On test: Plush Volvo XC90 goes high-tech

It’s a little-known and very boring fact but Volvo’s original XC90 was one of the longest-serving models in the Scandinavian brand’s history.

In fact, having served as the range flagship for 14 years virtually unchanged, its production run has probably outlasted most other cars of recent times.

So what? Well, if it managed to go on rumbling down the assembly lines for such a long time then Volvo had clearly got something right. It had – the XC90 was almost boringly practical and reliable, and because of that it was the company’s best seller for a good number of years.

See also: A nostalgic drive in the retiring Land Rover Defender

But times do change and the old faithful had begun to look and feel a bit tired. Sceptics said that when Ford sold Volvo to Chinese firm Geely in 2010 investment in R&D would plummet and the build quality of these Scandinavian stalwarts would suffer.

If you look at the new XC90 they couldn’t have been more wrong. This thing is positively tingling with cutting-edge technology and the reassuring thud of the doors closing makes clear the standard of the fit and finish.


And in the cabin you’re left with no doubt about the size of the Chinese’s chequebook when it comes to R&D. To say it feels like it’s bristling with technology would be untrue – it’s the exact opposite. There are only about three buttons and one dial in the entire centre console. In their place is a sleek screen definitely targeted at ‘Generation Tablet’. 

This is all great if you want to text your heating system and watch dogs playing football on You Tube, but it can be a pain in the posterior. Every time you want to tweak the temperature or silence Ken Bruce you’ve got to enter a swipe screen menu and locate the right symbol.

Yes, it’s lovely to look at but practically it would be nice to have a few more switches and dials. And, of course, for the grubbier, greasier agriculturalists among us, we all know how well a touchcreen stands up to rural life…

Under the skin the changes have also been fairly dramatic. There’s still a four-cylinder diesel motor but on the version we tested it was mated to an 8-speed auto box. It is such a slick shifter you’ll think you’re driving a dodgem.

And it’s the same story on the suspension front – our car had air-bags at each corner (a £2,150 option) which made ride on the road a pleasure and, when jacked up (as happens automatically when you select ‘Off-Road’ mode), significantly helped to smooth out the lumps and bumps as well as increasing clearance by 40mm.

But this is no mud-flinging, rock-hopping, camo-trouser-clad off-roader. Volvo knows its market – it’s one of the best-selling SUVs of all time because it’s got everything the school-run-mum needs – seven proper seats, room for a brace of Labradors, a fairly yoghurt-proof, wipe-clean interior – plus it’s able to scramble off a swampy verge.

But that’s its limit. With 245mm wide sports-performance slicks at each corner it has a real tendency to spin rather than grip, despite an “intelligent” all-wheel-drive system. It’ll get you out of trouble but won’t get bales of silage out to flood-stranded livestock.

And then there’s that old Volvo favourite of safety. To describe the XC90’s attitude to life as “risk averse” is something of an understatement. This thing knows when there’s a chance of frost in southern California and, if a tree sparrow has broken wind within 300m, it’ll let you know with a series of very polite bongs.

That’s all thanks to a total of 12 ultrasound sensors to give 360deg warning of unseen obstacles – not that practical when wading through waist-high undergrowth.

It’ll also give you a stern telling off if it thinks you’re too close to the car in front and gives a constant reminder of the speed limit alongside your actual pace in the heads-up display that projects on to the windscreen.

But all this negativity won’t do. The XC90 is a great car and its ability to transport seven full-grown adults in comfort, as well as scramble through the brown stuff makes it something of a marvel.

It is clearly targeted to take on the likes of the Audi Q7, the VW Toureg and the Range Rover Sport and although £64,575 might seem like an obscene amount of money for the fully loaded model we tested, you can bag a poverty-spec version for just shy of £46,000.

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