Volvo has been well known for decades as a manufacturer of safe, solid sedans and wagons. Now, the Swedish company is joining the sport utility vehicle fray for 2003. The new XC90 makes a “bold statement, definitely,” said Hans-Olov Olsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, during the SUV’s introduction at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car-based XC90 promises the ride, handling, safety and emissions attributes of a passenger automobile.
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.
Compact in exterior dimensions, “the XC90 is no Big Foot on the road,” says Hans Wikman, the vehicle’s project director. At 188.9 inches long, the XC90’s overall length is 3.4 inches greater than that of the V70 wagon. In addition to the 112.6-inch wheelbase, the wide 64.3-inch front and 63.9-inch rear track dimensions help to enhance stability. Ground clearance is 8.6 inches.
Styling features include tall taillamps; a dark, upright, eggcrate grille; an accentuated V-shaped hood; and a “cockpit-forward” profile. The 70/30-split tailgate flaunts a rather sporty angle, according to Volvo, in contrast to the company’s traditional wagons. The lower section can be used as a platform or seat. A dealer-installed Styling Kit that includes running boards, color-keyed side decor, 18-inch wheels, a rear skid plate, roof ribs and mudflaps will be available.
Seating either five or seven occupants, the XC90 has a 40/20/40-split, second-row bench seat. With the seven-passenger configuration, a child booster seat installed in the second row may be slid forward to the front so that the youngster is positioned virtually between the front seats. Two separate seats make up the available third row. All seats except the driver’s seat may be folded down to create a flat floor.
Volvo promises “Scandinavian simplicity” for the instrument panel. The gauges and controls are angled slightly up toward the driver’s eyes. Options include a DVD rear-seat entertainment system with a 7-inch roof-mounted display screen, as well as a Road and Traffic Information navigation system with a screen that pops up from the dashboard. Volvo also claims to be the first to offer a Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system, which comes with 305 watts, up to 13 speakers and separate audio programming available in the rear seat.
Under the Hood
A light-pressure turbocharged five-cylinder engine in the regular model will deliver 208 hp. Volvo’s bi-turbo inline-six-cylinder engine will produce 268 hp in the T6 edition. The base model is equipped with a five-speed-automatic transmission, and the T6 comes with a four-speed-automatic gearbox. AWD is standard on the T6, but the base model is offered with front-wheel drive or AWD.
New safety technologies in the XC90 come into play regarding two specific areas of protection: in rollovers and in its compatibility with passenger automobiles due to an SUV’s higher stance and ground clearance. The Roll Stability Control System employs a gyro-sensor that registers the vehicle’s roll speed and roll angle. The system’s computer is constantly calculating the risk of rollover. If that risk reaches a specified threshold, Dynamic Stability Traction Control is activated. Engine power is reduced, and braking is applied to one or more wheels, as needed, until stability is regained.
Inflatable curtain-type airbags drop down for all three rows of seats during certain collisions. To improve safety in the dark, Volvo may become the first European manufacturer to offer Night Vision as an option. (General Motors offers this technology in the Cadillac DeVille.) When using its conventional, low-beam headlights, Volvo claims that infrared technology in the XC90 lets the driver see up to five times farther than ordinarily possible.
Volvo is well known for safety, solidity, refinement and civility, and the XC90 carries those attributes into new dimensions. Consumers who are familiar with modern Volvos will feel right at home inside this gentle, but strongly capable, SUV. The XC90 is likely to appeal to women partly due to its stylish shape and flexible interior, but the mechanical merits and underpinnings transcend gender.
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.