Volvo XC90 Snow and Winter Driving (Solved & Explained)

The Volvo XC90 is a luxury midsize SUV, known for its perfect blend of sophisticated style, comfort, and advanced technology features.

If you’re eyeing one as your next purchase, understanding its capabilities in snow and winter driving is crucial.

In this article, we will thoroughly explore the winter driving performance of the XC90.

Here is the short answer to whether the Volvo XC90 is good for snow and winter driving:

The Volvo XC90 excels in winter conditions with its strong all-wheel-drive system, stability control, and varied drive modes. It boasts a wide selection of cutting-edge safety features and offers an impressive ground clearance.

Is the Volvo XC90 Good in the Snow?

The Volvo XC90 stands out as a capable performer in snowy and winter conditions. Its excellent ground clearance of 9.2 inches helps prevent the vehicle from becoming stuck and improves overall maneuverability in snow.

It has a sophisticated Haldex AWD system that effectively balances power between the wheels, enhancing grip and stability on icy or snow-covered roads.

The Volvo XC90 is renowned for its safety in snow due to its robust steel body construction, comprehensive Intellisafe ADAS suite including semi-autonomous driving and collision mitigation, and adaptive LED lighting enhancing visibility in adverse conditions.

For added comfort in cold weather, the XC90 offers heated seats and a sophisticated climate control system, ensuring a cozy and warm driving experience. These features are particularly beneficial during long winter drives.

It also has various driving modes, including an Off-road mode which enhances traction in challenging conditions like steep hills and poor surfaces. This mode increases ground clearance, offers light steering, improves all-wheel drive, and includes hill descent control for controlled speed using just the accelerator, making the XC90 adept in snow.

Safety is a hallmark of Volvo, and the XC90 has scored top-tier safety scores, earning a five-star rating from the NHTSA and the prestigious Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. These ratings reflect its excellence in various crashworthiness tests and vehicle-on-vehicle crash mitigation.

What Do Owners Say?

Volvo XC90 owners report strong performance in snow and ice, with effective braking, good traction in deep snow and slush, and reliable hill descent in off-road mode, though ground clearance can be a limitation in deeper snow drifts.

“Was in an almost empty B&Q car park yesterday which was covered in a mix of compacted and fresh snow. Braked hard from 20 mph and the car stopped quickly in a perfectly straight line” –

“I found my XC90 (T8) has done pretty well up here in the snow to be honest. I have the standard tires, so have taken it easy round the bends and on the brake pedal (I use the ‘B’ setting on the auto box for engine braking), but alway found traction in deep snow and slush. Off road mode is good for slip hill descent too.” –

“Went up into the hills to take the kids sledding yesterday. All in all the car behaved very well, although we did come to a halt in a snow drift where offroad mode didn’t even give enough ground clearance.” –

Related: 21 Best & Worst Volvo XC90 Years (With Pictures & Stats)

What Features Improve Winter Driving?

Haldex All-Wheel-Drive System

The Volvo XC90, equipped with an advanced all-wheel-drive system, known as the Haldex Instant Traction AWD. significantly bolsters its winter driving capabilities. This feature, standard on many XC90 model years, plays a crucial role in its strong performance in snowy conditions.

  • Adaptive Power Distribution: Volvo XC90’s Haldex AWD system dynamically alternates power between front and rear axles. It primarily uses front-wheel drive for fuel efficiency, switching to rear-wheel drive as necessary for traction.
  • Enhanced Traction and Stability: Optimizes grip in conditions like snow or ice, improving vehicle stability and control, and reducing skid risks.
  • Improved Cornering: The system adjusts power during turns for responsive handling, enhancing the driving experience on curvy roads.
  • Seamless Operation: Transitions power between axles smoothly, providing a comfortable ride without noticeable changes to the driver.
  • Efficiency: Designed for front-wheel drive efficiency under normal driving, reducing the typical fuel economy loss of AWD systems.
  • Off-road Capability: Offers increased capability for light off-road and rough terrain driving, adding to the XC90’s versatility despite not being a primary off-road vehicle.

Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC)

Volvo’s electronic stability control system is typically referred to as the Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC). DSTC is a key safety feature in Volvo vehicles, designed to enhance driving stability and traction under various road conditions.

The DSTC system works by:

  • Detecting Skidding: It monitors the vehicle’s motion and compares it to the driver’s inputs through the steering, brake, and accelerator. If it detects that the car is starting to skid or lose traction, the system intervenes to help stabilize the vehicle.
  • Applying Brakes Independently: The system can apply brakes to individual wheels to help correct oversteer or understeer, and bring the vehicle back in line with the driver’s intended direction.
  • Reducing Engine Power: In addition to braking, DSTC can also reduce engine power temporarily to help regain traction and control, particularly useful in slippery conditions.

