What to Look Out for When Buying a Used Volvo XC90


The Volvo XC90 was one of the models we can blame for the automotive world’s current love of all things SUV. The XC90 was Volvo’s first foray into the SUV format and it’s fair to say it was a huge success for the company pretty much from day one. Remarkably, even though the XC90 has been in production for two decades now the current model is still in only the second generation of this enduring mid-size crossover SUV’s lifecycle. Even so, there are a lot of used examples for sale these days so here’s what you need to know and look out for when buying a used Volvo XC90.

Volvo XC90 history

As I said, there have only been two generations of the XC90 and the second generation didn’t even arrive until 2015 as a 2016 model year. But although the midsize Volvo has only been completely redesigned once so far there have been quite a few facelifts over the years and some of them have been quite significant.

First-generation Volvo XC90 (2002-2014)

The first time the world was introduced to the XC90 was at the North American International Auto Show in 2002 and the company’s first SUV shared its platform with the first-generation S80 and other large Volvo cars.

In those early days, the XC90 was available in two versions which were the 2.5 T and the T6, with the 2.5 T being the entry-level model and the T6 was a more upscale model with a more powerful 2.9-liter engine. The 2.5 T came with a turbocharged inline-five gas engine that developed 208 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, while the T6’s engine was a 2.9-liter twin-turbo inline-six that put out 268 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque.

The 2.5 versions were standard front-wheel-drive with the option of AWD, but T6 versions of the XC90 were exclusively AWD. If you are looking for a very affordable used midsize crossover SUV and an early XC90 is on your radar I’d suggest you look for a T6 rather than a 2.5 T as you’ll certainly be getting more for your money and an early T6 won’t cost much more than a 2.5 T of a similar vintage.

If you’d like a first-generation XC90 that looks a little more contemporary you’ll need to start with the 2007 model year as that’s when the Volvo got its first significant facelift. At this point in the Volvo’s lifespan, the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine was also replaced by a 3.2-liter straight-six for the US market.

There are minor aesthetic differences after further updates in 2009, 2010 and 2012 but don’t worry about the 2009 and 2010 updates as they don’t have a significant effect on the way XC90s of that kind of age look to us today. Even the 2012 facelift was relatively modest so if you want an XC90 that looks noticeably more contemporary than a 2007 model you’re probably best looking to a second-generation XC90.

And if you want a used XC90 or any low-mileage, high-quality used vehicle for the best possible price then check out government auctions here.

Second-generation Volvo XC90 (2016-present)

The reason a second-generation XC90 didn’t go into production earlier than late 2014 was down to the fact Ford owned Volvo back then, and it wouldn’t have had enough money available to facelift the rest of the range if it also tried to put a second-gen XC90 into production in 2008.

Second-generation models were eventually built on a new platform called Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) technology in 2015 which boasted a stronger platform and reduced weight that also offered improved safety and efficiency.

The second-generation Volvo XC90 was also wider, longer and lower than the first generation, but the most radical departure from the original XC90 is the exclusive use of 2.0-liter four-cylinder Drive-E engines mated to eight-speed Geartronic transmissions.

These are radically different vehicles to the first-generation XC90 and they cost considerably more in the used market. If you want to know if it’s worth paying considerably more for a 2016 second-gen XC90 instead of a much more affordable 2015 first-generation model, then read on.

Why is the Volvo XC90 so popular?

Although the XC90 doesn’t sell in massive numbers, more than a third of all XC90 models sold around the world are sold in the United States. The reasons for the XC90’s enduring popularity probably boil down to reliability, quality and safety. In all three of those departments, the XC90 has scored as high or higher than anything else in its class from day one.

As long as the XC90 you’re looking to buy has a good service history you’ll struggle to find anything better as long as reliability, quality and safety are what you’re looking for in your next used vehicle purchase. If you’re looking for passion, thrills and desirability, however, you’ll probably need to look elsewhere I’m afraid.

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How popular is the Volvo XC90 in America?

