Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Delivering decent low-rev pull, the B5 diesel is a relaxed performer. It picks up smoothly, and getting up to motorway speeds is an effortless experience. It’s not what you’d call really fast, though; while it'll hit 0-62mph in a very respectable 7.6sec, bigger-engined rivals – such as the Audi Q7 45 TDI and BMW X5 30d – offer even greater performance and are even more refined.
Then there are the petrols. Both the mild-hybrid B5 petrol and, to a lesser extent the turbocharged and supercharged T6, need to be worked harder than the diesel. But when you do that, the B5 petrol is brisk enough, getting from 0-62mph in 7.7sec, while the T6 will manage the same sprint in just 6.5sec. If you must have petrol power, we’d stick to the cheaper and more frugal B5. However, given that it’s stronger at low revs and a bit faster than the B5 petrol, we’d stick to the B5 diesel.
Meanwhile, the T8 hybrid’s combination of a petrol engine and electric motor makes it properly quick and easily the fastest XC90 you can buy, racing from 0-62mph in just 5.8sec. It shoots away from a standstill with real urgency and follows up with enough surge for easy overtaking at faster speeds. Just bear in mind that, as most of its power goes to the front wheels, it can struggle for traction on wet roads. The T8 also has a similar electric-only range to plug-in hybrid versions of its rivals, such as the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne; its official 29 mile range is more likely to translate to around 20 miles in the real world, and that’s if you drive gently. It’s beaten by the the BMW X5 45e in this regard, though.
Suspension and ride comfort
At low speeds, with the standard non-adjustable suspension, the XC90 tends to pick up on cracks, bumps and potholes a fair bit more than its standout rival, the Audi Q7. However, the ride becomes smoother at higher speeds. You’ll still feel the odd expansion joint thump through the base of your seat, but the big Volvo generally settles into a pretty comfortable motorway cruise.
The optional air suspension costs quite a bit. While it offers better absorbency over large lumps, such as speed humps, it doesn't improve the ride to any noticeable degree on patched-up city streets – you’ll still feel a harsh thud when you strike something sharp-edged. We’d save the expense and stick to the standard set-up. Meanwhile, the T8, despite the increased weight from its heavy batteries, manages to remain as comfortable as lesser XC90s.
Whichever model you choose, we suggest going for the smallest wheels possible. Essentially, the smaller the wheel, the more comfortable your XC90 will be. We’d stick to 19in or 20in wheels where possible, and avoid the vast optional 22in ones at all costs.
The XC90 can’t match the sportier BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne for outright handling finesse, but it’s similarly wieldy as the Q7 and much sharper to drive than the wallowy Land Rover Discovery. There’s minimal body lean unless you really throw it about, and it never feels like it’s going to topple over around a series of bends.
There isn’t much feedback through the steering wheel, but turn into a corner and there's enough weight build-up to instil confidence, and to help you place the car accurately on the road. The Q7, X5 and Cayenne are better still in this regard, though; the XC90’s steering can feel a little sticky when you need to make small course corrections, such as when driving on the motorway.
While you’re unlikely to tackle a series of B-roads just for the hell of it in the XC90, it’s good to know both suspension options (standard passive springs or optional air suspension) deliver impressive body control. For such a tall car, the Volvo stays pretty level through turns and has plenty of grip. The T8 hybrid has a greater tendency to sway about in bends, due to the weight of those heavy batteries, but is still more agile than other big plug-in hybrid SUVs, such as the BMW X5 45e and Mercedes GLE 300de.
Noise and vibration
With its ability to run on electric power alone, the T8 is the quietest XC90 when pootling around town. Push on a bit harder, though, and you’ll notice the petrol engine kick in, but even then it’s still far from unrefined. EV mode hush aside, the petrol B5 and T6 are much the same: quiet at low speeds, but make themselves heard as the revs rise without ever sounding harsh.
The diesel B5 makes the most noise at all speeds, and sends more vibration back through the controls than the petrols. Judged alongside the ultra-refined 3.0-litre diesel engines in the Q7, Discovery and Mercedes GLE, it's a bit gruff, but hardly a tractor.
Wind noise is relatively well suppressed in the XC90, but road roar from the tyres is nowhere near as well contained as in a Discovery or Q7. Suspension noise is also an issue, you’ll hear noticeable crashes and thumps over larger bumps, such as potholes and expansion joints. Thankfully, these impacts sound much worse than they feel.
All XC90s come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that can feel a little hesitant when you want a quick burst of acceleration. It’s nowhere near as laggy as the gearbox in the Q7, but you’ll still find yourself getting frustrated when you put your foot down and find yourself waiting a moment or two.