2021 Volvo XC90

2021 Volvo XC90 Test Drive Review: Enduring Luxury

by Roger Biermann

As the first model of a new era for the Swedish manufacturer, the Volvo XC90 signaled big things. Not only was it the brand's first vehicle to be built on the Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA), but it was also the first to invest wholesale in the brand's Drive-E engine lineup. Now, five years on from the second-generation midsize SUV's arrival in the USA, the 2021 Volvo XC90 still serves as a halo model for the brand, competing against the likes of the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, and Audi Q7. Seating up to seven occupants across three rows, the XC90 is a spacious, luxurious crossover that prioritizes safety and luxury over sportiness. Three available powertrains range from an FWD T5, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger with 250 horsepower on tap, to a hybrid, all-wheel-drive T8 derivative with a twin-charged engine and electric motor generating a combined 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. With Volvo's future firmly embedded in electrification, the Swedes asked us to review a Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design for a week to see if the combustion model still holds up against the newer competition.

Read in this review:

New 2021 Volvo XC90 Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 XC90?

Every model across the Volvo lineup has received fresh tech for the new model year, with full-LED active headlights, a speed-limiting "Care Key", and two rear USB outlets now made standard on all. Car-to-car communication has been integrated under the "Connected Safety" moniker to share safety alerts including a Slippery Road Alert and Hazard Light Alert. Also new for 2021, a 112-mph top speed limiter has been introduced on all Volvo models. The XC90 further benefits from the inclusion of wireless charging, front park assist, and new wheel designs in a 19-inch size. The last change to the lineup affects the hybrid T8 variant, with Volvo renaming all hybrid derivatives as 'Recharge' models in the US.

Pros and Cons

  • Exceptionally spacious, well laid out cabin
  • Drivetrain refinement has improved over the years
  • Optional air suspension is incredibly supple
  • Best sound system in the business
  • Standard safety tech is top-class
  • Stylish design, inside and out
  • Engines lack the refinement of rivals
  • Disconnected road feel
  • Cramped third-row seats
  • Laggy infotainment system

2021 Volvo XC90 Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
T5 Momentum
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$49,000
T5 R-Design
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$55,600
T6 Momentum
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$56,950
T6 R-Design
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$62,650
T6 Inscription
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
$63,250

XC90 Exterior

As one of the larger midsize SUVs, the XC90 casts an intimidating figure with minimalist Scandinavian designs penned by now-Polestar CEO, Thomas Ingenlath. Each of the three individual specifications, Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription, receives bespoke design elements, but some traits are carried across all models, such as full-LED headlights with the signature 'Thor's Hammer' daytime running lights, dual integrated tailpipes, and LED taillights. Roof rails are equipped to all with varying finishes: 'bright' on Momentum and Inscription derivatives, and black on the R-Design. The blacked-out aspect is continued on the R-Design's bespoke grille. The Momentum rides on 19-inch alloy wheels, while upper specs are equipped with 20-inch items in varying designs.

2021 Volvo XC90 Front View Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Front Angle View Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Rear Angle View Volvo
See All 2021 Volvo XC90 Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Volvo's SPA platform may be usable in vehicles of various sizes, but in the XC90, it boasts the largest dimensions of all. The 195-inch body is stretched over a wheelbase measuring 117.5 inches. The XC90 measures 84.3 inches in width, including the mirrors, and 79.1 inches with the wings folded in. It stands 69.9 inches tall. Despite a clear focus on being a so-called softroader, the XC90 boasts up to 8.8 inches of ground clearance with approach/breakover/departure angles of 21.0/21.3/23.3 degrees. Curb weights vary based on specification, seating capacity, and powertrain, ranging from 4,387 pounds in the lightest FWD T5 iteration to 5,145 lbs in the Recharge eAWD Inscription.

  • Length 194.9 in
  • Wheelbase 117.5 in
  • Height 69.9 in
  • Max Width 79.1 in
  • Front Width 65.7 in
  • Rear Width 65.8 in

Exterior Colors

Minimalistic Swedish design doesn't lend itself to ostentatious colors, which is why Volvo equips the new Volvo XC90 with a demure color palette predominantly made up of blues and grays. Ice White is the only no-cost hue, followed by six metallic options at $645 apiece. These include Thunder Grey, Denim Blue, Onyx Black, Savile Grey, Bright Silver, and Crystal White. The Inscription gains access to an extra batch of hues, adding Pebble Grey, Birch Light, and Pine Grey to the mix. The 2021 model year has, however, seen the loss of previous favorites, Osmium Grey, and the particularly striking R-Design exclusive, Bursting Blue.

