Volvo XC90 Mk1 review
Road-biased SUVs were nothing new when Volvo introduced its first entry into the sector in 2002. What the Swedish brand did do was something that seems very obvious now, but which hadn’t been done before: the XC90 has a third row of flat-folding seats in its boot, making it a seven-seater 4x4. It’s a formula that’s now commonplace, but that doesn’t make the XC90 any less desirable – although if you’d like one of these 4x4s, there is plenty that you need to know before buying.
The XC90 arrived in November 2002, in 161bhp 2.4 D5 diesel or 272bhp 2.9 T6 turbo petrol forms. The Executive (from March 2003) brought rear entertainment; 18 months later a 2.5T petrol arrived, with an all-new 183bhp D5 from 2005.
A facelift in 2006 meant an exterior refresh and better trim materials, plus a 4.4-litre petrol V8. At the same time, a 3.2-litre engine replaced the previous T6 unit. The R-Design of summer 2009 brought a sportier look, then from 2010 a 2.4-litre D5 with better economy was introduced.
By January 2011 there was a 197bhp 2.4 D5, while a year later another facelift brought LED tail-lamps, LED daytime running lights, reprofiled bumpers and an improved infotainment system. An all-new Mk2 XC90 was launched in 2014.
A petrol XC90 V8 is a superb tow car. The diesels provide easy cruising and towing, especially when the Geartronic automatic gearbox is fitted. However, this transmission increases fuel consumption and can be hesitant off the mark.
Exact specifications changed regularly but all 2009 model year XC90s had rear parking sensors, self-levelling suspension, climate and cruise control plus navigation. The SE added an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and leather-faced trim, while SE Lux also had active headlights, a powered front passenger seat, heated front chairs and leather upholstery. The Executive added wood trim and massaging front seats plus an upgraded sound system.
Alternatives to the Volvo XC90 Mk1
The Land Rover Discovery 3 and 4 are roomy, luxurious and highly accomplished rivals to the XC90. Purchase and running costs are high, but they’re the best 4x4s if carrying seven people is key. If you want seven seats but space isn’t so much of a priority, the Audi Q7 and Mercedes GL are worth a look. Beautifully built and very well equipped, the two German cars come with some excellent diesel engines and are great at towing.
The Mitsubishi Shogun can carry seven and is very good off-road, but it’s completely outclassed by the Volvo on-road and feels downmarket in comparison. Another great SUV that’s well built, well equipped and tows effortlessly is the VW Touareg; however, this comes with only five seats.
What to look for:
The tailgate release can stick when an actuation rod corrodes and swells. Fixing it is easy, but the luggage area trim panels have to be removed first.
Check the state of all cabin trim, as this doesn’t always stand up well to family life. The leather upholstery can scuff, while the carpets can look tatty.
If you’re looking at a D5, try to start the car from cold. If it struggles to fire up, it’s probably because of injector problems; repairs tend to be costly.
Inspect the exterior brightwork to ensure it hasn’t gone cloudy; some chemicals in car washes can attack the metal. Replacement is the only cure.
The XC90’s dash design shows its age but the seats are superb, the cabin has a premium feel if you avoid early cars and individually adjustable sliding seats in the middle row give great versatility. Boot space is good at 615 litres with row three folded and 1,837 litres with row two folded also.