Full 2011 Volvo XC90 Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Volvo XC90 gets 5 horsepower more for its inline-6 engine as well as a few more standard features, including Bluetooth and satellite radio. All models now feature the R-Design's wristwatch-style instrument faces.
Back in 2003, the crossover SUV represented a new thing. Based on unit-body platforms shared with cars instead of body-on-frame structures shared with trucks, this new breed of SUV gave people what they really wanted from a utility vehicle, like more passenger room and less cargo capacity, not to mention all-wheel drive calibrated for slippery suburban roads instead of rocky mountain trails. The 2011 Volvo XC90 led this adaptation of the SUV to the real world back in 2003 and it hasn't changed much in the nine years since. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Volvo got it so right in the first place that the XC90 remains a good choice in this segment if you're looking for a full-size vehicle.
But now that Volvo has the highly regarded XC60 compact crossover in the family, the senior XC90 finds itself in a bit of a pickle. Yes, it offers the advantage of a third-row seat, giving it a seven-to-five-passenger capacity advantage, but that third row compromises the second row's legroom. And although the XC90 can be had with V8 power, it's still not as strong a performer as the smaller XC60 with its available turbocharged inline-6. And that brings us to the XC90 base model's normally aspirated 3.2-liter inline-6, which simply doesn't have enough oats to feed this heavy draft horse.
That said, the 2011 Volvo XC90 has a first-rate interior, good driving dynamics and excellent safety scores. The trouble is, some rivals offer these attributes as well as a few advantages. In addition to Volvo's own XC60, we'd suggest you also consider the Lexus RX and 2011 Volkswagen Touareg if a third row isn't required. If it is, then we'd suggest the 2011 Acura MDX, 2011 BMW X5, 2011 Buick Enclave and 2011 Ford Flex. The 2011 Volvo XC90 is certainly a nice luxury crossover, but it lacks an edge over the completion in both luxury and performance.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volvo XC90 is a seven-passenger, premium midsize crossover SUV that comes in three trim levels: 3.2, 3.2 R-Design and V8.
The 3.2 comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, a sunroof, leather upholstery, power front seats with driver memory settings, wood interior trim, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The 3.2 R-Design adds 19-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and steering system and a variety of R-Design upgrades, including sporty exterior styling cues, a sport steering wheel and special leather upholstery.
The XC90 V8 loses the R-Design accoutrements but gains exclusive 18-inch wheels, the V8 engine, all-wheel drive, color-keyed fender lips and body-side moldings, heated front seats, headlamp washers, rain-sensing wipers, a special air filtration system and unique interior wood inlays.
Every XC90 is eligible for the Multimedia package, which includes a premium surround-sound audio system, a rearview camera, a navigation system with real-time traffic and -- on V8 models only -- bi-xenon headlamps. The Climate package is available on six-cylinder models, and adds heated front seats, headlamp washers, rain-sensing wipers and an air filtration system. The 3.2 R-Design can be had with the Dynamic package, which adds 20-inch wheels as well as adaptive bi-xenon headlamps.
The V8-only Luxury package adds 19-inch wheels, upgraded leather upholstery, massage and ventilation functions for the front seats, heated rear seats, leather door panels and center console cover and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. Stand-alone options include adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, a blind-spot warning system and a dual-screen rear entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 3.2 and 3.2 R-Design come with a 3.2-liter inline-6 engine rated for 240 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, and all-wheel drive is available as an option. The AWD system is standard on the XC90 V8.
In performance testing, Edmunds recorded a 7.4-second sprint from zero to 60 mph in an XC90 V8. That's respectable, but the 3.2 models are considerably less sprightly. Fuel economy ratings are about average, ranging from 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined for the 3.2 front-wheel-drive model to 14/21/16 mpg for the V8.
Standard safety features on the 2011 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 uses indicator lights to alert the driver to nearby vehicles.
The Volvo XC90 has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. However, its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new tests) were a perfect five stars for all occupants. Likewise, the XC90 earned ratings of "Good," the highest possible, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The XC90's cabin was penned as Volvo was transitioning to its current sleek design aesthetic, and it has stood the test of time remarkably well. Virtually all materials are of high quality and controls are stylish yet intuitive. 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 it comes at the expense of second-row legroom. Cargo capacity is just 8.8 cubic feet behind the third row, but it expands to an ample 93 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded down.
The 2011 Volvo XC90's base-model 3.2-liter inline-6 struggles noisily to get this heavy vehicle up to speed; it's just not up to the task of propelling nearly 5,000 pounds. The performance and refinement of the V8 represent a significant improvement with a minimal penalty in fuel economy. Both XC90 models ride quietly and smoothly on the highway, but they're hardly sporty. The 3.2 R-Design feels more buttoned-down thanks to its sport-tuned suspension and steering, but it's saddled with the inferior engine.