Expert Review:Autoblog

The following review is for a 2005 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

XC Grill

The one major difference in this year's Volvo XC90 is the new available V8 engine. You might have noticed the ad blitz around it during the Super Bowl and on a few websites and maybe even to the right of this very post. Just to clear the air, I scheduled the XC90 V8 for a test long before I even knew Volvo was signing on as an advertiser here. And even if it we had Volvo signed on earlier, it is still a newsworthy model to cover.

There is roughly a $4,000 difference between the twin turbo I6 and the normally aspirated V8 model starting at $41,550 and $45,395 respectively. Unfortunately, I haven’t tested the T6 model for comparison so I can only tell you what I experienced with the V8. To get down to basics, the engine is certainly powerful and would be a great asset for you highway commuters or anyone who can cruise freely on long stretches. In a stop and go environment, or even gridlock traffic, the engine offers a loud V8 gurgle at launch before the power kicks in. This is due to the much talked about built-in resistance. To me that means no fun. We’ll need more time in the XC90 before coming to a definitive conclusion.

XC Side

Luckily, Volvo does the interior right. We’ll go in-depth with many images tomorrow but quickly I can say this is one of the most sophisticated and modern interior styles I’ve seen in an SUV. It certainly outdoes the Lexus RX we tested a few weeks back.

Volvo Int AG smlSitting inside the Volvo XC90 is like being in the automotive version of the W Hotel. The SUV is both modern and luxurious, yet it also makes the money you paid for it seem well worth it. And unlike a weekend at a W Hotel, you'll be pampered in this baby for at least a few years.

Volvo Center Stack AG sml

My design sensibilities always lean toward the modern look: steel, black leather etc. But the better half is more Crate & Barrel-ish. That means the house is much more contemporary than my personal taste. I don’t complain since I think it makes a very nice look for a home. After testing the S40 sedan and now the XC90, Volvo might make a wise choice for a person that doesn’t get to express their taste in design around the homestead. 

Volvo Handles AG sml

The leather seats are comfortable and pleasing to the touch. While the wood and leather steering wheel is a bit too cold on winter mornings, it is a very classy instrument that is the perfect size. The metal accents on the door handles and elsewhere actually feel like metal. That is a definite rarity in these days of silver painted plastic. Environmental and stereo controls are extremely straightforward and easy to use, although I wouldn’t mind the sculptured look of the S40s center stack here too. I guess you can’t have everything.

Remember to click on the images for larger versions and to check out Day 1 in the XC90 go here.

XC90 Gauges

It is very fortunate automotive writers get a full week to test new vehicles. It has taken me quite a few days to get used to the lurching tendencies of the Volvo XC90 V8. From a dead stop there is a bit of a shudder during acceleration. During the first two days of the test this was extremely annoying and had turned me off on this otherwise very elegant looking SUV.

XC90 Front Quarter

Now I’m starting to come around to how you have to massage the gas pedal to get what you want. Mashing it to the floor just doesn’t work, and I tried. Much like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and its Hemi engine, the Volvo XC90’s V8 is best at highway speeds.

The machine drives with authority. And because of the solid structure and pleasing suspension set-up, the XC90 is very commuter friendly. And now I’m starting to see how Volvo could almost justify all the hype around the V8 powerplant. I didn’t think the Hemi was necessary in the Jeep, but Volvo definitely doesn’t suffer from adding the power to compensate for its weight and size. The Volvo’s V8 makes a much more logical choice for that reason, but you’re still not going to feel like you’re driving a muscle car. The V8 option is probably just a necessary weapon in Volvo’s arsenal as more competitors come to the market.

3 rows of XC90
Wrapping up a week in the XC90 V8 leaves me feeling like Volvo has rounded out its line-up, but the V8 doesn't add much to the already successful SUV. The XC90 is Volvo's best selling model after all. I think the V8 option is there just to keep up with the Joneses. I understand the maneuver though. When a buyer walks into the showroom ready to drop the coin on a luxury SUV there is a good chance they'll ante up the extra dough for the top of the line trim. With the new V8, Volvo can satisfy that need.

But driving the SUV I didn’t feel that same need. Around town, where I spent most of my drive time, the V8 didn’t help much with sluggish off the line performance and fuel economy that dipped below 14 mpg. On the highway the XC90 was a much sweeter ride and proved a lovely driving experience.

3rd Row Seat 1Since I haven’t reviewed the XC90 previously, I wanted to show everyone the third row of seats. Just a few years ago getting seats up and down in most SUVs was a hardship. But like the new Jeep Grand Cherokee that we reviewed last week, the Volvo uses simple buttons and cords to move the seats into the required position.

Getting into that third row doesn’t look that easy however as the second row seat must be in it’s full down position to get back there. And even then it doesn’t look too comfortable for adults. I could barely sit back there for a few minutes in my own test. Kids will probably love climbing back there though.