America got the XC90 first back in 2002 and in 2003, which was the first full year of XC90 sales in the US, Volvo sold an impressive 35,791 units of the midsize crossover SUV. Sales stayed in the 30k plus units per year until they took a nosedive to 18,981 in 2008 and dropped even further in 2009 to just 10,757.

Volvo’s worst year for XC90 sales in the US was 2014 when just 3,952 units were sold, but that’s understandable as that’s when the transition to the new second-generation was underway.

US sales went back to 30k+ per year from 2016 and they’ve stayed consistent since then, but throughout its lifespan, a third or more of all XC90 sales have been accounted for by the US market.

Is the Volvo XC90 a luxury vehicle?

Volvo is most definitely a luxury brand these days and that means the XC90 is a luxury midsize crossover SUV, but it wasn’t always that way. In its early days, the XC90 wasn’t really in the same bracket as the likes of the Audi Q7 or the Range Rover Sport. The Audi and the RR Sport were quite obviously luxury models, but Volvo’s place in the market wasn’t anywhere near as clear cut.

Volvo has made a concerted effort to turn itself into a true luxury brand over the last decade or so, and I’d say it’s achieved its aim. I was skeptical at first because I’m old enough to remember when Volvo was seen as a quirky and uniquely Scandanavian brand that placed what seemed like 90 percent of its efforts in producing vehicles that were incredibly safe beyond all else.

Is a Volvo XC90 expensive to maintain?

The Volvo XC90 is no more expensive to maintain than any other vehicle in its class in terms of parts and labor, but you may find it less costly to maintain overall than many of its rivals because a well-maintained XC90 won’t go wrong as often. The XC90 isn’t infallible, but if you’re looking for a midsize crossover SUV that won’t let you down you won’t do much better than the Volvo.

Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, the second-generation XC90 is turning out to be less reliable than the first generation. Problems have been reported with the second-generation XC90’s drive system, suspension, brakes, bodywork, and electrics.

Is the XC90 a reliable car?

In general, the Volvo XC90 is pretty reliable, but there are other midsize SUVs around that are more reliable and others that are considerably less reliable. Like any used vehicle, the best way to give yourself the best chance of getting a reliable one is to go for one with a strong service history. Even the most reliable models in the world can be a pain in the *** if they are not maintained properly.

Of course, before you commit to buying any used car you need to know its history and you can do that by using a quality service like EpicVIN here.

How long will a Volvo XC90 last?

An XC90 that has been well maintained will easily be good for up to 250,000 miles or perhaps even more. If the model you’re interested in has more than 100,000 miles and its service record is patchy or non-existent you should probably look elsewhere, but higher miles shouldn’t put you off if the vehicle has a full service history.

How well does the Volvo XC90 hold its resale value?

According to caredge.com, an XC90 will depreciate by 55% after its first five years but a lot of vehicles experience that kind of depreciation after just three years. If depreciation is a big concern for you then a late model first-generation XC90 is probably your best bet.

How much should you pay for a used Volvo XC90?

You can get a relatively low mileage 2003 Volvo XC90 T6 from around $3,000, but you will probably have to pay $5,000 or more for a good one with the kind of history you need for a vehicle of that age.

A better bet would be something like a 2007 model year with around 150k miles which you should expect to pay around $7,000 for, but if you want a second-generation XC90 you’re not going to get a good one for less than $25,000.

Which Volvo XC90 model years to avoid?

There isn’t one particular XC90 model you should avoid as there hasn’t been one where there has been an unacceptable number of problems reported. The 2005 model year had some issues with transmission failure after around 100k miles, but that’s about as much as there is to say about ‘problematic’ years for the XC90.

Is the Volvo XC90 fuel efficient?

As the years have gone by the Volvo XC90 has become more and more fuel-efficient, but there certainly wasn’t as much focus on fuel economy in the early years as there is today. The early 2.5 T versions of the XC90 were only good for 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, with T6 versions being even worse at 16 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.

Contrast those numbers with today’s larger XC90 which can get you up to 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, while plug-in-hybrid versions can offer 62 MPGe combined.

How many seats are there in a Volvo XC90?