  • Ice White
  • Savile Grey Metallic
  • Crystal White Metallic
  • Bright Silver Metallic
  • Onyx Black Metallic
  • Denim Blue Metallic
  • Thunder Grey Metallic
  • Pine Grey Metallic
  • Birch Light Metallic
  • Pebble Grey Metallic

XC90 Performance

The XC90 lineup ranges in potency from subtle to spicy, but even the 400-horsepower hybrid derivative never quite delivers the sense of occasion its performance figures might suggest. With electric all-wheel-drive and up to 472 lb-ft of twist, 0 to 60 mph takes a claimed 5.3 seconds, but lacks the visceral soundtrack one might find in an AMG-powered Mercedes or even a BMW inline-six. The twin-charged T6 is paired exclusively with AWD, plating up a 6.1-second sprint time, while the turbocharged T5 powertrain will manage a 7.5-second effort, regardless of whether it's equipped with the front- or all-wheel drivetrain. As for top speed, while German manufacturers like to start you off hot and offer even higher limits with performance tires, the Swedes have a slightly different tack. While 2020 models could reach 140 mph, for the new model year, every Volvo is capped at 112 mph for the sake of safety. What hasn't changed, however, is the towing capacity of the XC90, which is claimed at 4,000 lbs on the T5 FWD and 5,000 lbs on all others.

2021 Volvo XC90 Rear View Driving Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Gauge Cluster Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Wheel Volvo

Engine and Transmission

Three powertrains comprise the Drive-E engine lineup featured in the XC90, with the T5 badge denoting a turbocharged four-pot offering up 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The T6 denomination takes the same engine and adds a supercharger, upping outputs to 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. At the pinnacle of the lineup, the T8 powertrain, rebadged for the new year as the Recharge, adds an electric motor to the T6 for a combined 400 hp and 472 lb-ft. Regardless of powertrain choice, an eight-speed automatic gearbox doles out power to the relevant axle.

Our tester came equipped with the twin-charged T6 motor, which provides more than ample get-up-and-go in all scenarios but isn't the most refined powertrain. In the years since the XC90 first arrived, Volvo has evolved the engine technology to the point that it's now quieter and smoother than it ever was, but it can still sound harsh and agricultural under high engine loads, unlike, for example, BMW's range of turbocharged four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines, which are nothing but buttery smooth all the time. The eight-speed auto has been refined, too, but lacks the quickness of competitors. Drive it with deliberate, smooth inputs, however, and it'll return smooth shifts and keep the power plant in an appropriate power band.

  • Engines
    2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

How comfortable your XC90 is will largely depend on whether you tick the box for the four-corner air suspension at $1,800 on R-Design and Inscription trims. With it, the ride is nothing short of sublime - a magic carpet of an SUV that simply soaks up pockmarked roadways as if they weren't even there, even with the larger 20-inch alloy wheels. Without it, the SUV rides pliantly, but it never quite feels as luxurious as it could, despite novel suspension technologies like a composite leaf spring rear end that makes the XC90 unique amongst its peers.

Regardless of your chosen suspension setup, however, the XC90 never pretends to be sporty, despite the Sport mode available on the drive selector, but rather delivers a lounge-like journey that's relaxing. Road noise, like most road abrasions, is an almost foreign concept, but then again, so is steering feel. The wheel feels good in hand and the front end responds well to inputs, but there's never much communication. One never feels completely isolated from the road, but there's a sense of disconnection as if driving a simulator rather than a buttoned-down mechanical being.

It'll handle perfectly well when asked, and down stretches of dirt, you'll never question its ability. You can even select an off-road driving mode that raises the air suspension and adapts the throttle programming for tough terrain. But, those looking for a sense of involvement would do better to shop over in the German aisle of the SUV supermarket.

XC90 Gas Mileage

The core philosophy behind the shift to a series of four-cylinder engines with varying types of forced induction and hybridization was simple - improve gas mileage and reduce carbon emissions. But has it worked? The most efficient T5-equipped XC90s will deliver 21/30/25 miles per gallon city/highway/combined, according to the EPA, while adding AWD sees the figures drop to 20/28/23 mpg. The twin-charged, AWD T6 only takes a minor hit at the pumps with figures of 19/28/22 mpg, while the plug-in hybrid will achieve 27 mpg combined and boasts an 18-mile electric range. For the sake of comparison, rivals from BMW and Mercedes fare several mpg worse than the Volvo's best gas-only figures, but similarly-powered models are about on par. As for real-world figures, we were within a close enough margin to the EPA figures after a week-long test drive.

