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First Drive: Volvo XC90

Minor facelift for Volvo’s biggest SUV, but the interesting stuff happens under the XC90’s bonnet, says Martyn Collins.

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SECTOR: LARGE SUV PRICE From £52,235 FUEL 26.2-113.0mpg (WLTP) CO2 52-192g/km (NEDC Correlated)

The launch of Volvo’s second-generation XC90 SUV back in 2014 was the start of the iconic Swedish brand’s rejuvenation and move to being a more premium brand.

So, it’s significant how quick Volvo has completed its whole range renewal; five years later, it’s pushing ahead with updates. We say updates, but to the untrained eye, little has changed for the 2019 XC90. Give up? From the front there’s a redesigned front grille and air dam. Move to the side and there are integrated roof rails, black trim for the R-Design and new alloy wheel designs.

Inside, the XC90 is unchanged, but despite its years, it still remains a comfortable, stylish, well-equipped and high-quality place to be – with the practicality of room for seven thanks to the extra two seats in the boot.

In fact, the more significant changes for the XC90 have taken place under the bonnet. Following Volvo’s plans to electrify every model in the range, the D5 diesel in its biggest SUV has been replaced by a 48-volt mild-hybrid version of the 2.0-litre diesel producing 232hp and 480Nm of torque and designated as the B5. Other electrification changes for the XC90 centre around the range-topping 390hp T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid, which now gets an updated brake-by-wire battery charging system, plus a larger battery – equalling an improved all-electric range of 28 miles.

The first facelifted XC90 we tried was the B5 mild-hybrid diesel. Noisy at idle, the mild-hybrid system is designed to re-use energy harvested when braking to improve the responsiveness of this 2.0-litre right from low down in the rev-range. It works seamlessly too, as the engine feels noticeably smoother and more willing from the start. The only downside is if you work this engine hard it is disappointingly noisy – with noticeable diesel thrum detected inside. On top of this engine’s added eagerness, the mild-hybrid system also improves fuel consumption, with Volvo claiming this could increase by up to 15% compared with the outgoing unit. WLTP Combined fuel economy figures stand at an average of 37-44mpg. Acceleration to 62mph now takes 7.6 seconds, with 154g/km emissions for our R-Design spec test car. On the road, the B5 XC90’s steering is reasonably precise and although there’s some body roll, impressive grip in corners gives confidence.

Our second XC90 on test was the revised T8, this time in £70,895 R-Design Pro spec. With the aforementioned 390bhp from both the petrol and electric motors, the T8 version of the XC90 never feels slow. Acceleration to 62mph takes just 5.5 seconds, yet this T6 has CO2 emissions of only 55g/km. However, despite all this power, the brakes let this hybrid SUV package down – lacking in feel and difficult to moderate. Could this be down to the new brake-by-wire technology fitted?

With the R-Design Pro spec, the T8 was also fitted with air suspension, which gave a less compliant ride on the 21-inch alloy wheels of the test car and made the steering less responsive.

T8 driving issues aside, the XC90 remains what it’s always been: an understated, luxurious, practical and high-quality SUV.


KEY FLEET MODEL: Volvo XC90 B5 R-Design

STRENGTHS: Frugal, practical, high quality

WEAKNESSES: B5 engine noise when worked hard. Still expensive to buy and run

THE VERDICT: The mildest of updates freshens up Volvo’s biggest SUV. The engine changes also make a bit more attractive to fleet buyers – but it’s still expensive.

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.