Ever since its introduction in 2002, the Volvo XC90 has been a three-row midsize crossover SUV with seating for up to seven people. Although the third-row seats are probably only suitable for children, the XC90s seating arrangement is extremely flexible with features such as an independently sliding second row.

Is the Volvo XC90 AWD?

There are front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the XC90 and it’s been that way since the model was introduced in 2002. However, as the years have gone by the number of front-drive models available has declined and the majority of used XC90s you’ll see for sale in the US will be AWD.

How safe is the Volvo XC90?

The Volvo XC90 is about as safe as a vehicle gets and it’s been getting top marks for overall safety ever since it was launched. Although it may not have achieved the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating it has always been a Top Safety Pick and always gets a full five stars from the NHTSA.

This is one case where I would suggest you ignore those ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS because they don’t give you a true idea of just how safe the XC90 is and has been over its lifetime, even though they are still high ratings.

What you might find interesting is that later second-generation models are less highly rated for overall safety than earlier first-generation models. Today’s XC90s are still incredibly safe vehicles, but the reason they don’t leave rivals behind in this area the way they once did is that other manufacturers have upped their game; not because the Volvo has let things slip.

Is the Volvo XC90 comfortable?

The Volvo XC90’s interior has always been extremely comfortable and quite stylish, and it also offers something a little different from the usual functional interiors of German rivals. The materials used in the cabin have always been high quality, but you might not appreciate how comfortable the XC90 is unless you sit and ride in one because the cabin doesn’t always look as lush as some rivals.

Once again, there’s an understated confidence about the XC90 that permeates every molecule of its DNA and that certainly applies to the interior. Instead of being gimmicky and stylish for the sake of it, the interior of the XC90 has always concentrated on delivering big on comfort, quality and durability. This is particularly important to know about when you’re thinking of buying a used vehicle that may be some years old.

Is the XC90 fast?

The XC90 has never been particularly fast and it doesn’t feel fast but that’s because the whole premise of the XC90 is one of effortless performance and utmost competence. The XC90 isn’t slow and it isn’t fast; consider it the Goldilocks of midsize SUVs because its performance is just right.

Is a used Volvo XC90 worth the money?

A used Volvo XC90 is definitely worth the money as long as you are looking for a sensible, practical, comfortable, reliable and extremely safe three-row midsize crossover SUV. If you are looking for a seven-seat vehicle to more than competently fill that family role then a used XC90 is a superb choice. There are cheaper alternatives out there but it’s worth paying a little bit extra to get a used Volvo XC90 because it’s worth it.

My view of a used Volvo XC90

The most impartial, level-headed view I can give you about buying a used Volvo XC90 is the one I’ve just given about whether it’s worth the money, which it is. However, on another level, I’m not the best person to give a truly impartial view of this particular vehicle.

It’s not because I’ve never needed seven seats because one of my all-time favorite vehicles was the Land Rover LR4. The reason I’m not a lover of the XC90 is that I look for something entirely different in a vehicle.

I once read that when you have a motorbike and you don’t turn around and look at it as you’re walking away and think “wow,” then you’ve probably bought the wrong motorbike. I feel the same way about cars, trucks and SUVs.

For me, the XC90 has always been one of the dullest, least inspiring and least desirable vehicles on the market. I appreciate that it’s sensational at what it does and I will continually bang on about how it’s the best choice in its class for what it does without a shadow of a doubt. I also don’t have a problem with Volvo as a brand because I love some of its recent sedans and I think the XC40 is gorgeous.

If you’re looking for a sensible choice then you can’t go wrong with buying a used Volvo XC90, but I’ve never been much for sensible. I want to look at my car and go “wow” every time I look at it and I’ve never been able to say that about the XC90. The latest ones are getting closer but I’d still prefer an Audi Q7 and I’d definitely prefer a new Range Rover Sport. I’d even choose a BMW X5 over the XC90 and I’ve never liked the way they look either.

But I will keep stressing that if you’re looking for a seven-seat SUV that you can rely on for sensible family duties you can’t go too far wrong with a used Volvo XC90.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and an automotive writer and journalist for the last 8 years

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