What's New for 2008
After receiving significant changes last year, the 2008 Volvo XC90 carries over much the same. An auto-dimming rearview mirror is standard on all XC90s, while the V8 models get some mild interior and exterior trim updates. A 3.2 Special Edition trim also debuts.
Volvo has been a lead purveyor of wagons for decades. While these traditional people haulers continue to sell well for the Swedish automaker -- particularly in Europe -- SUVs have become the go-to vehicle for most American families in need of extra space and seating capacity. In response, Volvo introduced its flagship XC90 crossover SUV in 2003. The XC90 turned out to be a hit for the brand, and in fact has been Volvo's best-selling model the past two years.
A few years on, the 2008 XC90 combines Volvo's long-standing wagon expertise with the popular attributes of luxury crossovers. It has seating for up to seven passengers, a high-quality cabin packed with features, a choice of six-cylinder or V8 power and a decent tow rating. As with all Volvo products, there's a strong emphasis on safety. The XC90 pioneered stability-control-based rollover avoidance technology and has full airbag coverage. There are also less obvious points, such as the heavy-duty third-row seat that's carefully positioned over the rear axle to ensure the largest possible crumple zone in the event of a rear-end crash. As a result, the XC90 is also one of but a handful of luxury SUVs to achieve the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) "Good" rating for all three of its crash testing areas -- frontal offset, side and rear.
We've recommended the Volvo XC90 since its debut, and it's still a very good choice for an upscale crossover SUV. In the areas that most family-oriented buyers deem important, including style, utility, power and of course safety, the 2008 Volvo XC90 delivers. But this segment has witnessed a lot of change in the past couple of years. The recently redesigned Acura MDX and BMW X5 have a more sporting and luxurious flair to them, for example, and the all-new Buick Enclave provides superior interior space for less money. The XC90 still holds its own against these newer competitors, but it's probably worth doing a bit of comparison before making a final decision.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize luxury SUV, the 2008 Volvo XC90 comes in three main trims: 3.2, V8 and V8 Sport. There is also a Special Edition trim available for the 3.2. The XC90 3.2 seats five and comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, wood interior trim, an eight-way power driver seat with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an eight-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and auxiliary audio jack, and a PremAir-coated radiator to minimize ozone emissions. The V8-powered XC90 adds a third-row seat for seven-passenger capacity and comes with a self-leveling rear suspension, 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, a power front-passenger seat, an integrated child booster seat in the second row, a separate rear air-conditioner, upgraded instrumentation and a sunroof. The V8 Sport adds unique exterior trim, a more firmly tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, quicker steering, extra lateral bolstering for the front seats, cool blue metallic gauges and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.
Most of the standard V8's features, including the third-row seat, can be added to the 3.2 model by selecting the Premium and Versatility Packages. A Convenience Package adds rear park assist, power-retractable side mirrors, power child door locks, a compass and an interior air quality system. The Climate Package adds heated front seats, headlamp washers and automatic wipers. Other options include active bi-xenon headlamps, Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), an upgraded surround-sound audio system (not available on the 3.2), a navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual screens. Although the active bi-xenon headlamps and Dynaudio system are stand-alone extras on the base V8 model, they must be purchased in a Technology Package (along with satellite radio) on the V8 Sport.
The new 3.2 Special Edition model basically groups together a number of packages and options. The Premium, Versatility and Climate packages are included, along with 18-inch wheels, rear parking assist, BLIS and retractable mirrors. There are also two exclusive colors.
Powertrains and Performance
Engines correspond to the model name. The 3.2 model comes with a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine rated for 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The XC90 V8 models get a 4.4-liter V8 good for 311 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. XC90 3.2 models come standard with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive (AWD) is available as an option. The AWD system is standard on the V8-powered Volvo XC90s. Towing capacity for both models is respectable, with an approximate 5,000-pound rating. In testing, we've found that the XC90 V8 Sport model takes 7.4 seconds to hit 60 mph, about average for a V8-equipped luxury crossover. Fuel economy ratings are a bit below average for this class of vehicle.
Standard safety features on the 2008 Volvo XC90 include full-length side-curtain airbags, front-seat side airbags, anti-whiplash front seats and antilock brakes. Integrated into the standard stability control system is a rollover sensor. Options include power child safety locks, adaptive headlights and Volvo's Blind Spot Information System. Known as BLIS, this bit of technology monitors vehicles entering the XC90's blind spots and warns the driver via indicator lights. In government frontal-impact crash tests, the XC90 earned a full five stars for protection of the driver and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact tests, it earned a perfect five stars across the board. The Volvo earned ratings of "Good," the highest possible, in the IIHS's frontal-offset, side-impact and rear-impact crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
It's hard to see the XC90's cabin as belonging to anything but a Volvo. Materials are first-rate, ergonomics straightforward and the overall design consistent with the hip, minimalist look Volvo has utilized with great success for a decade. Having said that, it's not particularly luxurious in the traditional sense when compared to some of its competitors, like the Acura MDX, Cadillac SRX and Lexus RX 350. However, the addition of standard sapele wood trim in the V8 model should please those who have found past XC90s a bit austere.
The XC90 is arguably more about family accommodations than wood and leather, and it certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard. When equipped with the third-row seat, the center position in the second row has an integrated child booster cushion that slides forward, allowing easier access to children in the back. Legroom in the rearmost quarters is better than in many competitors, although the second row does get cramped as a result. Cargo capacity is 43.3 cubic feet with the third seat folded (or not there at all if you have a five-passenger model), and it expands to a generous 85 cubic feet with both rows folded.
Buyers can expect adequate acceleration from the 3.2 model, while the 2008 Volvo XC90 V8 will appeal to those seeking brisk response with only a slight loss of fuel economy. For the 3.2 and regular V8 trims, ride quality is soft and comfortable. Although it lacks the silky ride quality of the Lexus RX 350 or the sport-sedan demeanor of an Acura MDX, this Volvo offers an appealing blend of comfort and handling that will satisfy most drivers. Those whose preferences run more toward athletic handling should check out the impressive V8 Sport. Its retuned suspension and more aggressive wheel-and-tire package makes a world of difference, transforming the XC90 from a friendly utility vehicle with a comfy-couch ride and slightly vague steering into a confident highway cruiser with a secure, highly controlled character.