Heated Comfort Features

The Volvo XC90 features heated front seats and a heated steering wheel as available options, enhancing comfort during cold weather and providing a warm, enjoyable driving experience.

Automatic Climate Control

The XC90 comes with automatic climate control, allowing the driver and passengers to maintain a comfortable and warm cabin environment, essential during winter months.

Volvo Drive Mode Settings

The XC90 includes customizable drive modes, allowing drivers to adjust the vehicle’s characteristics to suit different scenarios, including winter conditions. These settings help to optimize the vehicle’s response, improving control and stability on snowy roads.

These are some of the common modes drivers can select:

  • Comfort Mode: This mode is designed for everyday driving, offering a balance between performance and fuel efficiency. It prioritizes a smoother ride and easier handling.
  • Eco Mode: Focused on maximizing fuel efficiency, Eco Mode adjusts the engine’s performance and other systems like the air conditioning to reduce fuel consumption.
  • Dynamic Mode: Also known as Sport Mode in some models, this setting sharpens the vehicle’s performance for a more engaging driving experience. It adjusts the engine response, transmission, and sometimes the steering and suspension systems for sportier handling.
  • Off-Road Mode: This mode adjusts various vehicle settings for better traction and stability on rough or slippery surfaces, such as gravel, snow, or mud. It’s typically intended for low-speed driving in challenging conditions.
  • Individual Mode: This allows drivers to customize various settings to their preference, combining elements from different modes. For example, one could combine the engine settings from Dynamic Mode with the steering response from Comfort Mode.

Safety Systems

Below is a list of relevant safety features of the XC90:

  • City Safety Collision Avoidance Technology: This system helps to prevent or mitigate collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals, both during the day and at night.
  • Lane Keeping Aid: This feature assists in preventing the vehicle from unintentionally drifting out of its lane, alerting the driver and gently steering back into the lane if necessary.
  • Road Sign Information: This system recognizes and displays various road signs such as speed limits, no passing zones, and other traffic-related signs on the driver’s display.
  • Run-off Road Protection: This system helps protect occupants in the event the vehicle unintentionally leaves the road, by tightening the front safety belts and, in some cases, deploying the energy-absorbing seats to reduce vertical forces on the occupants.
  • Oncoming Lane Mitigation: This feature helps to reduce the impact of a head-on collision by steering the car back into its own lane if an oncoming vehicle is detected.
  • Driver Alert Control: This monitors the driver’s behavior and steering inputs to detect signs of distraction or fatigue, providing a warning if it senses the driver may be becoming too tired to drive safely.
  • Automatic Emergency Braking: In critical situations, this system can apply the brakes automatically to prevent or mitigate a collision.
  • Rear Collision Warning with Braking: This system can detect if a rear-end collision is imminent and tighten seat belts in advance to protect the occupants. It can also activate the brakes to prevent secondary impacts.
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert: BLIS alerts the driver to vehicles in the blind spot, while Cross Traffic Alert warns of cross-traffic when reversing.
  • Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS): In the event of a rear-end collision, WHIPS cradles the spine and neck to reduce the risk of whiplash injuries.

LED Headlights with Active High Beam

LED headlights with active high beam in the XC90 provide excellent illumination in winter, enhancing visibility during darker, shorter days and adverse weather conditions.

Heated Windshield and Side Mirrors

Heated windshield and side mirrors on the XC90 ensure clear visibility by preventing frost and ice buildup, crucial for safe driving in winter weather.

Volvo On Call with Remote Start

The Volvo On Call app, available with the XC90, includes remote start functionality, allowing drivers to warm up the car before getting in, a convenient feature during cold winter mornings.

These features collectively make the Volvo XC90 a reliable and safe choice for tackling winter driving conditions.

Related: 6 Most Common Volvo XC90 Problems (Explained)

Does The Volvo XC90 Have a Snow Mode?

The Volvo XC90 does not come with a dedicated “Snow Mode.” However, it features drive modes, including the ‘Comfort’ and ‘Off-Road’ settings (available in some versions), which adjust the car’s response to enhance traction and stability. 

While ‘Comfort’ mode ensures smoother handling, ‘Off-Road’ mode is particularly useful in lower-speed, challenging conditions, optimizing the car’s systems for better grip. 

It’s recommended to pair these functionalities with winter tires for maximum safety and performance in snowy environments.

