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Road test: Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design. Image by Volvo.

Road test: Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design
Should you buy your Volvo XC90 in R-Design specification or not?


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Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: R-Design makes the XC90 look even more handsome and it comes with epic front seats...

Not so good: ...but it's pricey, and the ride and road noise suppression both suffer marginally as a result.

Key Facts

Model tested: Volvo XC90 Power Pulse D5 R-Design
Price: range from 46,850; D5 Power Pulse R-Design from 50,450; car as tested 58,100
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 149g/km (Band F, 145 VED annually, if registered before April 1, 2017; 200 first 12 months, 450 per annum next five years, then 140 per annum annually thereafter, if registered after April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 49.6mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Power: 235hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1,750- to 2,250rpm

Our view:

Given we've tested a number of Volvo XC90s and raved about them every time, there's no need for us to go into great detail here about what we think of the looks (sublime) or the interior (super-sublime) or the driving experience offered by the big seven-seat Swedish SUV; simply read our drive of the T8 Twin Engine hybrid, or the D5 Momentum for a full run-down on precisely why we think this is the best 4x4 that money can buy. Heck, we even had the one nobody really wants - the T6 petrol - earlier in the year and loved that thing, too.

This is simply a test of the R-Design specification, which seems to go against the Volvo's ultra-luxury ethos by sporting things up a tad. So you get a beefy body kit on the outside, plus a set of 20-inch diamond-cut alloys, silver door mirrors, tinted rear windows and a gloss black mesh front grille. Within, leather and nubuck R-branded sports seats, the 12.3-inch active TFT instrument cluster and a paddle shift-equipped, perforated leather steering wheel all complete the package. It's a hefty 3,600 price walk from the well-equipped Momentum entry-level model with the same engine, albeit it's 1,100 cheaper than an equivalent Inscription, so should you have it?

Tricky. Our test car continued our run of having never yet driven a passively sprung XC90, the D5 being equipped with the 2,150 Four Corner Electronic Air Suspension. In theory, then, it should ride exactly the same as the non-R-Design cars. It doesn't quite work like that, though. While we absolutely adore the way the XC90 looks in its sportier guise (red is a great colour for it, but if you're going for a 1,000 Premium Metallic finish, opt for Bursting Blue if you can, as it's marvellous), those fat, low profile 275/45 tyres seem to introduce just a bit more road noise and just a touch more air suspension fidget into the XC90's comportment on a cruise. It's a next-to-negligible impediment but it is noticeable, considering how serenely the Momentum and Inscription Volvos float down the road. Thus, for all its exterior punch and those utterly gorgeous, hyper-comfy front seats, we'd probably steer clear of R-Design spec for the time being; at least until Volvo does a proper performance model of the XC90, possibly with a Polestar badge on it...

The only other difference here is that, since our first drive of a 225hp/470Nm D5 at launch, Volvo has introduced the Power Pulse anti-turbo lag feature to its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Drive-E engine, which uses compressed air to spool up the 'charger in lower gears and concomitantly raises the peak outputs by 10hp and 10Nm respectively. It doesn't in the slightest alter the XC90's official economy, CO2 emissions, 0-62mph time or top speed, though, and in practice you don't notice any marked benefit to the 235hp/480Nm motor.

Which is to say, the engine remains magnificent - and so does the whole 4x4. Even with our slight niggles about the ride and tyre roar taken into account, the Volvo remains comfortably top of the class for this type of SUV. Our test car managed to cost less than 60,000, even with further options beyond the air suspension and paint, like the must-haves (Winter Pack with Head-Up Display, 200, although it's annoying the R-Design steering wheel can't be heated as part of this; Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins, 3,000; a reversing camera, 400; and Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert and Rear Collision Mitigation, 500) and the possibly-could-haves-but-they're-not-totally-essential (Apple CarPlay with two USB ports and one aux-in, 300; and a CD player, 100).

For 58,100, it felt absolutely epic. It did everything we could possibly ask of it, including a journey in which six people, a toddler in a car seat and a pram in the boot were all loaded on board - and an adult sat in row three in total comfort - solo trips up and down congested motorways, where its radar cruise and Pilot Assist eased away 162 miles in nearly four hours with a highly credible 37.5mpg return, and a total of 413 miles and nearly ten hours of mixed roads at 34.3mpg overall across the whole week. It still felt incredibly special, despite the fact the XC90's novelty factor has long since worn off. It still felt like it was easily the match or better of any other vehicle of similar type for refinement. And, more importantly, we still felt like we wanted to keep driving it, another 400 miles and more in a week if needs be - we simply didn't want it to be taken away.

So while we might not select the R-Design box if we ever get round to actually ordering a Volvo XC90, we certainly wouldn't blame you if you do decide to plump for the sporty variant. Because, like all second-gen XC90s, it is an utterly incredible, brilliant, wonderful machine and a bona fide automotive game-changer. You won't get any SUV finer than this big Swede.


Audi Q7 3.0 TDI 272 S line: rides well and steers cleanly, although the Q7 is not hugely involving and we think the XC90 is far nicer to look at, both outside (not so surprising) and within (big shock).

BMW X5 xDrive30d M Sport: getting on in age now, especially as the BMW's design is a gentle evolution of the original 1999 shape. There is no reason to pick the German over the XC90.

Lexus RX 450h F Sport: if you want to be different and steer clear of Europeans, this origami hybrid is the choice. No seven-seat option and it's a CVT auto, but it's a likeable machine nonetheless.

Matt Robinson - 29 Dec 2016    - Volvo road tests
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2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Image by Volvo.


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