18.8 gallons of premium fuel is all that can be stowed in the XC90 (18.5 on hybrid models), resulting in up to 470 miles between fill-ups, or closer to 500 on the plug-in.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    18.8 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 21/30 mpg
* 2021 Volvo XC90 T5 Momentum FWD 7 Passenger

XC90 Interior

It's difficult to find fault with a Volvo interior, particularly that of the XC90. Available as either a 6-seater or 7-seater with three rows, there's ample space for all but those at the back, and comfort is prioritized ahead of all else. Plush leather upholstery, warm color choices, and simplicity of design that feels relaxing and uncluttered are all hallmarks of the XC90's cabin, centered around digital instrumentation and a portrait-oriented infotainment screen that houses almost all interior functionality. Standard four-zone climate control, rear sun blinds, a panoramic sunroof, and heated power-adjustable seats ensure that even at the base level, the XC90 is supremely comfortable, although the R-Design chairs on the eponymous trim are somewhat of a snug fit for those with a larger frame.

2021 Volvo XC90 Dashboard Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Infotainment System Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Steering Wheel Details Volvo
See All 2021 Volvo XC90 Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The cabin of the XC90 can be arranged in two ways. The 6-seat Volvo XC90 (non-R-Design and T6 engines only) has second-row captain's chairs while the seven-seater has three individual seats in the second row that can all be independently folded, reclined, or slide to maximize rear-seat space. There isn't much for those right at the back though, and even Volvo admits that five-foot-five is the limit for third-row occupants. Fortunately, those in the front two rows are generously accommodated with 40.9 and 37 inches of legroom fore and aft and upwards of 38.5 inches of headroom. The seats themselves boast a broad array of adjustability for the driver and front passenger and three-position memory for both. Lumbar support and adjustable thigh support add an extra layer of comfort. The R-Design gets seats with sportier bolstering, but these can be tight for broader inhabitants.

  • Seating capacity
    7-seater
  • Front Leg Room 40.9 in
  • Front Head Room 38.9 in
  • Rear Leg Room 37.0 in
  • Rear Head Room 38.5 in

Interior Colors and Materials

Volvo has changed up the way it classifies its interiors, now calling these spaces 'rooms' with preset color and trim combinations. At a base level, leatherette upholstery is available in Blond or Charcoal with Iron Ore inlays, while Linear Walnut trim is paired with leather in the same colors as a $1,400 option. The latter is standard from the T6-equipped Momentum, with Maroon Brown leather in a Charcoal interior added as a color option. The R-Design retains the base color palette but swaps out regular leather for premium Nappa. The seats can alternatively be upholstered in Charcoal Nubuck (microsuede) and Nappa leather with metal mesh inlays. Those in search of utmost luxury will want the broad selection of six color choices from the Inscription, which avails perforated Nappa leather in Blond, Charcoal, Amber, Maroon Brown, or Slate, or alternatively offers Midnight Zinc tailored wool blend upholstery, although only the former two are available on the six-seater. The Recharge, meanwhile, equips an Orrefors crystal gearshift lever.

XC90 SUV Trunk and Cargo Space

With three rows of seating, the cargo bay of the XC90 is highly configurable. Behind the final row, 12.6 cubic feet are available. The rearmost seats drop flat into the floor, however, revealing 35.6 cubic feet of storage. Drop both rear rows of seating and 65.5 cubic feet is available, but shift the front seats as far forward as they can go, and you're in for up to 85.7 cubes, provided you're short enough to accomplish such a feat. The trunk itself is accessed through a power tailgate with hands-free functionality, and the bay has a number of clever storage solutions like grocery hooks.

Throughout the cabin, a number of small storage areas, including door pockets, a large, two-tier glovebox, and a relatively small compartment under the center armrest. Ahead of this, a storage tray doubles up as dual cupholders. The third-row occupants even get two small storage bins beneath the outboard armrests.

2021 Volvo XC90 Third Row Seats Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Rear Passenger Seats Volvo
2021 Volvo XC90 Trunk Space with Seat Folded Volvo

XC90 Infotainment and Features

Features

The Volvo XC90 SUV will never be accused of lacking features, shipping with keyless entry, a panoramic sunroof, hands-free tailgate, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless device charging, four-zone climate control, heated front seats with multi-way power adjustment, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, and a rearview camera, all found on the Momentum. There's a fully comprehensive suite of driver aids, too, with adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous suite, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision mitigation, and front and rear park assist. Upper trims may add to the luxury in many ways, but they don't add numerous extra features, with only the likes of ventilated seats, additional seat adjustment, and rear sunshades added to the deal. Options include heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, a 360-degree camera, massaging front seats, and automatic parking assist.