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on The Volvo XC90?

The Volvo XC90 can be equipped with various performance upgrades.

  • Snow Tires: Recommended for optimal grip and control in snowy conditions.
  • Studded Tires: Provide additional traction on ice, but usage may be regulated in certain regions.
  • Snow Socks: Lightweight and easily installable for a temporary traction boost on tires.
  • Snow Chains: Offer extra grip in deep snow or icy conditions, with usage guided by the vehicle’s manual and local regulations.
  • Winter Wiper Blades: Specially designed to prevent snow and ice buildup, ensuring clear visibility.
  • Roof Racks and Cargo Boxes: Expand storage capacity for winter sports gear or additional luggage.
  • Block Heater: Keeps the engine warm, aiding in easier starts in extremely cold temperatures.

Important Considerations: Always consult the Volvo XC90 owner’s manual for guidance on compatibility with any additional snow gear. Local regulations regarding the use of studded tires and snow chains should be adhered to for safe and legal driving.

How Much Snow Can an XC90 Handle?

The Volvo XC90, with its impressive ground clearance of approximately 9.2 inches, is capable of confidently handling moderate snow. With a curb weight plus two passengers at 8.3 inches, it is best not to attempt driving through snow much deeper than 6-7 inches.

This estimation allows for a buffer to prevent the car’s undercarriage from scraping against the snow, which is important for avoiding potential damage to the vehicle.

However, in situations involving deep snow or severe winter weather, it’s wise to exercise caution. In such extreme scenarios, considering the use of additional snow gear or alternative transportation methods may be prudent.

When navigating through deeper snow, the XC90 may encounter challenges such as diminished traction, an increased chance of getting stuck, and difficulties in maintaining control, especially in substantial snowfall conditions.

How Do XC90 Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

The Volvo XC90 excels in cold weather performance, equipped with engines like the turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder units, which are engineered for efficient operation in low temperatures. 

These engines benefit from advanced cold-start mechanisms and optimal lubrication systems that ensure reliable performance even in the harshest winter conditions.

In regions with severe winter temperatures, the use of an engine block heater is advised for the XC90. This addition aids in easier engine starts in the cold, minimizes wear on the engine during startup, and enhances fuel efficiency in cold weather.

Maintaining the Volvo XC90 with regular service checks and using manufacturer-recommended fluids is essential, particularly in winter. This ensures that all components are functioning optimally, providing a dependable and efficient driving experience during the colder months.

Can a Volvo XC90 Drive on Ice?

The Volvo XC90, equipped with Haldex all-wheel drive (AWD), is capable of handling icy conditions, but caution is always advised. The AWD system enhances traction by dynamically adjusting power distribution between wheels, crucial for stability on ice. 

However, for optimal safety and control, fitting the XC90 with winter or studded tires designed for ice is recommended. 

These tires, combined with the vehicle’s advanced traction control systems, improve grip and handling. Drivers should maintain controlled speeds and allow for longer stopping distances on icy surfaces to navigate safely.

Does the XC90 Have 4WD?

The Volvo XC90 is equipped with an advanced all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, primarily using the Haldex technology, rather than a traditional four-wheel drive (4WD) setup. 

This AWD system provides improved traction by dynamically distributing power between the front and rear wheels as needed, enhancing the vehicle’s handling and stability, especially in challenging conditions like snow or slippery roads. 

It differs from conventional 4WD systems, which typically distribute power equally to all four wheels and often require manual engagement.

Related: 6 Most Common Volvo XC90 Problems (Explained)

Do Volvo XC90s Need Snow Tires?

The effectiveness of a vehicle in snow and ice heavily depends on its tires. The Volvo XC90 manages adequately with standard all-season tires, but for the best safety and handling in winter conditions, switching to specialized snow or winter tires is recommended.

Choosing established brands such as Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, or Pirelli is advisable, as they offer superior traction on snowy and icy surfaces. It’s important to select tires specifically made for winter, featuring a design and rubber composition suited for colder climates. This provides enhanced control and grip, ensuring safer handling during snowy and icy weather.

Can You Mount a Snow Plow on an XC90?

Attaching a snow plow to a Volvo XC90 is not advisable. The design and structure of this vehicle are not suitable for the rigors of heavy-duty snow plowing.

Further, equipping an XC90 with a snow plow can adversely affect the vehicle’s warranty, its overall performance, and key safety features. This can lead to undue strain on parts that are not built to handle such tasks.

Therefore, it is recommended to consider other options, such as hiring professional snow removal services or using vehicles specifically designed for snow plowing, for your snow removal requirements.



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...