2021 Volvo XC90

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
November 4, 2020

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Take a T6 with the light interior trim and the upgraded Bowers & Wilkins audio system—and the six-seat configuration with wool seats, if it’s not a school-pool wagon.

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Low-key luxury lies in the 2021 Volvo XC90’s serene cockpit, in its strong acceleration, and in its gray-wool confines.

What kind of car is the 2021 Volvo XC90? What does it compare to?

The 2021 XC90 is a six- or seven-seat luxury crossover SUV. It’s often compared with vehicles like the Audi Q7, BMW X7, and Acura MDX—but it takes a different path to its luxury credentials. 

The 2021 Volvo XC90 puts bluff and rugged luxury SUVs on notice: there’s another way, it proves, with small engines and discreet style.

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Is the 2021 Volvo XC90 a good car?

It’s very good, especially in T6 trim, where its price and performance hit a good balance. We give it a TCC Rating of 7.7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What’s new for the 2021 Volvo XC90?

All models now come with blind-spot steering assist, which directs the car away from approaching obstacles, and standard LED headlights. Wireless smartphone charging and front parking sensors are newly standard for 2021, too.

The XC90 remains one of our favorite luxury SUVs, thanks in part to its rationally attractive style. From its spare LED headlight signature to its relatively unadorned body, the XC90 doesn’t need to shout its luxury credentials with lots of chrome and bling. Inside it’s a master class in understated elegance, with high-end models draped in ribbons of whitewashed wood and neutral leather. It’s so good, the iPad-style screen in the center of the dash reads like a piece of statement jewelry.

Volvo sells a base T5 version of the XC90, with a 250-horsepower turbo-4 and front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optional) and an 8-speed automatic, but most drivers will pick the turbo-4 with supercharging and all-wheel drive in the T6. That car’s blessed with a calm demeanor from its available air suspension to its light steering that’s the polar opposite of Germany’s brawniest SUVs. A plug-in hybrid, badged the T8 but being rebranded as the XC90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid,caps the T6 drivetrain with 18 miles of electric driving, but that seems too little, too late when Volvo promises an all-electric XC90 soon.

The XC90 has six or seven seats with a generally high degree of comfort, though the back two rows aren’t as good at it as the sumptuous front buckets. We like them best in wool, though real or synthetic leather are more common. The XC90’s still a cargo champion, too, with as much interior space as the biggest three-row crossovers from its rivals.

It also scores top ratings in crash-tests, and comes with automatic emergency braking, though the XC90’s driver-assist setup isn’t as smooth as those from BMW or Mercedes.

How much does the 2021 Volvo XC90 cost?

The base $50,640 XC90 in T5 Momentum trim has synthetic leather upholstery, a power tailgate, and Volvo’s 9.0-inch touchscreen interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. At the top end, more than $70,000 buys a plug-in hybrid in R-Design trim, before options.

Where is the Volvo XC90 made?

In Sweden, though it is due to be assembled in South Carolina soon.


2021 Volvo XC90


Crisp and clean, the Volvo XC90 dares to do more with less.

Is the Volvo XC90 a good-looking car?

Without a doubt. It’s been on the road for more than five model years, but the XC90 still has starch in its uniform. It’s conservatively styled, for sure, but in the most sophisticated way possible. It’s an 8 here.

Refreshed last year with minor updates to the front and rear ends, the XC90 still wears its body panels like a classic suit. The light signature’s still in style, the creases all still tasteful, the proportions still just right. The thoughtful design that emerged in the 2016 model year has a lot of mileage left in it, we think—a fitting successor to the old Volvo 240DL wagon of decades ago.

The cool interior design leaves brash in the trash, and puts glitz in the recycling bin. It’s laid out in a serene way, with a band of wood trim that makes way for a portrait-style display mid-dash. Composed in airy glass and enlivened with light tones and open-pore wood trim, the pricey XC90 trims have a spare, pretty look that’s yet to be replicated by any other make.

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2021 Volvo XC90


The XC90 makes peace with turbocharging.

A turbo-4 engine forms the core of the XC90’s performance profile—and while that may give some luxury-car buyers and V-8 aficionados heartburn, it does well by the big Volvo crosso-wagon. The XC90’s quick on its feet, helped by available supercharging and plug-in hybrid add-ons, and it’s tuned for a responsive but comforting ride. It’s a 7 for performance.

How fast is the Volvo XC90?

It’s mid-pack in base spec, powerful in all other versions.

Base XC90s sport a “T5” 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 with front-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission. The XC90 weighs about 4,500 pounds, so this version is the slowest of the bunch, and rare, too. Our pick is the “T6” drivetrain, which adds a supercharger for an extra 66 hp, and a total of 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. 

Is the Volvo XC90 4WD?

All-wheel drive comes standard on this version, and with its engine noises muted well behind lots of sound deadening, the T6 delivers mostly seamless acceleration and shifts.