Infotainment

While we may have once hailed Volvo's Sensus Connect infotainment suite as one of the best in the industry, the times have caught up to the now-six-year-old system. It may have received processor updates in the last couple of years, but our tester was slow at start-up and regularly lagged when trying to make full use of Android Auto. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, but on a portrait-orientation screen, they display in a very small window which is less than ideal. The screen itself responds to smartphone-style swipes and pinches but lacks the intuition of BMW's latest iDrive system or Mercedes' MBUX system. Functionality is still strong, however, with navigation, HD and Sirius Satellite Radio, voice recognition, and a standard ten-speaker sound system. R-Design and Inscription variants get a 14-speaker Harman Kardon setup, but the must-have option in every XC90 is the sublime 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins setup with the Gothenburg Concert Hall experience. Few automotive sound systems are as good.

2021 XC90 Problems and Reliability

Volvo has a historical penchant for building vehicles that are built tough, and the relatively low number of recalls for the XC90 supports this. 2021 models have not been recalled, but 2020 models were recalled for a potential automatic emergency braking failure. Standard warranty coverage includes a bumper-to-bumper plan for four years/50,000 miles and a powertrain warranty of the same. 24/7 roadside assistance is also standard with every XC90 purchase. Plug-in variants have hybrid battery cover for eight years/100,000 miles to enhance the reliability rating of the Volvo XC90.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    12 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    4 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Maintenance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles

XC90 Safety

There isn't a car safer than a Volvo - or at least that's what the marketing department would have you believe. While in recent years, numerous manufacturers have taken top honors, ratings still place Volvo near the top every time. The NHTSA reviews of the Volvo XC90 scores it a full five stars overall, while the IIHS awarded it the coveted Top Safety Pick + title for 2020.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

Volvo doesn't hold back when it comes to safety tech. Not only are the Volvo-invented three-point safety belts standard fare, along with ABS, EBD, stability control, and traction control, but you also get seven airbags including a driver knee bag and side curtain airbags. Numerous assists are equipped as standard, including adaptive cruise control, front and rear park sensors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a parking camera, hill start assist, run-off-road mitigation, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and a semi-autonomous driving suite dubbed Pilot Assist. Furthermore, for 2021, all Volvo products have a limited top speed of just 112 mph to reduce the risk of high-speed accidents.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Volvo XC90 a good car?

In the five years since the second-generation XC90 debuted, rivals from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have all had substantial overhauls. But despite now being one of the older entrants in the luxury midsize SUV segment, the XC90 doesn't miss a beat. The laggy infotainment system may be one downside, but in every other facet, Volvo has kept the crossover up to date with the latest advanced safety and convenience features. Where others try to strike the duality of comfort and performance, Volvo eschews any concept of sportiness. Instead, the XC90 is best enjoyed with the air suspension, lavish Bowers & Wilkins sound system, and cruise control enabled as you go about your business. An X5 may be more emotive, a Mercedes GLE might be more opulent, but the XC90 remains a classy proposition among German titans that can't be ignored.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Volvo XC90?

With a plethora of powertrains, seating configurations, and specification levels, the Volvo XC90 covers a broad price range. At a base level, the T5-equipped Momentum carries a base price of $49,000, increasing to $55,600 for the T5 R-Design. Both can be upgraded to AWD for a fee of $2,500. The cost of a Volvo XC90 T6 Momentum is pegged at $56,950 for the seven-seater and $57,450 on the six-seater while the MSRP of the T6 R-Design is $62,650. The T6 Inscription asks $63,250 for the seven-seater and an extra $500 for the six-seater. The plug-in hybrid Recharge can be had in three trims, the Recharge Expression starting at $63,450, the R-Design for $69,150, and the Inscription at $69,750. The six-seater adds $500. Pricing excludes Volvo's destination charge of $995 and hybrid prices do not include incentives or possible tax rebates.

2021 Volvo XC90 Models

Volvo clusters the XC90 models under a strange packaging system that combines powertrain and specification denominations separately. T5, T6, and Recharge denote engines, the latter being a plug-in hybrid, while equipment and style are indicated by either Momentum, R-Design, Inscription, or as a base trim on the Recharge, Expression.

