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Chief Designer Peter Horbury calls the XC90’s appearance “not aggressive, but confident.” He says this SUV is expected to “help create the new look of Volvo today” and describes the XC90 as “masculine, but not macho; muscular, but not aggressive.”
The XC90’s chassis is based on the one used for Volvo’s S60 and S80 sedans and V70 wagon. The engines are also derived from Volvo’s passenger-car lineup but are reprofiled to gain maximum advantage in an SUV installation. Outputs reach as high as 268 horsepower for the bi-turbo inline-six-cylinder. A turbocharged five-cylinder engine delivers 208 hp.
Standard all-wheel drive (AWD) permits the vehicle to operate on a variety of terrains, but the XC90 is not intended for serious offroad driving. In normal use, nearly all the power goes to the front wheels. When they begin to slip, up to 65 percent of engine power will automatically be diverted proportionately to the rear wheels — a shift that takes place within one-seventh of a wheel turn.
Competing in the premium midsize SUV segment, the XC90 will rival the Acura MDX, BMW X5 3.0, Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz ML320. Dan Werbin, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Cars North America, said that while the XC90 serves as a complement to the company’s V70/XC (cross country) wagon, the two are very different vehicles.
Volvo claims that the XC90 will be the safest SUV on the market, with several industry firsts. It will feature such systems as Roll Stability Control, Dynamic Stability Traction Control and inflatable side curtain-type airbags. Night Vision might be offered later. To improve compatibility with other vehicles, a lower cross-member has been added to the front suspension subframe, which is positioned at the height of the beam in a regular car. In a collision, the XC90’s cross-member should strike the oncoming car’s protective structure, which will activate its crumple zone.Starting with a price tag of $33,350 (not including the destination charge), the XC90 will go on sale in the first quarter of 2003. Regular (base) and T6 editions will be offered. Volvo expects to sell 50,000 XC90s in its first year, with 65 percent of sales in North America. By 2005, Volvo hopes to be selling 200,000 cars per year in North America, and that goal should be easier to achieve with the XC90 in its lineup.
The XC90 handles more like a taut European sedan or wagon than a typical SUV, and it reacts masterfully on twisting roads; it functions with precise control. This SUV yields a smooth and solid ride, and the base suspension irons out a fair amount of pavement imperfections. The T6’s suspension is significantly stiffer than the base model’s — it tightens control but adds some body motion when rolling through curves and undulating surfaces. It also reacts more directly to bumps and transmits considerably more activity to its occupants.
The XC90’s acceleration is smooth and easy, but it’s not necessarily the vehicle’s strongest point. The base engine performs with reasonable vigor and should satisfy most owners, but enthusiasts may not be as satisfied. For them, the T6 may be more enticing because its twin-turbo six-cylinder is noticeably, though dramatically, stronger. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth and easy in both models, but the T6’s four-speed changes gears more crisply.
Because we’re talking about an SUV, expecting blistering pickup is unrealistic. Even on long upgrades, the base engine kept the XC90 moving steadily onward with only a hint of strain. Other than a light growl on acceleration, the XC90 is quiet — but one T6 exhibited some vibration at idle part of the time.Climbing aboard the XC90 demands a bit more of a step up than some other SUVs require, but this should not be a problem for most occupants. Excellent, easy-to-read gauges are fully calibrated. The seats are firm but not at all uncomfortable. The second-row seats have good legroom and foot space, but the center position is painful and the third row is basically fit for children. Grab handles in the windshield pillars won’t appeal to everyone. A thick B-pillar on the driver’s side impairs over-the-shoulder visibility.