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Expert Review

Volvo XC90 4×4 (2003 – ) review

Read the Volvo XC90 4x4 (2003 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.

The Auto Trader expert verdict:


The Volvo XC90 4x4 is a runaway success thanks to seven seats, attractive styling, strong engines and reassuring safety levels.

Reasons to buy:

  • tickSeven seats
  • tickGood image
  • tickExcellent safety

At a glance:

How good does it look?

The Volvo XC90 is pitched at the flagship off-roader at the luxury end of the 4×4 market and changes to the 2007 model reflect this. At the front this takes the form of a new, more chrome-laden grille and a bigger Volvo badge. The rear sees redesigned lights, a full-width rear skidplate and a greater level of colour coding than on previous models. The car also has a shorter roofline due to the sloping tailgate, designed to make it clear this is most definitely not a Volvo estate. Trim levels SE and SE Lux also feature new 18-inch alloy wheels as standard with 19-inch alloy wheels available on the top Executive trim.
Expert rating: 3/5

What's the interior like?

Volvo interiors have a calming effect. The Swedish manufacturer likes to ensure its drivers are unhurried and unflustered and the Volvo XC90 is no exception. The information display is set low to emphasise the vehicle’s car-like credentials while the updated central console is angled away from the cabin, helping create the feeling of space. The latest model also incorporates new materials and upholsteries, such as Sovereign Hide leather to enhance the premium quality claims.
Expert rating: 4/5

How practical is it?

The Volvo XC90 seats up to seven, with the sixth and seventh seats able to fold flat while not in use, just one of a total 64 possible seating combinations available – a big feature for buyers who have placed the car’s passenger capacity top of their list of reasons for buying. The split tailgate features a bottom half able to take the weight of an adult standing to load items on to the roof. The car features comfortable seats with plenty of headroom. The second row centre seat is less roomy, but among a number of smart space-increasing ideas from Volvo is a removable armrest between the driver and the front seat passenger to create more legroom. It is also possible to slide the centre seat forwards to bring a child closer to the front seats. The downside of using all seven seats is the remaining boot space only amounts to 249 litres. However, this can be increased to 615 litres with the third row folded flat and up to a maximum of 1,837 litres with both rows of seats down. The XC90 also boasts off-road ability through four-wheel drive, 218mm ground clearance and stability and traction controls.
Expert rating: 5/5

What's it like to drive?

The Volvo XC90 lives up to its promise of a luxury 4×4 drive. We found the car very comfortable from the front and rear seats, the vehicle dealing with even the most demanding lumps and bumps with disdain. The handling does not match up to the benchmarks 4×4 rivals the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne, feeling vague in comparison, but we were generally impressed by handling which instilled confidence through corners.
Expert rating: 3/5

How powerful is it?

There is only one engine available, a 2.4-litre five-cylinder D5, and with 197bhp and masses of pulling power, we can see why. It’s not the quietest engine, but the sound it makes is not an unpleasant growl under hard acceleration. Manual gear changes are also off the menu, as Volvo’s Geatronic automatic gearbox is fitted to every new XC90. It makes for smooth progress, which suits both the car and the engine. It’s not the most advanced combination, however, the 3-litre diesel BMW X5 offering 241bhp and a 2.1 second quicker 0-60mph time (7.6 seconds), despite being more economical.
Expert rating: 3/5

How much will it cost me?

The main reason for the diesel engine’s dominance is its reasonable economy, averaging 34mpg and emitting 219g/km of CO2. It’s still not the cheapest thing to run then, but neither is it a gas-guzzler. The BMW X5 xDrive30d manages 38.2 average mpg and emits 195g/km of CO2 despite its power advantage.
Expert rating: 2/5

How reliable is it?

The original Volvo XC90 was launched in 2003 before being updated in 2007. Volvo has built a deserved reputation for building reliable cars and there is no indication that its flagship 4×4 is any exception.
Expert rating: 4/5

How safe is it?

The Volvo XC90 boasts plenty of kit to keep you out of trouble. The four-wheel drive system reduces the chances of the driver losing control – as do driver aids including electronic stability programme and traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist. There is technology to reduce the chances of rolling and Volvo has also increased the strength of the roof by using boron steel – which is up to five times stronger than regular steel. All this helped the Volvo XC90 receive a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Expert rating: 5/5

How much equipment do I get?

There are five equipment levels available, namely Active, SE, SE Lux, Executive and R-Design SE. Even the entry-level Active XC90 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, leather steering wheel with audio controls and gear lever, high performance stereo with USB and AUX input, cruise control, rear parking sensors, heated door mirrors, front fog lights and aluminium roof rails. SE adds folding door mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured trim, leather upholstery and auto wipers while SE Lux gets chronograph dials, brushed aluminium roof rails, bending Xenon lights, heated front seats and silver interior trim. Executive trim adds an enhanced stereo, 19-inch alloys, front skidplate, chrome door mirrors, leather seats with a massage function, sat-nav, integrated telephone, silver grille and wood trim. R-Design SE is sportier than the standard SE trim, with 19-inch alloys, lowered sports chassis, front and rear skid plates and sports interior trim.
Expert rating: 3/5

Why buy?

The Volvo XC90 performs very well on most fronts. It’s a very competent car, whether you intend to go off-road, simply ferry the family about or pitch your use somewhere between the two. However, while drivers will still enjoy an engaging drive, passenger comments regarding the comfort of this car were overwhelming. The seats are great and the ride is superb.
Expert rating: 4/5

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