Long known for safe, solid sedans and wagons, Volvo joined the sport utility vehicle fray in 2003 with its car-based XC90. The Swedish automaker promised the ride and handling of a passenger car. Volvo also claimed that the XC90 would be the safest SUV on the market. It features a Roll Stability Control System. In a collision, the front suspension subframe is compatible with a regular car.
The premium midsize XC90s chassis is based on the one used for Volvos S60 and S80 sedans. Available all-wheel drive permits operation in a variety of terrains, but the XC90 is not intended for serious offroad driving. When the front wheels begin to slip, up to 65 percent of engine power is diverted to the rear wheels.
For 2004, new 17-inch Aquarius alloy wheels are used, the flip-style key has an integrated remote control, and a leather gearshift knob has been added. Volvo offers 2.5T and T6 editions.
Chief Designer Peter Horbury calls the XC90s appearance masculine, but not macho; muscular, but not aggressive. At 188.9 inches long overall, the XC90 is 3.4 inches longer than Volvos V70 wagon. A 112.6-inch wheelbase and wide track dimensions help enhance stability. Ground clearance is 8.6 inches.
The XC90s styling features include tall taillamps, an accentuated V-shaped hood, a cockpit-forward profile and a dark, upright eggcrate grille. The 70/30-split tailgate flaunts a sporty angle.
Seating either five or seven people, the XC90 has a 40/20/40-split second-row bench. With the seven-passenger configuration, a child booster seat in the second row can slide forward, nearly between the front seats. Two separate seats make up the available third row. All seats except the drivers may fold down.
The gauges and controls are angled slightly toward the driver. Options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a Road and Traffic Information (RTI) navigation system with a pop-up screen.
Under the Hood
A light-pressure turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine delivers 208 horsepower to a five-speed-automatic transmission. Volvos bi-turbo 2.9-liter inline-six-cylinder engine in the T6 model sends 268 hp to a four-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on the T6, and the 2.5T model may have front-wheel drive.
Volvos Roll Stability Control System employs a gyrosensor. If the rollover risk reaches a specified threshold, Dynamic Stability Traction Control is activated. Inflatable side curtain-type airbags drop down for all three rows of seats.
The gentle but capable XC90 is solid and refined and handles more like a taut European sedan. It reacts masterfully on twisting roads and functions with precise control.
Expect a smooth and solid ride as the base suspension irons out pavement imperfections. The T6s suspension is significantly stiffer and adds body motion on undulating surfaces.
The XC90s acceleration is smooth and easy. The base engine performs with reasonable vigor, but the T6s twin-turbo six-cylinder is noticeably stronger. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth in both, but the T6s four-speed changes gears more crisply. Other than a light growl on acceleration, the XC90 is quiet.
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 for children.