Review: Volvo XC 90

By The Car Family

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It’s big, expensive, guzzles gas, and is loaded with features, but Volvo’s entry into the SUV field promises to appeal to those who want to rationalize that they need a sports utility vehicle for versatility and safety.

Mom’s view: Caring people have grown to fear large SUVs because of damage they do the others and the environment. Studies have well documented that large SUVs are also a danger to their own occupants, largely from one vehicle accidents resulting in rollovers and deaths. Volvo has done a good job of alleviating those fears with this new XC 90. It is loaded with safety features and more environmentally friendly than most others large vehicles.

Inside, Volvo has the ability to carry seven people. With 93 plus cubic feet of cargo room, and a Volvo claimed 64 different seating configurations for the XC 90’s 9.5 feet long cargo area, this is certainly a true utility vehicle. Furthermore, Volvo offers an optional third seat for those who are small or agile.

The front seats are comfortable, and you have separate controls for the rear air conditioning and an optional rear sonar system that is a must because this Volvo offers extremely poor rear visibility. The visibility to the sides is okay, but the hood slopes away so steeply that you can not see where your fenders are leaving parking lot manoeuvres one of judgment as much as hope.

We tested the A$82,950 XC90 AWD T6 version. A less powerful, but less expensive model is also offered. We weren’t impressed by the acceleration of the XC90 regardless of the 268 hp rating for Volvo’s flag carrier. Maybe it was the hot weather, but this engine was just adequate. However, nothing prepared us for the gas mileage we got in mixed driving. We barely got 15 mph on premium. We recommend you consider the base version which has less horsepower and is less costly to operate. Both require premium fuel.

We much preferred Volvo’s highly competent all wheel drive station wagons to the XC 90, but they don’t offer the versatility of this big machine. One thing they do have in common is Volvo’s significant safety features. The XC90 offers two-stage dual front airbags, side impact protection, whiplash protection front, curtain side airbags for everyone and a baby seat attachment system. Most importantly for any tipsy SUV, is a state of the art roll over protection system, seatbelts with pretensioners, and an integrated sliding child booster seat.

The most interesting statistic given to us by Volvo was that the XC has a lower centre of gravity than the V70 wagon, which is difficult to believe noting the 9.2 inches of ground clearance with the 18-inch tires. I can tell you this, give my choice of driving on mountain highways I would take the wagon.

Working college male’s view: The sound system with its Dolby 5.1 Pro Logic II surround stereo was above average, but the radio reception, although good, sometimes attracted a shadow signal that was very distracting.

This is a large vehicle, even though it doesn’t look it. Unfortunately, this model as has become the custom lately, has a third row of seats. Why not just get a mini-van? Anyway, you can probably tell I was assigned to struggling into the third row seats. There is virtually no legroom, although the second row seats scoot forward to make entry a tad easier. Third-row seatbelts have pretensioners, which go with the safety theme of this Volvo. There is also a much needed rear crumple zone, which is a must for any family vehicle.

I did like the fact that there were headphone plugs for second and third row passengers, cupholders for everyone, and several zones of climate control. A lot of nice touches in this Volvo, such as an optional drop-down DVD player, for both second- and third-row passengers, and fairly comfortable, although small, seats. There was probably more for a rear seat passenger to do in the this Volvo than any SUV I’ve been in and I don’t think any of them paid as much detail to safety. On the other hand getting into the back seats require you to navigate narrow rear doors and getting into the rear seats is not easy.

Volvo did an interesting thing in the rear seating area by lowering the second row to offer those in the third row a less claustrophobic view. A real treat was the fact that the second-row seats don’t have to have their headrests removed when the seats are folded flat. This is probably the most well thought our SUV I have ever seen. It ranks with the new Toyota Sienna van as the most family friendly.

Dad’s view: I won’t mince words. Raised SUVs and pick-up trucks are a danger to everyone. If the bumpers on a vehicle don’t line up with those of regular cars they can crash through the protective side beams and cause injury and death that could have been prevented.

