, of course, it's a proper part-time four-wheel-drive with Haldex coupling.
There are now four levels of trim altogether: S, SE, SE Lux and Executive (details below). And some interesting options which include a satnav screen that doubles up as a rear parking screen, with lines that show you your projected trajectory. And active bi-xenon headlights with the useful bonus of allowing you to set left or right dip.
So Volvo found a new market. And the XC90 has happily settled into it as one of the strongest players, now with engines and levels of kit to rival the best of the rest.
Buyers love it. So do their kids. Mothers who want to protect their children naturally gravitate towards big 4x4s. So what better than a big Volvo 4x4?
|3.2 Geartronic||25 mpg||9.5 s||269 g/km|
|D5||33–34 mpg||10.9–11.5 s||219–224 g/km|
|D5 Geartronic||34–34 mpg||10.3 s||215–219 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Volvo XC90 (2002 – 2015)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
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