2016 Winner
AWD SUV $65k-$125k

Volvo XC90 Inscription D5

A vehicle can literally come from nowhere and take out top honours in Australia’s Best Cars. This time around, the Volvo XC90 was that dark horse.


In the previous awards, the XC90 was ranked 13 in the field but in the latest testing it bolted to the top of the pack with an all-new model – one that had been many years coming.

Quick specifications
  • Engine2
  • Transmission8A
  • Indicative drive away$104,163
  • Fuel economy6.2
  • Fuel typeDiesel
  • ANCAP5 star

When Volvo released the first XC90 in 2003, it basically pioneered the luxury seven-seat SUV market. Now the well-heeled are spoiled for choice with offerings from Mercedes, BMW and Range Rover to name a few. This time around there were 20 contenders in this category which also included models from Lexus, Porsche, Nissan, Mazda and Ford. The XC90’s new look brings it in line with other Volvo models but it’s in the cabin where it really shines. Judges praised its beautiful interior design, class-leading ergonomics and seating comfort, with the Volvo XC90 sprinting ahead when it came to the Design and Function section of the scoring.

Nice touches are the rimless mirror, the cover over the centre storage area that is not a cheap plastic – other car makers, please take note – the tiny diamond-shaped impressions on the toggle switches, and the crystal-like appearance of the gear lever. Unlike many seven-seat SUVs, where the third-row seats are more of an afterthought, Volvo has focussed on making sure every occupant enjoys the XC90 experience. First is the theatre-style seating, where the first row is the lowest, the next is slightly higher and the next higher again. This provides better vision for all occupants and also helps reduce motion sickness. Volvo has also designed the sound system so all passengers have the same sound experience regardless of seating position. The sub-woofer is located in the roof so the sound is distributed evenly throughout the cabin.

Given the Swedish manufacturer’s focus on safety, the XC90 did very well here, scoring a 10 (class-leading with the Mercedes-Benz ML 350) for keeping occupants protected. The XC90 debuts not one but two world-first safety features: City Safety with Intersection Collision Mitigation, which can stop you turning into the path of an oncoming car at an intersection, and Run Off Road Protection, which prepares the car if, despite all the other technology, you do leave the road. The Inscription model also has cross-traffic alert and rear-collision warning, and the curtain airbag protection covers all three rows. Not surprisingly, given the Volvo’s interior design, the XC90 was rated equal top of the category with the Range Rover Sport for build and finish quality, a criterion considered critical for this type of car given its luxury price-tag. Buyers in this class expect a reasonable level of drivability, including some off-road prowess. XC90 was never going to topple the Range Rover Sport in this regard – nor could any other contender – but in the end XC90’s design and function was irresistible.