2004 XC90 New Car Test Drive
Can an automobile have scruples? We're not sure, but Volvo calls its XC90 'the first SUV with a conscience.' That's because the company's first sport-utility addresses the three conscience-testing SUV issues. 1. It gets better gas mileage than most big SUVs, and the five-cylinder XC90 has ultra-low (ULEV) emissions. 2. It has a gyroscopic sensor that detects a possible impending rollover, activating a Roll Stability Control system to apply braking and cut throttle to correct the imbalance. There's also a high-strength steel roof structure, just in case. 3. It has a unique low front chassis crossmember, about the same height as the bumper of a sedan, designed to inflict less damage on any vehicle or its occupants that the XC90 might strike. Clearly someone at Volvo has noticed which way the political winds are blowing.
A totally new vehicle last year, the Volvo XC90 looks like a cross between a Volvo Cross Country wagon and a BMW X5. Unlike the BMW, Volvo's SUV seats seven, with a roomy, versatile interior that boasts more cargo space than the Mercedes M-Class, Acura MDX and just about all the other vehicles in this class. It offers most of the bells and whistles, and in base trim it's very competitively priced. The XC90 offers a comfortable ride and handles well on streets and highways. It's powered by either turbocharged five-cylinder or twin-turbo six-cylinder engines, and we actually preferred the less expensive version.
You wouldn't expect major changes in the second model year, and there are none. For 2004, the XC90 gets a remote key fob that's also the key, with a retractable metal blade. A nice wooden steering wheel, leather shift lever and real aluminum trim are now optional. More aggressive wheel designs are intended to add character.
But a conscience? We'd call that line marketing. SUVs, including the XC90, are still heavier, with worse fuel mileage, than comparably sized wagons. And outside enthusiasts seem to go more for the XC70 Cross Country wagon. But if you need what a product offers, you shouldn't be made to feel guilty about it. And if you prefer an SUV, the Volvo XC90 is worth investigating. It's much less expensive than the BMW X5 and some of us prefer it to the Lexus RX330.
The Volvo XC90 is available in two variations: the base XC90 2.5T and the XC90 AWD T6.
The XC90 2.5T ($34,790) uses Volvo's proven inline five-cylinder turbocharged engine, here displacing 2.5 liters and delivering 208 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive.
The T6 AWD ($40,965) is powered by the S80 luxury sedan's inline six-cylinder with twin turbos, pumped up to 2.9 liters for 268 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds, mated to a beefier but less efficient four-speed automatic.
The XC90's 2003 rollout prices have increased a significant $1,440 this year, and most option prices have increased slightly. Yet Volvo has kept the base price of the front-wheel-drive XC90 to a very reasonable level by limiting standard equipment, thus making the vehicle and its core strengths more affordable. Not that it's a stripper. The Roll Stability Control, intended to virtually eliminate the possibility of a rollover, is standard. Volvo sells safety, and all XC90s have full-length, curtain-style head-protection airbags (the first SUV so equipped, though others have followed). Other standard features include AM/FM/CD stereo, fog lights, power driver's seat with memory, dual zone climate control, tinted windows and a trip computer.
Electronically controlled all-wheel drive ($1,775) is optional on the XC90 2.5T. The popular Premium Package ($2,575) includes leather seating, a power front passenger seat, mirror memory, a moonroof and in-dash six CD changer.
The XC90 AWD T6 comes standard with all-wheel drive, as its name implies, and most of the equipment included in the base model's premium package. The T6 Premium Package ($1,300) adds 18-inch wheels, power retractable side mirrors and a premium 300-watt stereo.
The Versatility Package ($1,700) is what sets the XC90 apart from the average luxury SUV. It includes the third row of seats and its accessories, starting with separate controls for the rear air conditioning unit and audio systems, as well as a built-in second-row child booster seat. The grouped options include a Climate Package ($625) with heated front seats, headlight washers and rain-sensing wipers, and a Security Package ($675) with infrared-heated windshield and laminated side glass.
Stand-alone options include Xenon headlamps ($500), a vertical cargo net ($300) to keep gear or pets in the back (Volvo warns that a 60-pound dog flying forward at 30 mph weighs 2700 pounds), a reverse warning system ($400), 18-inch alloy wheels ($500), the integrated child booster cushion for the second-row seat ($150) and the Dolby 12-speaker sound system ($775). The optional navigation system ($1,995) is DVD based.