3rd Row Seat 3Overall performance was car like and hard to find much fault with, but I still think the Land Rover LR3 edges the XC90 out for the top SUV in this range. However, style is a big part of a buying decision and the Volvo excels in that arena. Most soccer moms will opt for this sleek people mover and the dads can feel secure knowing there’s a V8 somewhere under the hood.




Bonus images of the XC90s cargo area.XC90 Rear1
XC90 Rear2
XC90 Rear3
XC90 Rear3
XC90 Rear4

Safety and convenience in a luxurious SUV.


The Volvo XC90 offers classic Volvo attributes in a midsize SUV. It's strong on safety, comfortable, and practical. 

Its roomy interior seats seven, and there's more cargo space here than in other vehicles in its class. The cabin is luxurious, with nice firm seats and most of the bells and whistles most of us want. People who opt for a BMW X5 over one of these read magazines that use stopwatches and accelerometers for yardsticks. The XC90 handles well on streets and highways, but it also offers a comfortable ride. All-wheel drive with Volvo's new Instant Traction system makes the XC90 an excellent choice for nasty weather. Buyers choose between a 4.4-liter V8 and a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine. Each gets better gas mileage than most comparable seven-passenger SUVs. 

Volvo's reputation for safety is not just marketing talk. Volvo puts an incredible amount of time, money and effort into research and engineering designed to protect driver and passengers. We've seen XC90s hurled across parking lots by giant mechanical hands, followed by handfuls of engineers taking detailed measurements and notes. Volvo engineers are known to rush out to accident scenes immediately after they occur to assess the damage to their vehicles. In base trim, the XC90 is competitively priced, but Volvos tend to cost more than they might due to the safety engineering that goes into them. 

Safety features that come on all XC90 models include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist, and traction control. A gyroscopic sensor can detect an impending rollover and correct the imbalance by applying just the right amount of braking force to specific, individual wheels. Structural safety features include a roof structure built of high-strength steel and a low front cross member designed to inflict less damage to occupants of compact vehicles. 


The 2006 Volvo XC90 is available in two variations: the base XC90 2.5T with its five-cylinder engine and the XC90 V8 introduced for 2005. (The six-cylinder T6 model has been discontinued.)

The XC90 2.5T ($35,640) uses Volvo's proven inline five-cylinder turbocharged engine. This 2.5-liter engine is rated at 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque and comes with a five-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive. All-Wheel Drive with Instant Traction, which minimizes wheelspin, is available ($1,775). 

The XC90 V8 ($45,840) is powered by a 4.4-liter V8 developed to Volvo specifications by Yamaha, the Japanese motorcycle builder and auto engine specialist that several years ago built the powerplant for the Ford Taurus SHO. The new V8 generates 315 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system with Instant Traction comes standard. 

Active safety features that come standard include Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic sensor to reduce the possibility of a rollover by applying brakes and modulating engine power. All XC90s also have electronic stability control to help keep the car on the driver's intended path even when tire grip is challenged. Passive safety features include side-impact airbags for torso protection, in addition to the required frontal airbags. Full-length, curtain-style airbags, designed to provide head protection in a side impact or rollover, cover all three rows. The seats feature Volvo's Whiplash Protection System, which moves them back and downward if the vehicle is hit from behind, reducing neck snap. Third-row seatbelts have pretensioners, designed to reduce injury caused by the belts in a crash. Volvo also designed a crumple zone at the rear, for added safety in a rear-end collision. 

Standard features on both models include 17-inch wheels, 12 beverage holders, three power outlets, a CD player, trip computer, power windows, doors, locks and mirrors, and an eight-way power driver's seat with memory. 

The popular Premium Package ($2,995) is available to upgrade the 2.5T, and includes leather seating surfaces, a power front passenger seat, memory mirrors, a power moonroof and upgraded audio with a six CD changer. The Versatility Package ($2,100) can be added to the premium package on the 2.5T and includes the third row of seats and its accessories, including separate controls for the rear air conditioning unit and audio systems, as well as a built-in second-row child booster seat, and Nivomat self-leveling rear suspension. 

The V8 adds speed-sensitive power steering, eight-way power for the front passenger's seat, leather seating surfaces, a six-CD changer, auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror and memory function for the exterior mirrors, ventilated disc brakes instead of the solid rotors on 2.5T, self-leveling rear suspension, a third-row seat with air conditioning, rear audio system with head phones and color-coordinated body trim. 

A Touring Package ($1,795) is available to upgrade the V8, including 18-inch wheels with 235/60R18 tires, premium 305W sound system with 6-CD in-dash changer, 12 speakers and Dolby surround sound, genuine wood inlays, leather gearshift knob and wood steering wheel. 

Options for either model include bi-xenon headlamps ($700), metallic paint colors ($475), headlamp washers and heated rear seats ($675), a navigation system ($2,120), 18-inch wheels in chrome ($1,900) or alloy ($750), a premium sound system ($775), a rear-seat entertainment system with two headrest-mounted seven-inch color screens ($1,995), and an interior air quality system ($175). A Convenience Package ($1,295) can be added to either model, including rear park assist, power retractable rearview mirrors, cargo security cover and net, and power child rear door locks. 


