What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Volvo XC90 loses its V8 engine and gets a reshuffled lineup of trim levels, with Bluetooth streaming audio now standard on all models. The 3.2 R-Design also gets adaptive xenon headlights.
Even though Volvo's newer five-passenger XC60 midsize crossover has stolen some of its thunder, the seven-seat 2012 Volvo XC90 remains a solid alternative for folks who need more room for passengers, cargo or both. Like all Volvos, the XC90 offers sophisticated good looks, a comfortable interior and an extensive array of advanced safety features. Buyers can also choose between the cushy ride provided by the standard suspension or the confident handling that comes with the R-Design model's firmer sport-tuned hardware.
On the downside, the XC90 is a dinosaur by car standards, since it debuted way back in 2003. It's aged pretty well, but the competition has gotten much stronger. In particular, the XC90 doesn't offer as much space for people and cargo as the non-luxury-branded (but still plenty luxurious) Buick Enclave and Ford Flex, just to name two. It also lacks many of the advanced safety features available on its newer Volvo siblings, not to mention soldiering on with an older and generally obtuse electronics interface. Then there's the issue of power. Last year's available V8 engine has been dropped, and this leaves the underwhelming 3.2-liter six-cylinder as the only motivation for this large family crossover. Its fuel economy isn't impressive, either.
As such, most of the XC90's competitors are likely to represent a better purchase. Besides the two mentioned above, the Acura MDX is the closest rival in terms of size and price, but betters the Volvo in terms of power, driving dynamics and features. If a third-row seat isn't important, the Lexus RX 350, Volkswagen Touareg and Volvo's own XC60 are other strong alternatives. However, should you simply be looking for an alternative to the pricey luxury family crossovers from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the 2012 Volvo XC90 still represents a solid value proposition.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Volvo XC90 is a seven-passenger luxury crossover SUV that comes in two different models: the 3.2 and the sportier R-Design. Each version is offered in three trim levels, including a base model, midrange Premier Plus and the top-of-the-line Platinum.
The 3.2 base model's list of standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, a sunroof, roof rails, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors and keyless entry. Inside there's dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats with driver-seat memory settings and lumbar adjustment, a fold-flat front passenger seat, 40/20/40-split second-row seats with built-in center child booster seat, a 50/50-split third-row seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Stepping up to the Premier Plus trim level gets you adaptive xenon headlights, a rearview mirror with integrated compass, and a wood-trimmed gearshift knob. The top-of-the-line Platinum model adds a navigation system, real-time traffic info, a rearview camera and a 12-speaker premium surround-sound audio system.
The 3.2 R-Design versions of the above trims are identical, though they all include 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, sport-tuned suspension and steering, a self-leveling rear suspension, distinctive exterior and interior styling touches, unique leather upholstery, unique gauges and a sport steering wheel.
Options include a Climate package that contains headlight washers, automatic wipers, heated front seats and an interior air quality sensor. Stand-alone options include a blind spot warning system and a rear-seat video entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2012 Volvo XC90 models are powered by a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine that puts out 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission offered. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available as an option. Properly equipped, the XC90 can tow up to 3,970 pounds.
According to Volvo, the XC90 will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, which is slow for the class. EPA fuel economy estimates are just average for the category at 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for front-wheel-drive models, while all-wheel drive lowers the combined number to 18.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Volvo XC90 include antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front seats and a handy child booster seat built into the second row. A blind-spot warning system is optional on all models, but the XC90 is not available with the multitude of advanced accident prevention technologies available on other Volvo models.
In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the XC90 earned the organization's top "Good" rating in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the 2012 Volvo XC90 offers a passenger cabin that's stylish, comfortable and quiet. Front seats offer good support and a generous amount of room, but the second- and third-row seats are a little tighter than those on several competitors. A child booster seat built into the center section of the middle row slides forward to put young ones within easy reach of mom and dad, though Volvo's XC60 and XC70 are available with two booster seats. Gauges and controls are nicely arranged, but the latter aren't the most advanced. The navigation system included in the Platinum level is antiquated and relies on obtuse controls located behind the steering wheel or on a remote control. Most other Volvo models have a more advanced infotainment system.
The XC90's interior can also handle its share of cargo. Folding down the 40/20/40-split second-row and 50/50-split third-row seatbacks results in a flat load floor and 85.1 cubic feet of cargo room. This is pretty good for a luxury crossover, but larger three-row crossovers like the Buick Enclave and Ford Flex will hold much more. Another downside is the fact that there's just 8.8 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seat, which means carrying seven people and their luggage is unlikely unless you invest in a rooftop cargo carrier.
The decision to drop the V8 engine leaves the 2012 Volvo XC90 to carry on with the 3.2-liter six-cylinder that delivers only adequate acceleration. One of Volvo's turbocharged engines would certainly be welcome. The standard comfort-oriented suspension should be perfectly fine for most folks, though we have to admit we prefer the more confident handling offered by the R-Design's sport-tuned suspension. All in all, the XC90 feels more nimble than you'd expect a tall seven-passenger vehicle to be, and continues to drive quite well despite its advancing years.