A “T8” model promises a bit more than it can deliver. It takes the T6 power module and all-wheel drive, and adds on an electric motor and an 11.6-kwh battery to provide 18 miles of all-electric driving when fully charged. Volvo quotes 400 hp and a 0-60 mph time of under six seconds; we consider something above 40 miles the useful range of plug-in hybrids and this one pulls up short.

The XC90 doesn’t disappoint in other performance dimensions. It keeps its ride well-controlled, given its tall-wagon body, and the steering has very light effort but delivers precise responses. This isn’t an X5 or Cayenne rival; those SUVs aim for strong off-road ability as well as scorching performance in top models. The Volvo’s game is comfort, delivered with each mile by an available air suspension, and a soothing, well-damped ride to match its well-damped mechanicals. 

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2021 Volvo XC90

Comfort & Quality

The XC90 has excellent comfort and elegant trim.

Volvo wraps a beautiful cabin around as many as seven seats inside the XC90. Base versions can seem a bit stark, but elegant wood trim and wool seats on expensive versions strike a new path for luxury. We give it a 9 here, with points for front seats, general seating capacity, fit and finish, and cargo space.

The clean design of the XC90 continues in its cabin, where drivers can choose between black synthetic leather and dark trim, all the way through driftwood-white panels and buff leather and a shift lever capped in Orrefors crystal. In its priciest versions the XC90 is stunning and glitz-free, a very rare combination.

Its front seats feel thin but offer all-day driving support. They’re upholstered in synthetic leather or in real hides—or in a show-stopping gray wool—with available heating and cooling and adjustment from lumbar to leg extenders. 

The second-row seats have a little less support, but plenty of room for three adults to sit across the bench; two captain’s chairs can be fitted instead. The third-row seat is fairly easy to access with fold-away levers, and a smaller adult can fit in it for cross-town trips.

The XC90 has up to 85.7 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, 41.8 cubic feet behind the second row, and 15.8 cubic feet behind the third row. It’s enormous—and enormously useful.

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2021 Volvo XC90


The XC90 reaffirms Volvo’s reputation for safety.

Volvo installs most of its latest safety hardware in the XC90, and makes the cutting-edge features available widely. It also performs beautifully in crash tests. 

Is the Volvo XC90 a safe car?

We give it a 9 here, holding back just one point for rearward vision that’s reduced by its headrests and its roof pillars.

The XC90 earns a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS, and five stars overall from the NHTSA. All models come with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, parking sensors, and new this year, LED headlights and steering assist for those blind-spot monitors.

Volvo offers a Pilot Assist driver-assist system that can steer, accelerate, and brake for the driver during brief hands-off pauses. The system has some tendency to wander at freeway speeds, but some drivers find it useful and worth the optional cost.

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2021 Volvo XC90


The XC90’s luxury add-ons warm up its cool interior.

Volvo fits every XC90 with generous standard equipment, and offers plenty of options. We like its infotainment system too, and this year free maintenance couples with a strong warranty to earn extra points. It’s a 9 for features.

Which Volvo XC90 should I buy?

We’re on board with any of them, including the $50,640 XC90 T5 Momentum with front-wheel drive. It comes with a power tailgate, synthetic leather upholstery, and Volvo’s 9.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Wireless smartphone charging and front parking sensors are newly standard for 2021, too.

Volvo bundles other features inside by trim lines. R-Design cars get black trim and distinct wheels, while Inscriptions get perforated leather upholstery and open-pore wood trim. Other options include heated and cooled front seats, fabulous wool upholstery, and six-passenger seating—as well as an excellent Bowers & Wilkins audio system. 

How much is a fully loaded XC90?

That would be the $70,145 XC90 R-Design Recharge plug-in hybrid. Like all other XC90s, it comes with 4 years or 50,000 miles of warranty coverage, and now includes the first three maintenance visits for free.

A word on the Volvo infotainment interface, dubbed Sensus. Its portrait-style screen uses infrared input, not touch input per se. It can be difficult to navigate on the fly, and smartphone systems get scaled down to fit on its screen. It also buries some functions such as cabin temperature inside its menus. 

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2021 Volvo XC90

Fuel Economy

Plug-ins fare better, but the XC90’s fuel economy is middling.

Is the Volvo XC90 good on gas?

Turbo-4 engines and plug-in hybrid technology earn reasonable fuel economy in the XC90, but it’s not a magnitude leap higher than other three-row SUVs. Based on the more common all-wheel-drive models, we give it a 4 here.

The XC90 T5 with front-wheel drive earns EPA ratings of 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined. With all-wheel drive, the ratings fall to 20/28/23 mpg. With supercharging, the T6 drivetrain drops to 19/28/22 mpg.

Recharge plug-in XC90s gain 18 miles of all-electric driving. It’s low, but contributes to an MPGe rating of 55 mpg combined; the combined rating without battery range checks in at 27 mpg.

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MSRP based on T5 FWD Momentum 7P
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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 9
Fuel Economy 4
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