Mildly updated Volvo XC90 touches down

The Volvo XC90 is an important product for the Swedish carmaker, not just because it is the current flagship SUV within the range, but because this model ushered in the brand’s independence, with all-new powertrains, a fresh aesthetic, new interior, a new platform and a totally new strategy for what has been considered a conservative brand for decades.

The latest Volvo products have certainly disrupted the respective segments in which they compete; we’ve even seen some major German brands respond to the likes of the XC90, XC60 and XC40 with tech-festooned SUVs of their own. Having debuted in 2015, the XC90 needed a mid-life update, which it has received. I travelled down to the Western Cape to sample the refreshed range recently.

Mild updates

The XC90 was incredibly fresh when it broke cover four years ago, one could argue that the design is certainly still current enough, warranting just a mild update to its exterior. Keen observers will note that the only changes made have been to the front grille, while there’s also the option of new alloy wheel designs and exterior colour options. Inside there have been some more significant updates made. There’s still the portrait-mounted Sensus infotainment system and digital instrument cluster which was massively impressive a few years back but has since been overtaken by the impressive systems from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in terms of resolution and functionality.

Volvo has added an enhanced telematics system which includes a concierge and SOS service activated by buttons located near the rear-view mirror. This allows interior occupants access to a call centre that can provide directions, information and during an emergency, arrange medical attention. The service comes free of charge for the first five years of the vehicle’s life. The other updates include the option of having six seats versus seven. This means that both the second and third-row have two individual seats, with a nifty partition in-between the second-row seats. For me, the six-seat configuration is far more comfortable and allows for improved comfort and better luggage room. Other updates include new interior material and trim options.

Still safe

Volvo is synonymous with safety and has pioneered many safety systems over the years, including being the first brand to introduce the three-point safety belt as standard in 1959 and the rear-facing child seat in 1964. The XC90 is considered one of the safest vehicles on sale in South Africa at the moment, with features such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, Lane Keeping Aid, Run-Off Road Mitigation/Protection, Driver Alert Control, Road Sign Information, Automatic braking after a collision, Roll-Over Protection System, dual-stage airbags, inflatable curtain, ‘WHIPS’ whiplash injury protection system and City Safety with Autobrake to name a few.

Unchanged powertrains

I’ll be the first to concede that a weak point within the XC90 and indeed, the Volvo line-up sits with its powertrains. All models are powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol or diesel engines. These fall behind the larger engines on offer from key rivals.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t the problem, it provides smooth and relatively quick shifts, however, when it comes to the engines, I find the efficiency provided during real-world driving to be the problem. It may come down to the fact that these smaller capacity engines need to work harder to provide similar performance to others in this segment. The entry-level diesel XC90 is the D5 Geartronic with 173 kW and 480 N.m of torque which, despite having claimed fuel consumption of 5.7 L/100km, can realistically achieve around 8.2 L/100km. The base model petrol is the 187 kW and 350 N.m turbocharged T5 while the T6 variant combines a supercharger and turbocharger to produce 235 kW and 400 N.m.

The flagship XC90 T8 features the same supercharged and turbocharged engine but with the addition of an electric motor for a combined output of 300 kW and 640 N.m. The optimistic fuel consumption claim of 2.1 L/100 km is practically impossible to achieve, however, if you approach the T8 as a sporty SUV rather than an eco-conscious hybrid you’ll realise that it makes far more sense.


The XC90 remains a product that is worth your consideration when shopping in the large luxury SUV segment. With good driving dynamics, great exterior styling, a high-quality interior and a massive emphasis on safety, the big Volvo remains a brilliant ambassador for the Swedish marque. Having sampled the derivatives at launch and previously during road test scenarios, I have to concede that the D5 is still my pick of the range; it is the more efficient and simply makes the most sense from daily drivability versus value for money perspective.

Service plan and warranty

All XC90 models come with a five-year / 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.


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