The Freelander heads to Eastnor for a real test of its off-road ability
Volvo XC90 D5 R-DESIGN review (2010 onwards)
Model: Volvo XC90 D5 R-DESIGN (2010 onwards)
Engine: 2.4-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Date of test: November 2010
Gallery: Volvo XC90 D5 R-DESIGN
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What is it?
When Volvo launched its XC90 back in the dim and distant days of 2002, it sparked a small but significant step change in the luxury 4x4 sector. The car won rave reviews for the way it combined MPV versatility and a less formidable persona than the big SUV beasts it went up against. Soon, many of those flashier 4x4s were adding extra seats and more family-friendliness in attempts to hijack the XC90s success.
That, however, was 2002. Today, despite a long list of cosmetic and mechanical improvements having been made to the car over the years, what amounts to the same XC90 remains on sale.
We've seen virtually all of the Volvo's main rivals replaced with all-new versions over the same period so can it still put up a convincing claim for buyers' attentions? To find out, we're taking a look at the 2011 model-year XC90 with the popular D5 diesel engine under the hood.
Where does it fit?
As you'd imagine, the market for luxury SUVs has undergone many changes over the course of the XC90's elongated innings. Crucially for the big Volvo, one of the most significant shifts has been an upmarket one by many of the sector's big names.
The likes of BMW's X5, Audi's Q7 and the mighty Range Rover have grown posher and pricier to make room for other models slotting in below. As a result, the XC90 has been left behind a little, with prices for the five-cylinder diesel version opening at around £32,000.
The R-Design Premium version we tested came in at £37,080 but even at that price, the XC90 is more in line with the likes of Land Rover's Discovery and the Jeep Grand Cherokee than the top echelon of luxury 4x4s.
Is it for you?
The XC90's approach will be familiar to anyone with a stint of Volvo ownership on their motoring CV. The Swedes invariably build 'em sturdy, safe and practical so you have some preconceptions of what you're going to get before you get in.
Efforts have been made to spice up the image of the XC90 with the R-Design appendages fitted to our car, but it still maintains a lower profile than the X5s and Mercedes M-Classes of this world - both literally, thanks to its lower, sleeker shape, and metaphorically through its humbler image.
The Volvo also comes with good levels of equipment. Our model yielded, satellite navigation, a Bluetooth hands-free kit, leather trim, 19-inch wheels and lots of R-Design styling enhancements.
What does it do well?
Standing 1,784mm tall, the XC90 is a full 100mm lower than a Land Rover Discovery. With its steeply raked windscreen and long body, it looks more like a high-riding estate car than a large 4x4. Volvo markets the car as a 'crossover' too, another indication that its bias is more towards on-road driving than lumbering around in the mud.
It turns out that way on the road too. For a 4x4 vehicle of its size and weight, the XC90 handles reasonably well with a cushy ride and not too much pitch or roll when braking and cornering. It's never going to thrill its driver but the dynamics shouldn't attract many complaints from the target customers.
With permanent four-wheel-drive and clever electronics to share the power around, the XC90 should do more than most customers need it to off road. It doesn't have the ground clearance, low range gearbox or locking differentials that a Discovery uses to best the harshest terrain but if you wanted that kind of ability, you wouldn't be considering this Volvo.
What doesn't it do well?
The D5 diesel engine has been available in the XC90 since the beginning and it's starting to show its age in comparison to the more modern units employed by rivals (most of which have six-cylinders).
With 183hp and 236lb ft of torque, it has got some oomph about it but refinement is lacking. At least the considerable noise that rumbles forth when you put your foot in the corner has got a purposeful edge to it. There's also a slight lag to the power-delivery, which isn't helped by the XC90's automatic gearbox. Too often, you find yourself in limbo waiting for the engine's shove to kick in or the gearbox to kick down.
The standard of build inside the XC90 is pretty good. Though the cabin is noticeably less flashy than most luxury 4x4s, the quality plastics help produce a tough and reassuring feel. The control layout is less successful. Although the buttons are large, they're too many in number and it may take a while to get to grips with the various functions.
It could be a mark of the XC90's age that the dash was designed without a screen for a satellite navigation system or the necessary buttons to make it work. The screen that rises slab-like from the top of the dash when the sat-nav is engaged smacks of an afterthought. The controls located on the back of the steering wheel and a separate remote control handset, ditto.
What's it like to live with?
All XC90s have seven seats and unlike, some rivals, the third row isn't casually chucked in. Only kids will be comfortable in the two rearmost chairs but they're well integrated and there's still a usable amount of boot space behind when they're occupied.
We're told there are 64 different combinations to be explored by fiddling with the XC90s seven individual seats, which sounds like the kind of boast usually attached to an MPV. Sure enough, there's a definite people carrier ambience about the cabin and this continues to be the XC90's main strength.
The seating is easy to manoeuvre, there's a child booster cushion integrated into the middle seat in the second row and a wide range of storage options is also provided. With the two back seats dropped down into the boot floor, 615 litres of luggage capacity is available through the split tailgate and that's below the window line.
How green is it?
With its five-cylinders and 2.4-litre capacity, the D5 engine is one of the smallest you'll find in a 4x4 of the XC90s size. Despite apparently having a big job on, its fuel economy is actually quite competitive at 33mpg on the combined cycle in the automatic models. CO2 emissions of 224g/km are also good going for the sector.
Would we buy it?
It's been around for a while but overall, the Volvo XC90 remains a safe large 4x4 bet for people who need the versatility of seven seats. Despite drawbacks regarding the control layout, the cabin is adaptable and intelligently designed with loads of space. The exterior, meanwhile, projects a less imposing, lower key image than is the norm with this kind of vehicle. Many customers will appreciate that.
The D5 diesel engine is the best that the XC90 has to offer but it's off the pace in the modern large 4x4 market, kicking up a lot of noise and feeling sluggish in its responses. On the plus side, the ride quality is pretty good and long stints at the wheel are a relaxed experience.
In the end, the XC90 is a 4x4 with a particular set of strengths and if they tally with your lifestyle, Volvo's heavyweight remains a worthy purchase.
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