The diesel engine is very gruff but the XC90 feels nice enough to drive
Controls are easy to use but the design is looking dated
Good safety features including curtain airbags down the length of the cabin
Rated as 'excellent' in most recent JD Power customer survey
Big, practical boot but the rearmost seats are limited to children or small adults
You have to upgrade to at least SE trim for a decent kit list
The XC90 is offered with just one engine, a 2.4 diesel badged D5. It comes only as an automatic which can be hesitant at low revs. It's just about strong enough the rest of the time but it's noisy at every speed. At least road noise is well subdued, though there's too much wind noise from around the front of the car. The XC90 feels surprisingly agile for its size, though it's not as sharp as a BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, and the steering is a bit numb. The ride is generally smooth, however, as long as you avoid the bigger alloys. Normally the car operates as a two-wheel-drive, automatically switching to four-wheel-drive only if conditions demand it.
The cabin is starting to look a bit dated compared to newer rivals but it feels hardwearing and all the controls are logically positioned and simple to use. There's a wide range of adjustment for both the steering wheel and the driver's seat, which is very supportive. As for practicality, the XC90 rivals many MPVs: the three middle-row seats individually slide and easily fold flat, and although the centre seat is smaller than the outer pair, it is possible to fit certain models of child seat three-in-a-row here. It's a particularly good idea to seek the advice of a child seat fitting expert, however, as the outer rear seats' headrests can't be removed, which can impair the correct fitting of a tall child seat. Meanwhile the Isofix points - on the two outer rear seats, with top tether points - can be hard to locate as they are set a couple of inches back behind the seats' thick upholstery, so if you like using Isofix and need to swap your child seat between cars on a regular basis, you may want to invest in a seat with a separate base, and buy a second for the other car. A handy feature is the addition of separate child door- and window-lock buttons on the driver's door, so you can activate or deactivate these without having to leave your seat; however, it's not possible to activate them only on one side of the car, so adults sitting in the back with children will also be unable to open the rear doors themselves. The rearmost seats' limited legroom makes them the preserve of children or small adults. When they're not use they fold under the floor and leave a massive boot. Unusually for a seven-seat car, the boot is even a good size when all seven seats are in use.
All XC90s have dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a CD player with aux-in and USB sockets, but entry-level models miss out on Bluetooth and an electrically adjustable driver's seat, so it's worth upgrading to an SE model to get these. SE Lux trim brings electric seat adjustment for the front passenger, sat-nav and xenon headlights; R Design trim gives the car a sporty makeover, while Executive swaps this for additional luxury equipment.
Owners rated their XC90s 'excellent' for mechanical reliability in the last JD Power customer satisfaction survey. As for safety, airbag provision includes a curtain airbag along the length of the cabin and anti-whiplash front head restraints. However, the stability control electronics aren't as quick to react as those in newer rivals.
The XC90 is smart, spacious and very comfortable family transport. It also undercuts its key rivals on price and there are some big discounts are available from dealers; plus, you'll get back a good proportion of what you paid for the car when you come to sell it on. However, its thirsty (and noisy) engine averaged a paltry 35.1mpg in What Car?'s True MPG tests (though it's more than the official figure). High CO2 emissions mean it's costly to tax, too.