The aging but capable Volvo XC90 is a seven passenger luxury crossover that, like many of its competitors, is more focused on on-road than off-road performance. This SUV is now one of the oldest designs on the road, but its handsome lines and continually updated technology continue to make it a popular offering in its segment.
Underhood, XC90 retains Volvo's 3.2-liter straight six, which cranks out 240 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque. Full synthetic motor oil is now recommended, but the service interval has been increased from 7,500 to 10,000 miles. A six-speed automatic puts power to either the front or all four wheels, depending on specification.
Outside, the XC90's basic shape has changed little since its introduction in 2003, although a minor cosmetic refresh came several years later, and now again for the latest model year. In fact, Volvo says 322 changes were made in the last year alone, but an untrained eye may have a difficult time spotting them.
The XC90 gets new color-coordinated trim with revised bumpers, sill moldings and wheel arches. In addition, standard LED running lights and tail lamps add a fresh-tech look. Base XC90s receive a new silver front "bumper bar" and chrome and silk matte exterior trim. Two new colors, Twilight Bronze and Flaminco Red, are on the options list.
Inside, the XC90 gains new sanded silver aluminum inlays and white instrument lighting, as well as a leather tailgate strap. The higher-end Premium Plus and Platinum trim levels gain special Sovereign hide soft leather and walnut wood, while a revised wood rimmed steering wheel is newly available.
The performance-oriented XC90 R-Designs returns with its own exterior trim and 19-inch Ixion alloy wheels. R-Designs also ride on a sport suspension and feature revised steering, as well as unique leather seats and R-Design badging throughout.
When it was unveiled, the XC90 was billed as the safest SUV on the market. Volvo went as far as demonstrating the crossover's exceptional rollover safety by using a specially designed catapult at its safety development center to do a live demonstration of the XC90's roof strength. With members of the press present, the XC90 tumbled four times on its roof during the test with little or no intrusion into the passenger compartment.
Even though its sturdy body can handle such a crash, Volvo fits each XC90 with a Roll Stability Control (RSC) system to ensure that a rollover doesn't happen in the first place. RSC detects wheel slip, understeer, oversteer or roll motion through the use of two gyroscopic sensors and intervenes with reduced engine power and selective braking to help the driver maintain control.
The XC90 also has a number of other safety features, including Volvo's WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) and IC (Inflatable Curtain) airbag. The Inflatable Curtain has been extended so it also protects passengers in the third row of seats. All seven seats are equipped with three-point inertia-reel seat belts, belt pre-tensioners and head restraints, and the car also includes dual front and side impact airbags.
Volvo also developed various information systems designed to help the driver while on the move. One such system is IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), which can delay incoming phone calls in complex traffic situations that require the driver's undivided attention. Meanwhile, a Blind Spot Information System registers if another vehicle is in the offset rear blind spot alongside the car and alerts the driver via a visual signal.
Models and Packages
With the death of the V8, the XC90 is available in two models, the 3.2 and the 3.2 R-Design, each with the choice of two options packages.
Both models are powered by a 3.2-liter inline-six with 240 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The motor pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission, and puts power to the pavement either with the two front wheels or with all four via an optional all-wheel drive system. Fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for both FWD and AWD models.
Though it's technically the base model, the 3.2 comes well equipped with power adjustable driver and passenger's seats, a power sunroof, cruise control, Bluetooth phone integration, 18-inch Camulus alloy wheels, a sonar-based rear parking assist system, walnut wood inlays and leather seating.
The 3.2 R-Design brings cosmetic items like 20-inch wheels, a unique grille, skid and scuff plates (though the XC90 is not intended for serious off-road use) and an R-Design-specific steering wheel and shift knob.
The Premier Plus package includes a universal garage door opener along with an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass. For true luxury, spring for the Platinum package, which includes the features in the Premier Plus packaged but adds a premium sound system with Dolby surround sound, a navigation system and a rear-parking camera.
The XC90 is pitted against vehicles like the BMW X5, the Mercedes-Benz ML350, the Land Rover LR4 and the Audi Q7.