Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription (2015) Review

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This is the Volvo XC90, arguably the finest model to come from the Swedes to date. We review the XC90 D5 Inscription.

Much noise has been made about the Volvo XC90 and its release onto the market. Most of the fuss has admittedly come from the unique headlights. The design, called Thor’s Hammer, has got people crazed and seems perfectly timed with the expansion of the Marvel cinematic universe. So, Volvo has attracted enviable amounts of attention to its all-new model, but is the XC90 actually any good? We spent a week with the likely top seller, the D5 diesel model.

All-new Volvo

The XC90 marks a new era in the Swedish brand’s history. There is no more parts sharing with Ford, Land Rover or Jaguar. This is a complete in-house job, with even the engine designed and engineered by Volvo. The company has big plans too, as over the next three years it plans to revamp or introduce new models at such a rate that the XC90 will quickly become the oldest model in the Volvo lineup.

That’s big talk, but much of the powertrain work has already been completed and we've sampled it in the Volvo S60 and XC60. The XC90 and its future siblings will be powered by 2,0-Litre four-cylinder motors throughout the range. Multiple forms of boost complement the engines with either supercharging, turbocharging, electric charge or all of them combined in the case of the top-of-the-range T8.

Can the engine cope?

The old adage ‘there’s no replacement for displacement’ has no leg to stand on here. The 2,0-Litre turbodiesel of the D5 looks small under the bonnet, but still boasts claimed outputs of 165 kW and 470 Nm. To put that into perspective, that’s a diesel motor that pumps out more power and torque than a Volkswagen Golf GTI and uses less fuel. The XC90 has a combined consumption figure of 5.8L/100km but to be honest you’re most likely to see a figure in the 7s or 8L/100km range. That’s still excellent for a two-tonne SUV.

As for driving it, the diesel tugs along smoothly. There’s very little turbo lag or roughness from this oil burner. It pulls cleanly most of the way to the top of the rev range, but the eight-speed automatic gearbox will always keep it neatly in the torque band where it accelerates best. The XC90 D5 has one of the smoothest and most refined diesel engines we've experienced to date.

The inside story

It seems the designers at Volvo spent much of their time designing an interior that was both stylish and functional to the modern day gadget user. The touchscreen up front is shaped like a big smartphone and works with swipe functionality. In fact, most of the regular control functionality has been moved to the screen too, with things like climate control and the vehicle safety systems all accessed through the screen. It’s a very simple and intuitive system to use.

Complete with seven comfortable seats, the XC90 is a spacious and lavish place to be driven around in. Nappa leather is standard, but the comfort level can be increased from gentle hug to Swedish full-body massage via the option list. There are also option packs on offer that increase the safety and tech levels. Those sorts of things include heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, rear parking camera, a quality sound system from Bowers and Wilkins and heated front seats.

Space is where the Volvo really hits the spot though. Even with all seven seats in use, there’s still a reasonable boot (314-Litres). In five-seat mode the cargo area is 692-Litres big and with all the seats folded perfectly flat it measures nearly 2000-Litres. It’s huge and easily capable of swallowing mountain bikes and golf clubs.

Out and about

Volvo wants you to put huge 22-inch wheels on your XC90 with low profile tyres so it looks like a sporty SUV for the city. These do compromise the ride quality and are under constant threat of being ruined by a well-disguised pothole. The best choice are the 19-inch wheels with bigger tyres which offer more sidewall cushioning and improve the ride. These offer the best balance between ride quality and offroad ability. Volvo offers buyers the option of selecting these 19-inch wheels at no cost.

The XC90 has all-wheel drive and an off-road mode should you need it. It’s quite competent as well. The off-road mode dulls the throttle so you don’t wheelspin in slippery situations. It is also able to distribute power to whichever wheels have traction, like most systems on the market. On the tarmac the XC90 is serene and relaxing to drive, there’s just a hint of body roll that helps maintain the high comfort levels of the ride. It does disappoint a little over harsh bumps or rough surface changes where the odd thump can feel damaging.


The Volvo XC90 sets new standards for diesel engines and interior quality in this category. The interior alone is reason enough to choose the XC90 over its rivals. The price has been set competitively too, even once you start to factor in options. The Swedes have really done a good job on this premium SUV, making sure all aspects such as drive, comfort, practicality and innovation are all of a high standard. The XC90 has already made a mark overseas with great sales so let’s see if it can emulate that success here.


The XC90 starts at R804 000 for the lesser powered diesel. Our D5 Inscription model hits the mark at R893 900. Right at the top of the range (although not available until early 2016) is the T8 Twin Engine that breaks the R1 000 000 mark.

You can compare the XC90 with its competitors here 

Want to buy a new Volvo XC90? Click here for more information.

Team Opinion

The Volvo XC90 is superb to drive and the engine in this D5 is excellent. The interior is classy and luxurious with loads of space for just about anything you'd need to transport. The XC90 is well worth consideration if you are looking for a large luxury SUV. - Gero Lilleike

The XC90 is not the sort of car I should be excited about. I'm 29, I have no kids, and I only ever venture into the countryside for wine tasting. And yet, it is a car I would happily drive everyday. It is a bit difficult to park but the diesels more than make up for it with incredible fuel consumption. It is incredibly comfortable and the touchscreen infotainment system is as good as everyone says it is. It also just looks damn good. There is a certain reassuring feeling the car imbues in the driver; perhaps it is the all-wheel drive, perhaps it is the myriad of safety features that Volvo has included as standard. Whatever it is, for this comfort, tech, luxury and road presence, this car is worth every cent. -Ciro De Siena

We Like: Design, interior, practicality, engine, infotainment system

We Don’t Like: The ride can be a little firm, but we're really nitpicking.

Also Consider: BMW X5, Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE

Volkvo XC90 D5 Inscription