The Momentum is the base model, equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full-LED headlights, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless device charging, onboard navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, a panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control, power-adjustable seats, auto-dimming mirrors, and a full complement of safety and driver assistance measures. On the Recharge, the Expressions trim is similarly equipped.

A step up to the R-Design brings sportier styling, 20-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out exterior elements, heated sports seats, passenger seat memory, lumbar adjustment, and a Harman Kardon sound system with 14 speakers.

The Inscription ups the standard spec but focuses on luxury with comfort seats, power-adjustable side bolsters, ventilated Nappa leather seats, and wood trim inlays. Like the Momentum, both six- and seven-seat options are available.

See All 2021 Volvo XC90 Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Despite being absolutely jam-packed with features, a few key packages exist to sweeten the deal further. A Climate Package adds a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and heated windscreen washers for $750, while the $2,400 Advanced Package includes a head-up display, 360-degree camera, and ambient interior lighting, diminishing in price to $1,700 and $1,500 on the upper trims due to certain features being included already. On the Momentum, a Harman Kardon 14-speaker sound system is an $800 standalone option. Both the R-Design and Inscription can be upgraded with a 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system at $3,200, the Park Assist Pilot for $200, or four-corner air suspension for $1,800. Exclusive to the Inscription is the $,1700 Lounge Package, adding a massaging function for the front seats and a Nubuck headlining.

🚗What Volvo XC90 Model Should I Buy?

Due to the size of the XC90, we'd immediately recommend steering clear of the less powerful T5 engine and instead opt for the T6. This gives you an impressive amount of power, but without the exorbitant cost of the plug-in hybrid Recharge. From there, it's all about what equipment you want. The Momentum is already well equipped if you're looking for something special on somewhat of a budget, but the Volvo XC90's charm is in its luxury. For that reason, we'd suggest springing for the seven-seat T6 Inscription. We'd spec the Denim Blue premium paint, the Amber leather upholstery, and both the Advanced and Lounge packages. The air suspension is a must-have for the best possible ride quality, and the Bowers & Wilkins sound system simply can't be recommended enough. All in, it's an MSRP of $72,095 excluding destination.

Check out other Volvo XC90 Styles

2021 Volvo XC90 Comparisons

Audi Q7 Audi
Volvo XC60 CarBuzz
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Volvo XC90250 hp21/30 mpg$49,000
Audi Q7 248 hpTBC$54,800
Volvo XC60 250 hp22/29 mpg$40,150

2021 Volvo XC90 vs Audi Q7

The Audi Q7 is perhaps the most similar to the XC90 of the three German luxury SUVs, with three-row seating and a greater focus on luxury instead of handling dynamics. While both share the similarity of a turbocharged four-cylinder as a base engine with around 250 horsepower, the Audi has standard all-wheel-drive compared to the Volvo's default FWD setup. The Audi also offers a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 with 335 hp, making it more potent than the XC90's 316-hp T6 powertrain. Both are similarly well-equipped up the grades, with the Audi having the better infotainment suite, but Volvo boasting the best available sound system. Both feature lavish interiors, and both have similar cargo volume in the grand scheme of things. The Volvo comes out on top for third-row head and legroom, however, while the Audi can tow more at 7,700 lbs. The Q7 is marginally more expensive than the XC90 across the range, but the Volvo doesn't feel old enough to justify the extra price for the German. We'd stick with the Volvo, unless we needed to tow.

See Audi Q7 Review

2021 Volvo XC90 vs Volvo XC60

If the massive dimensions and three-row seating of the XC90 are simply too much for you, the XC60 gives you an almost identical experience with two fewer seats and smaller, more wieldy dimensions. Based on the same SPA platform and with the same powertrains available, the XC60 is quicker and more agile, thanks to less weight and size to carry around. It also starts just shy of $8,000 cheaper than the XC90. But in sharing so much, the XC60 also inherits the XC90's faults. That means the infotainment is still laggy and now outgunned by rivals, although the optional sound system from Bowers & Wilkins is still sublime. With the same available safety and convenience equipment, and even the same air suspension system available, the XC60 is every bit as luxurious as the XC90, but with a smaller cash outlay. For us, the XC60 simply makes sense, and if you don't need six or seven seats, it will for you too.

See Volvo XC60 Review

Volvo XC90 Popular Comparisons

See All 37 Comparisons
34
Photos
$49,000 - $63,750
Price Range (MSRP)
Volvo XC90