Safe as a bank vault, plush ride, solid performance from V8 model, feels smaller than it is, high-quality interior materials, ample cargo room.
Turbocharged T6 engine not well suited to SUV duty, third-row seating takes up too much second-row space.
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When the Volvo XC90 was introduced two years ago, our road test editors had only one reservation: at times it seemed a bit underpowered. That reservation is gone now that Volvo has announced that the 2005 version of this popular SUV will be powered by a V8 engine. But it gets even better. The V8 puts power to the road with the help of a six-speed automatic transmission that gets the most out of every available pound-foot of torque.
The use of a V8 engine might seem a bit out of character for a manufacturer known for its elevated respect for the environment. But Volvo is quick to point out that two of the biggest problems with a V8 — low fuel economy and higher emissions — aren't an issue with this power plant. The 311-horsepower engine, which makes 325 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, gets 22 mpg on the highway and 16 mpg in the city, according to Volvo. Manufacturer tests show it going from zero to 60 mph in only 6.9 seconds. Not only that, but it is the only SUV in its class that has earned a ULEV-2 emissions rating.
While Volvo came late to the table, introducing its first SUV in 2003, it arrived with the benefit of hindsight from years of watching other manufacturers' hit-and-miss approach to addressing consumers' needs. The result was a well-conceived vehicle with all the safety features which have distinguished Volvo from the competition. Those features — such as Roll Stability Control and inflatable curtain airbags for all rows — were presented in an attractive package that offered good interior space with a reasonable footprint. The 2005 XC90 V8 comes standard with seven-passenger seating, as well as a 21.1-gallon fuel tank that should allow you to transport your brood well over 300 miles between fill-ups. Better yet, dual-screen, rear-seat entertainment is now an option to keep young passengers amused.
With all the buildup about the V8 version of the XC90, we were eager to see how it performed on the road. We chose a route that offered steep grades and found that the XC90 never felt winded. The SUV pulls well from a standstill and offers impressive passing power. The six-speed transmission shifts intelligently and smoothly so that there is always power on tap. When the V8 comes alive, there is even a throaty growl from the twin tailpipes. At idle, it is very well behaved with little vibration and almost no sound.
Volvo cars typically offer an excellent ride while providing good road feel, and the XC90 is no exception. The steering is light at low speeds but firms up as the speedometer climbs. The XC90 has carlike driving characteristics with little roll in the corners. While the Volvo offers a solid, secure road feel, it's still fairly light on its feet. The ride is comfortable without any of the harshness found in competing truck-based SUVs. Braking is especially strong with a great progressive feel through the pedal.
The well-insulated cabin is impressively quiet. Sit in the driver seat and the gauges and controls are conveniently wrapped around you. There is a feeling of being in just the right position to drive: feng shui, Swedish style. Visibility is excellent. The center stack is tastefully accented with wood grain paneling that contrasts nicely with brushed aluminum control knobs. Heating and air conditioning controls are clearly laid out and easy to use.
The Volvo XC90 boasts a maximum cargo capacity of 93.2 cubic feet — larger than its competitors, including the Mercedes-Benz ML500 with its 81.2 cubic feet of cargo space. Oddly, the XC90 doesn't feel especially roomy, probably because of the well-insulated characteristics of the vehicle. There are many nice touches that make the space more usable, among these a split rear tailgate — the lower section keeps stray items from rolling out if the Volvo is unloaded on a hill.
The XC90 V8's base price of $45,395 includes an impressive list of standard equipment: all-wheel drive, a moonroof, leather seats (for the third row, too), power-adjustable driver and passenger seats, an in-dash CD changer, separate third-row air conditioning and rear audio headphone outlets and controls. This package compares favorably to that of competing vehicles such as the Lexus GX 470 ($45,375), the 2004 M-B ML500 ($45,750), the 2004 Cadillac SRX ($46,595) and the BMW X5 4.4 ($52,100).
Now that Volvo has upped the power on this otherwise desirable 'ute, it seems to match or exceed its competitors in performance. But the real story lies in Volvo's unerring dedication to safety. Put those two things together and you may well have, as the 2005 Volvo XC90 attests, the best of both worlds.