Good: space and comfort, fuel economy
Not so good: front-wheel drive chassis struggles at times
The appeal of the seven-seat Volvo XC90 is reflected in a healthy order bank and now the addition of a cheaper and lower emission front-wheel drive model is set to add to that. For many buyers of large SUVs, a capable all-wheel drive transmission in order to tackle off-road or muddy conditions isn't important. Most want the high driving position, interior space, on-road presence and the added sense of safety from driving what is in this case a substantially sized vehicle.
From a day-to-day urban commuting perspective, the 190hp D4 diesel engine, the entry point in the current Volvo XC90 line-up, is more than capable. It is mated to the same eight-speed automatic gearbox as the more powerful D5 and T8 Twin Engine models, which offers slick gear changes and keeps engine revs low for the majority of the time.
Based on my own experience (and contrary to the official figures) this D4 engine does consume a touch more fuel than the D5 engine even though it doesn't have an all-wheel drive transmission - often something that increases consumption. The fact that it has less power (190hp versus 225hp in the D5), means that it has to work that bit harder to pull the big XC90 around. On a more positive note it does emit less CO2 and therefore falls into Band B2 with an annual tax bill of €280 - not bad for such a large SUV.
Behind the steering wheel you get the same experience of a beautifully appointed cabin that offers vast room and what are easily the best seats on sale in any car today. They provide plenty of support and even after a long cross-country trip you should get out feeling like you've just driven down the road. Also worth a mention is the Volvo's seven-seat status. Unlike many that offer two additional pop-up seats in the third row the XC90's are full-size chairs capable of seating adults in comfort. Getting in and out from the back can be a little tricky for the less flexible, but good headroom makes up for it. You will sacrifice boot space with them up as this falls to 368 litres (from the usual 692 litres with them down).
In most conditions the front-wheel drive XC90 performs well, but it can scramble for grip under heavier acceleration at lower speeds. Pulling away from speed bumps, for example, will occasionally see the traction control light flicker briefly. Even on those huge 20-inch wheels the ride is supple and does an impressive job of insulating the cabin from some of the poorer surfaces out there. Sound insulation is equally impressive.
The higher grade 'Inscription' model tested here is the top specification level among the regular XC90s and the money saved by opting for the D4 engine does allow for room in the budget to move up to this. It features 20-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, chrome side mouldings and Nappa leather upholstery along with luxuries such as illuminated tread plates and sun curtains for the rear doors. Buyers also get the hugely impressive iPad-like nine-inch touch screen in the centre console for controlling all of the car's infotainment and settings as standard. At €69,450 it undercuts the entry level all-wheel drive model by €2,000. There's also that €110 per annum you'll save on motor tax.
If you are only going to find yourself commuting in regular traffic, sacrificing the more expensive all-wheel drive transmission won't detract from your overall XC90 experience. It remains an excellent car that is right up there with the very best of the large luxury SUVs on the market.