The Volvo XC90 is good. In fact it is so good that some reviewers have suggested it might be as good as a Range Rover.
Hmm. That’s an interesting proposition.
I tested this theory, not by driving around a loaned car for a few days, but by trading in my Range Rover Sport (Supercharged, Dynamic) for a new Volvo XC90 in R Design trim.
I’m a fan of Range Rovers. I have owned four of them over the years. The mix of occasion and practicality suits me.
My Range Rover Sport Supercharged was used for date nights, hauling the family, mountain biking, or towing my race car. It excelled at all these things. So why did I change?
First, I wasn’t driving it enough to justify the expense. I still needed a truck that could handle the utility of a busy life, but I don’t drive to work and we take Uber when go out for the night.
I saw the reviews of the Volvo and then I started to see the trucks in person. In R Design trim, I thought it looked fantastic and it seemed like so much truck for a third less money. In rapid fashion, the deal was done and I now owned a Volvo XC90.
So how does it stack up?
At first, I definitely miss the Range Rover’s sense of occasion and the power of the big supercharged V8. With more power and more brakes than you could reasonably ever need, it bathed you in excess. There is a gravitas to the Range Rover experience that the Volvo just can’t compete with.
But the more time I spent in the Volvo, the more I liked it. Volvo wins you over with little gestures that make life easier and more pleasant, not big gestures that work on the dealer lot.
The Range Rover has the more iconic shape, the Volvo feels tailored and fresh, if slightly X5 looking.
Everyone talks about how understated the Volvo is, but my experience suggests non-car folk judge the Volvo as equally expensive as the Range Rover.
The cabin experience is very different, even though both have dark black interiors. The Range Rover is more opulent. The leather is a higher quality and it wraps the dash. That’s not to say the Volvo isn’t excellent, it is. Offering the very best seats this side of a Porsche carbon buckets. They are really that good.
The dash in the Range Rover comes right up to the driver, leaving little knee room for some taller drivers. The Volvo is more car-like and not nearly as cramped. Both have TFT screens and a secondary infotainment screen.
Much has been said about the dismal Range Rover infotainment systems. My Range Rover Sport had the Meridian sound system and it was fantastic. But everything else about the infotainment system was straight up Commodore Vic 20 compared to the Volvo’s tablet. I could live with the Range Rover’s system, but my friend sold his over it.
The Volvo screen works very well. It’s big, and mostly intuitive to use. It responds quickly and is paired with actual buttons for things like home and volume. At no time is the Volvo screen hard to read. On sunny days the Range Rover’s screen is full of glare.
The second row of the Volvo seems to have at least as much space as the Range Rover (one inch or so narrower), but is configured for three passengers, with each seat able to move fore and aft independently. This works very well if you have a car or booster seat installed, with the exception of the abysmal middle seat release. It repeatedly gets tucked underneath the seat when it’s folded forward. Although this sounds trivial, it’s a PITA that gets old fast.
The third row is actually far better than you might think. It’s roomy enough for even medium sized people. The seats are offset too, so you aren’t starting at the back of heads. How long would I want to sit there? Not that long, but you don’t even have that choice in a Range Rover Sport.
I can’t get any hard data on crash protection for the third row. I’m guessing it’s likely “class leading”, but is it as safe as the second row? I’m not sure, so I only use mine for sub-highway speeds trips.
Both trucks have panoramic roofs. In winter months the added light is a blessing, in the summer the solar gain just gets annoying.
Cargo space in the Volvo is huge with the third row seats folded down and adequate with them up. We added a cargo gate to keep goods from pummeling passengers in an accident. It works well but keep it tight or it will rattle.
In R Design trim the Volvo is a little too dark for some tastes. The wood and perforated seats in the Momentum trim are a nice relief. But I gave them up for Alcantara seats and matte silver trim. Plus, with the R Design you also get a much better looking grille.
Both trucks are rolling on 20-inch wheels. The Range Rover has air suspension and the ride is quieter and more compliant as a result. My Volvo was not spec’d with the optional air suspension, so it cannot compete with the ride in the Range Rover. In direct comparison it’s less composed and a little boomier.
The steering in the Range Rover has more natural weight and I preferred its feel. Strangely the Volvo lacks any tactile connection to the road but feels accurate. I weighted mine up in the preferences and it’s convincing enough now.
The Volvo is more car-like in operation, too. I found I would late apex every turn in the Range Rover Sport. It’s like the front wheels are in a different time zone to those in the rear. You would drive past your mark and then turn. Odd, but you got used to it.
The Volvo has a new level of digital nannies that are too invasive for my liking. Turning off the more aggressive ones makes the truck a better experience. I do like the cameras, lane detection, and cross traffic warnings. Whereas the emergency braking feature is too panicky for my liking.
It’s a strange mix of nannies, too, as the car barely alerts you if you run the gas tank down, but keeps the parking brake engaged if you try to reverse out of your driveway without your seatbelt on.
I needed the truck to tow my lightweight racecar in an aluminium trailer. The Range Rover barely even noticed the trailer was out back. Mileage went from 15 litres per 100 km to 16.8. The Volvo was worse going from about 14 to around 20 litres per 100 km when towing. To be honest my real world mileage on the Volvo is just barely better than the Range Rover.
The Range Rover might have the grunt for towing, but the Volvo has the better rear camera. You can clearly see the hitch and it displays a single guide line showing the trajectory of that hitch. A simple thing but a nice thing.
Did Volvo create a Range Rover? No, they didn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. The Range Rover is an illogical purchase. It does the things you need, but you buy it for the things you don’t need. The Volvo, on the other hand, has been created to do the things you need with an efficiency and grace that makes you love it.
Plus, I was able to get a Jeep Wrangler and Volvo XC90 for the price of the Range Rover Sport.
2016 Volvo XC90 R Design
Base Price: $65,850
As Purchased: $68,800
Notable Options: Vision package, $1,800; Heads up display, $1,150
Drivetrain: 2.0-litre, supercharged and turbocharged four cylinder, 316 hp at 5,700 RPM, 295 lb-ft at 2,200 to 5,400 RPM, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Performance: 14L/100km real world average fuel consumption
VVUZZ Recommended: I sold my Range Rover Sport for this Volvo XC90 R-Design. So, yeah, it’s recommended.