Volvo knows this and, like the Lexus RX and Mercedes M class, have placed a low front chassis crossmember on the XC at, about the same height as the bumper of a sedan. In this way, in case of an accident, there is less likelihood to kill or maim. Such common sense protection should be the law.

Engine wise the Volvo XC90 has two models, the 2.5T and T6. We tested the more expensive T6, but highly recommend the more economical 2.5T with its inline five-cylinder turbocharged engine delivering 208 horsepower with 236 foot-pounds of torque.

Our test car, the T6, had a six-cylinder with twin turbos, 2.9 litres, and 268 horsepower and was loaded with options. We recommend you look at the base model front wheel drive 2.5T which costs A$69,950 or A$13,000 less than the top model.

And has many of the same safety features, albeit without the stronger engine and all wheel drive capabilities. Volvo does not offer a low range transfer case in any form indicating that these models are more highway oriented than off-road capable.

Popular options for the XC are all wheel drive, the Premium Package with leather power seats, a moonroof and 6-disc changer, the third row of seats and related extras although this option can only be ordered with the Premium Package. There is also the navigation system, a reverse warning beeper, and the excellent Dolby 12-speaker sound system. The DVD entertainment centre is installed by the dealer, and worth it. It should be noted, that when you go with the high line T6 model you get all wheel drive and the Premium Package for a base price around A$83,000.

We always liked Volvo seats, and these are very good, too. The instrument panel is simple, and the Whiplash Protection System appreciated.

Make sure you try the lumbar support and practice adjusting the steering column because not everyone in The Car Family could find a sweet spot while driving.

What stood out for me was the ride of this Volvo. It was floaty over bumps due to its off-road capable suspension, but otherwise was exceptional. It handles highways well, although it never feels like a small car. This Volvo sets a new standard for SUV handling beating the BMW’s stiffish ride and the Lexus jelly roll suspension.

Too bad, the engine didn’t have more power to take advantage of the potential.

Young Working Woman’s View: Such an unusual vehicle. Very large, but nice looking, this is a very desirable car if you need a SUV. I would rather have the new V70 wagon myself, but that’s the point; I don’t have a family. If I needed a utility vehicle that could haul a stepladder, seven people this would be a very desirable choice. At least until I filled it up with premium and than I would swallow my pride and get a mini van or wagon.

There are a lot of features on our Volvo V90.The rear tailgate has two sections with a smaller, drop down section making it easy to slide have objects in and the larger, upward tailgate, being easy to lift and adequate head room while loading. I also liked the stereo controls. Unlike the tuning knobs on other Volvo models that are unbelievable complex and useless when driving at speed, the XC returned to the basics so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to find your station.

I was not impressed with the automatic transmission that hesitated at times when going uphill as the computer tried to anticipate the power the turbo was going to provide when the driver was asking for more speed.

The transmission seemed miffed and didn’t know whether to kick down one or two gears. It reminded me of the Jaguar transmissions that did the same thing. Anyway, the gas mileage was poor and I cannot imagine what it would be if you decided to haul the 5000 pound trailer Volvo states this model can handle.

I doubt you are ever going to see 18 mpg on premium gas with either engine choice. It’s a good thing this rig has a 19 gallon tank. To my mind the Lexus RX 330, is better from that standpoint. Of course, you don’t get all the room in the Lexus, but the costs are very similar.

The steering is light, nearly void of feedback on the highway. This is not a performance-oriented vehicle despite the horsepower figures. The brakes are good, but need getting used to because there appeared be a long pedal travel before the giant discs did their job.

Overall, I liked the look of the XC90, the way it rode on the highway, and the many safety features. A good start.

Family Conference: This is an expensive SUV and you can clearly see what you are getting for your money: safety and interior space. If these two attributes are at the top of your list you have little choice, as this Volvo is the only one to offer such traits in such abundance. If you are looking for nimble, economical to operate, or handling look elsewhere. For links to every vehicle manfacture go to and click on business.