Used 2003 Volvo XC90 Review

Volvo may be late to the SUV ball game, but the XC90 brings some special features to make it stand out in a crowded field. If safety is of primary concern, the XC90 has got you covered on numerous fronts.

what's new

Volvo throws in its hat into the luxury SUV ring with the XC90, a vehicle that offers an impressive list of safety and comfort features.

vehicle overview

The luxury SUV segment is young and very popular, so it comes as no surprise that manufacturers have been eagerly introducing new models in the hopes of claiming their very own piece of the pie. Marques such as BMW and Lexus have already seen their overtures in this area pay off (with the X5 and RX 300, respectively). Next up is Volvo, which comes to market with its shiny new XC90 (this is Volvo's first SUV, but the manufacturer did have a practice run of sorts with the V70 XC, its ute-like all-wheel-drive wagon).

In terms of the vehicle's design, Volvo rather intriguingly states that the XC90 delivers "masculinity and flexibility the Scandinavian way." We're not sure what that means, but we do know that the XC90 is handsome enough to attract those who might have dismissed a Volvo as being too boring for their tastes. The vehicle is broad-shouldered and muscular, without being overly aggressive (Volvo clearly knows that while it's great to woo the young male demographic, it's also important have the vehicle be attractive to women, who constitute a big chunk of the SUV customer base). The XC90 boasts Volvo's trademark dark eggcrate grille in front; in back, it looks an awful lot like BMW's X5, save for its excessive taillights. Sitting tall and upright, the XC90 sports a truncated snout and a passenger compartment placed far forward.

The XC90's interior places its emphasis on versatility. The ute may be ordered as either a five- or seven-seater; in both variants, the second row (and third row on the seven-passenger model) folds down to create a flat floor. The middle seat in the second row can be outfitted with an integrated child booster cushion; in seven-seaters, the child seat slides forward so that it's situated between the two front seats, allowing for contact between parents and their tykes. Simple Scandinavian lines govern the aesthetic of the SUV's cabin. Instruments and controls are clearly laid out, easy to decipher and tilted upward to enhance readability.

Buyers get to choose between two engines: a twin-turbocharged inline 2.9-liter six-cylinder that produces 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, or a turbocharged inline 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces 208 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Both engines meet ULEV standards, and, according to Volvo, offer class-leading fuel economy. The engines are wedded to a four-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. Drivers have the option of using Geartronic as a true automatic or changing gears manually (without a clutch, of course).

Of course, a Volvo wouldn't be a Volvo without a slew of safety features. The XC90's Roll Stability Control uses a gyro-sensor to calculate its roll speed and angle; if it's determined that the ute is in danger of rolling over, a stability control system is activated. In the event that the vehicle does roll over, an inflatable curtain helps prevent the occupants' heads from striking the ute's sides; it also helps prevent ejection from the vehicle. Our favorite safety feature, however, has to do with the issue of not putting other drivers at risk by virtue of your being in a heavier, higher vehicle. The XC90 is equipped with a crossmember that's lower than that found on your typical SUV — it sits at the height of the beam in a car. In the event that the SUV collides with a car, this crossmember strikes the oncoming car's protective structure, activating its crumple zone as intended so the car's occupants can benefit from the maximum level of protection.

Volvo has a reputation for producing vehicles that deliver safety and practicality; challenging as it no doubt was to translate these values to an SUV format, the manufacturer appears to have succeeded in delivering a ute that lives up to the Volvo name. Around 50,000 XC90s will be offered for sale in the U.S.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.