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First Drive

First Drive: Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90 B5 R-Design
The story: Volvo has added mild hybrid technology to its D4 and D5 engines in another move towards electrifying its engine line-up, as part of a subtle mid-life revision to its largest model.
Category:Large SUV
Key rival:Audi Q7
Efficiency:37.7 mpg
On sale:Now

Volvo is on a rapid course of electrification of its range, and as well as battery electric and plug-in hybrid models, that also means adding mild-hybrid technology to its line-up, a process that has started as part of the mid-life update to the range-topping XC90 SUV.

The XC90 gets very minor styling changes to the front grille, lower bumper and air intakes, as well as a black exterior trim for the R-Design model that is the most popular specification in the range.

That’s it in terms of revisions you can see, but under the skin, there is an updated automatic gearbox that offers sharper response and helps improve fuel economy. However, the biggest contributor to a claimed real-world 15% efficiency improvement is the addition of 48v mild hybrid technology. This system, which is also coming to the smaller XC60 in B4 and B5 form, doesn’t power the car alone, but uses energy recouped under deceleration to power the audio, lights and other auxiliary systems, as well as providing a small extra boost to the engine under acceleration. This also brings an improvement in NOx emissions.

Replacing the previous D5 diesel engine, the new powertrain is expected to account for around two-thirds of XC90 sales, and the official figures improve by 4g/km and 7.4mpg.

First Drive-7th October 2019-Volvo XC90- Image 1The driving experience is almost entirely unaltered by the new powertrain, although the updated automatic transmission feels a slightly slicker offering. The hybrid system certainly doesn’t make itself known, adding small efficiency improvements without being sensed any way, which is a good thing.

Otherwise, the XC90 remains its impressive self, with a classy interior dominated by a large 9.0-inch vertical infotainment screen, comfortable seats and a high-quality cabin with space for seven as standard.

However, diesel prices have risen by £625 with the addition of the new mild hybrid system, while petrol models without the tech – it comes next year on the T5 and T6 engines – are up by £150.

The XC90’s plug-in hybrid T8 model also gets a boost in the model update, with a new battery increasing the official range figure from 22 to 29 miles.

Paul Barker

The verdict

The excellent XC90 is now slightly better in efficiency terms on the diesel engine thanks to tech that doesn’t impact upon the driving experience, and residual value improvements mean a lower overall running cost figure.