Versus the competiton:
For 2006, Volvo addresses the only persistent gripe connected with its luxury sport utility vehicle: modest engine power.
A powerful and refined V-8 engine is now optional for the XC90, putting this fine craft on equal footing with high-end SUVs from Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, Lincoln and Cadillac.
The 4.4-liter, 311-horsepower engine is the first V-8 ever offered by Volvo and available only in the largest vehicle ever offered by Volvo. It replaces the previous 268-horsepower inline six, while the base model’s 2.5-liter turbocharged four remains in the lineup.
In this global marketplace, the engine comes to the big Swede from the other side of the world. Yamaha, the Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles and musical instruments, builds the compact V-8 for Volvo.
This is not the first time Yamaha has supplied a V-8 for Ford, which owns Volvo. The high-performance Taurus SHO of the early 1990s received its muscle from a similar Yamaha V-8. The Japanese company currently supplies high-revving four-cylinder engines for the performance versions of Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe.
Naturally, the V-8 comes at a premium, adding nearly $10,000 to the price of the turbo-four XC90, although that includes a passel of luxury features and standard all-wheel drive. The new engine vastly widens the appeal of the Volvo for U.S. luxury drivers, who are accustomed to the silky muscle of powerful V-8s.
Newfound performance, excellent drivability and, of course, Volvo’s longtime emphasis on safety moves XC90 to the head of the class.
PERFORMANCE: The V-8 engine may be small (gearhead note: 4.4 liters is about 270 cubic inches) but has plenty of power, making this gentle giant feel light and lively. This advanced 32-valve engine includes variable intake and exhaust timing for power over a wide range of rpm.
Acceleration is strong and smooth, with a subdued growl under the hood. Freeway cruising is seamless.
XC90 delivers relatively good fuel mileage, considering the SUV’s 4,600-pound bulk and is rated by the EPA as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle.
The six-speed automatic was usually on the ball, though sometimes shifting with a noticeable thunk. Like the engine, the transmission is made in Japan.
DRIVABILITY: Handling, steering and braking are all top drawer, especially for a heavy, high-profile vehicle. The XC90 challenges both BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class in every aspect of drivability.
Electronic safety includes four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with antilock, brake-force distribution and brake assistance, Dynamic Stability Traction Control and Roll Stability Control.
STYLING: XC90 looks suitably muscular without macho affectations. Some people thought it looked too bulbous, more like a minivan than an SUV.
INTERIOR: Comfortable, accommodating and stylish and with a high level of standard safety features, including full airbag and side-curtain protection, seat-belt pre-tensioners and whiplash protection.
Leather seats, moonroof and a host of luxury gear come standard. XC90 seats seven, but the third row of seats is strictly for kids.
The dashboard controls are still somewhat haphazard and weird looking.
BOTTOM LINE: The V-8 option enhances an already superb SUV. The pricing is competitive, undercutting BMW and Mercedes with the same level of style, features and performance.
Vehicle type: Seven-passenger, four-door SUV, all-wheel drive.
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8, 311 horsepower at 5,850 rpm, 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,900 rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Wheelbase: 112.6 inches.
Overall length: 188.9 inches.
Curb weight: 4,610 pounds.
EPA rating: 15 city, 21 highway.
Highs: Engine refinement, lush interior, overall drivability.
Lows: Teeny rear seat, transmission thunks, haphazard controls.
Base price: $45,840.
Price as tested: $49,480.
Touring package, with alloy wheels, premium audio, wood steering wheel and trim, leather shift knob, $1,795.
Climate package, with heated front seats, headlamp washers, $675.
Metallic paint, $475.