Volvo XC90 is so refined it doesn’t feel like a 4×4 to drive

Volvo’s latest incarnation of its popular XC90 aims to shift it even deeper into luxury 4×4 territory.

The XC90 has been wildly successful for Volvo since it launched it in 2003, with nearly 86,000 rolling off the production lines. Now it’s back, sleeker and more refined than before and certainly a lot of car for the money. But that’s not necessarily its strongest suit.

With 88mm (3.5in) more length than a Volvo V70 estate car, it’s no mere slip of a thing. In fact the XC90’s girth and length, coupled with a wide turning circle, mean it barely fits into a standard supermarket parking space.

In keeping with Volvo’s general design theme, it features slightly wide hips at the top of the door panels, as though it’s put on a few pounds. A colleague called them love handles.

All of this might lead you to expect to find the Volvo inelegant, matronly, and unwieldy to drive. But it isn’t. Once on the move, you forget this is a 4×4 at all.

It certainly doesn’t feel or drive like one. In fact it glided along Wiltshire’s poorest roads without complaint, while its 2.4-litre, 5-cylinder diesel roaring reassuringly whenever a firm boot was applied.

The higher-spec SE Sport version we drove has the option of different chassis settings, stiffer suspension and sport-tuned, speed-dependent steering.

Also a lot of fun is the six-speed Geartronic transmission. Basically this means that for lazy people like me it has the feel of a pleasant, responsive conventional automatic. But for a bit of sharp overtaking, or to feel even less like you’re driving a 4×4, a sideways shift of the lever engages a push-up-pull-down paddle-style gearchange.

Even in “standard” automatic mode, this is the opposite of sluggish, un-cooperative and thirsty driving. Be in no doubt, the XC90 is disconcertingly fast and this is underlined by the unnerving sensation of driving a quite different car. Sling it into a corner and it doesn’t seem like a 4×4 at all.

The sloping central console looks more complicated than it is and is in fact quite uncluttered. A lot of things can be controlled from the steering wheel itself, too, including the satnav screen which rises, tombstone-like, from the dashboard.

Overall, the XC90’s cabin is comfortable and spacious, and its seven seats can fold flat, so it’s as practical vehicle as you’ll find.

XC90 D5 SE MODEL (£35,345)

(Optional communications pack, Geartronic transmission, towbar and cosmetic refinements take this up to £41,575)

  • Engine
    2400cc 5cyl in-line
  • Fuel
  • Transmission
    6-speed Geartronic
  • Power
  • Dimensions
    4.79m x 1.89m


A farm 4×4? Probably not. This is a refined, well-equipped luxury car and Volvo admits it’s aiming at Porsche, Mercedes and Range Rover owners. Its pedigree is certainly closer to an American SUV than a gritty British 4×4, though it’s built in Sweden. And at £40,000+, you wouldn’t want to get it dirty.

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