Full 2009 Volvo XC90 Review
What's New for 2009
Minor feature changes are in store for the 2009 Volvo XC90. The V8 Sport model has been discontinued, though there's a new R-Design trim level with larger wheels, sportier suspension tuning and steering, exclusive leather upholstery and distinct styling cues. The XC90 V8 model receives a new ultra-luxurious executive package as an option, and a new "Galateia" 19-inch wheel package for the base model adds visual interest and speed-sensitive power steering. Finally, some existing options have been reconfigured into new packages.
Volvo's sedan-based wagons were its bread-and-butter for years, but as American tastes moved toward taller wagons with poorer fuel economy -- i.e., SUVs -- the Swedish automaker was forced to follow suit. Although the all-new XC60 will soon be joining Volvo's stable, the 2009 Volvo XC90 remains the company's flagship SUV. It boasts sporty eye-catching style, a luxurious interior, safety gadgets galore and an optional Yamaha-built V8 engine.
We've been fans of the XC90 since its debut way back in 2003, but therein lies this voluminous Volvo's biggest problem. It's going into its seventh year of production, and newer midsize crossover SUVs like the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Lexus RX 350/RX 400h and Mercedes-Benz M-Class make the XC90 seem a little long in the tooth. Some of these vehicles boast more-up-to-date features, such as a power rear liftgate and factory Bluetooth, as well as better fuel economy.
That said, there's still a lot going for this premium midsize SUV. If you like the idea of avant-garde Swedish design inside your SUV, for example, or Volvo's innovative selection of safety features, the XC90 might just dissuade you from choosing a fresher competitor instead. This year's XC90 has a few improvements, too, including the new R-Design models, which are decked out with numerous upgrades inside as well as sporty interior and exterior design cues.
Overall, the 2009 Volvo XC90 is a wholly competent vehicle, and it could serve as a nice alternative for someone tired of the usual choices. But we suspect most people will want to check out the aforementioned models or even more affordable alternatives such as Mazda's CX-9 or Hyundai's Veracruz, which match or beat the base XC90's performance for thousands less. Note, too, that while the XC90's crash-test scores are almost perfect, the safety gap between Volvo and the rest of the pack has narrowed considerably.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volvo XC90 is a premium midsize crossover SUV that comes in two main trims: 3.2 and V8. The XC90 3.2 seats five and comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, power child safety locks for the rear doors, cloth upholstery, wood interior trim, an eight-way power driver seat with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and auxiliary audio jack. The XC90 V8 adds restyled 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, a third-row seat for seven-passenger capacity, a self-leveling rear suspension, leather upholstery, a six-CD changer, a power front passenger seat, an integrated child booster seat in the second row, a separate rear air-conditioner, upgraded instrumentation and a sunroof.
This year's new R-Design trim is offered for both the 3.2 and V8. The 3.2 R-Design adds 19-inch wheels, sportier suspension tuning and steering, leather upholstery and various sporty styling cues, as well as the sunroof, third-row seat, self-leveling rear suspension, integrated second-row child booster seat and six-CD changer from the V8 model. The V8 R-Design features 20-inch wheels and special dual exhaust tips along with the 3.2 R-Design's performance and aesthetic enhancements.
Most of the V8's standard features, including the third-row seat, can be added to the 3.2 model by selecting the premium and versatility packages. The Galateia 19-inch wheel package for the 3.2 tacks on (you guessed it) 19-inch wheels as well as speed-sensitive power steering and body-colored fender extensions. A convenience package adds a navigation system with real-time traffic updates, a blind-spot warning system, rear park assist, power-folding side mirrors and an interior air quality system. The climate package adds heated front seats, headlight washers and automatic wipers. The technology package throws in adaptive bi-xenon headlights, satellite radio, a premium audio system and rear-seat headphone jacks with audio controls. Finally, the V8-only executive package includes unique 19-inch wheels, special soft leather, massaging and ventilated front seats, leather door and console trim, wood inlays, a wood-trimmed steering wheel and heated front and rear seats. A dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system is offered as a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The XC90 3.2 comes with a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine rated for 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The XC90 V8 gets a 4.4-liter V8 good for 311 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to 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 XC90 V8. Towing capacity for both models is respectable at approximately 5,000 pounds. In performance testing, we clocked an XC90 V8 Sport at 7.4 seconds in the 0-60-mph sprint, which is about average for a V8-powered luxury crossover. Fuel economy ratings are a bit below average for this class of vehicle: The XC90 3.2 FWD is rated at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined, while the 3.2 AWD's combined rating drops to 16 mpg. The V8 is rated at a subpar 13/19/15 mpg.
Standard safety features on the 2009 Volvo XC90 include antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and anti-whiplash front seats. The optional blind spot warning system 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 driver protection, but only four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact tests, it earned a perfect five stars across the board. The XC90 earned ratings of "Good," the highest possible, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The XC90's cabin is quintessential modern Volvo. Materials are top-notch, controls are stylish yet intuitive, and the overall design is consistent with the hip, minimalist look Volvo has adopted over the past decade. Yet the XC90 is arguably more about family-friendliness 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 third row does cause second-row legroom to suffer. Cargo capacity is 43.3 cubic feet in the five-passenger model (or the seven-passenger model with the third seat folded), and it expands to a generous 85 cubic feet with both rows folded.
The 2009 Volvo XC90 3.2 model provides barely adequate acceleration, and it doesn't sound particularly pleasant, either. The V8 model's performance and refinement are vastly superior, and its fuel economy is only marginally worse. Both XC90 models ride comfortably in standard form, but don't expect them to tackle corners with enthusiasm like the Acura MDX or BMW X5. The R-Design models are better suited to energetic driving, what with their sport-tuned suspensions and steering systems.