The Volvo XC90 is an attractive SUV and recognizable as a Volvo. The roofline rakes upward dramatically from the windshield to a high horizontal plane, with the arc of the top echoed by the curve of the roof rails. Coming toward you on the freeway, the XC90 almost looks like an old convertible with its top puffing up. A high beltline adds to the typical visual image of a tall SUV. 

The overall angularity clearly says Volvo. Head-on, you might think it's the result of the mating of a Honda CRV and a Dodge Ram. The hood shape is similar to the Ram's, but the grille is Honda-like, except for the diagonal band that labels it a Volvo. The grille is elevated four or five inches over the protruding fender contours, and slightly V-shaped to be consistent with Volvo design. 

The XC90's long wheelbase, wide stance and low center of gravity promote handling stability. The overall length is not much longer than the wheelbase. As a result, overhangs are short; the body doesn't extend very far past the wheels, in other words. The XC90 has a wide track as well. And despite its height, it has a lower center of gravity than the XC70 Cross Country wagon. 

Like the XC70, the back end of the XC90 features huge taillights. Think safety. If it bothers you that the back of your SUV looks like Las Vegas, it might comfort you to think that you're a whole lot less likely to get creamed from behind by some half-asleep driver. You're also less likely to back into something at night, thanks to backup lights that look like they came from a rally car. 

The standard wheels measure 17 inches in diameter, but the hottest look comes with the optional 18-inch wheels available in alloy or chrome finish and fitted with lower profile tires. 

The XC90's rear hatch has two sections, with a 70/30 top/bottom split. The lower edge of the liftgate is waist level, leaving a small tailgate. If you're just stowing the groceries or dry cleaning, you might not need to drop the tailgate, but the rest of the time you'll need to open both gates. Two gates is more work than one. The good news is that the tiny tailgate lifts and closes easily, and the short liftgate is less likely to bonk you or someone else on the head when you raise or lower it. It's also inclined toward the front of the vehicle, which shortens the roofline and makes the XC90 look shorter. The liftgates on some SUVs are hard to lift due to their weight and the angles involved. That's not the case here. 

The fit of body panels and trim is decent. The XC90's big doors close with a light touch and a nice solid sound when they latch. The rear window wiper is sturdy, protected by a flat black plastic sleeve. 


We found the cabin of the Volvo XC90 roomy and comfortable. It seats up to seven passengers. By mounting the engine across the chassis, Volvo has created a roomy cabin inside a relatively compact exterior. This allows the instrument panel and front seats to be positioned more forward, opening up space and legroom for back-seat passengers. 

The Volvo can carry more stuff than most of its competitors. With all six passenger seats folded down, the XC90 offers 92.3 cubic feet of cargo space, more than what's found in competing SUVs: 2006 Mercedes M-Class (72.4 cubic feet), BMW X5 (54.5), Acura MDX (81.5), Lexus RX 330 (84.7), Cadillac SRX (69.5), Infiniti FX (64.5). Even with all three rows of seats in place there's room in the Volvo for two or three stacked duffel bags behind the third row. 

The XC90 carries long objects well. Lowering a small center portion of the second-row seat reveals 9.5 feet of unobstructed space between the instrument panel and the rear liftgate. That can be done even with the third-row seats in place because they have a passage space between the seatbacks. As a result, four surfers and two long boards will easily fit into an XC90, an impressive feat. The XC90 is also good for trout fishing because you can set your rigged 9-foot fly rods in there without having to break them down, useful when moving from spot to spot. 

Seating and cargo arrangements are enormously versatile, allowing 64 different configurations, including six of the seven seats folded flat. Equally impressive is the ease with which the seats slide, fold, change and vanish. 

Second-row seats are split 40/20/40 and slide forward independently. Headrests don't have to be removed when the seats are folded flat. Up front, the console between the front seats can be easily removed, allowing the center second-row seat to slide way forward between and just behind the front buckets. With the optional integrated booster cushion for that seat, tending to a young child has never been easier. 

There's only enough leg room in the third row for two kids or two very short adults. Getting into the third row is easier than it is in many SUVs, however, due to the ease of sliding and flipping the second-row seats. There are entry grab handles to aid getting inside, but the front-door grab handle is a bit narrow. The doors close with aluminum handles, but they too are narrow, with room for only two or three fingers. 

The third row is a cozy and convenient little world of its own, however, with its center console, cup holders, deep window pockets, and separate climate controls and outlets. Kids might actually want to sit way back in the wayback. Headphone plugs are provided, meaning second- or third-row headphone users can listen to a CD while the front-seat occupants listen to the radio through the speakers. 

The standard interior trim is a mix of brushed aluminum and faux aluminum plastic. Real wood inlay trim is an option on the V8 and a big improvement over the plastic. 

There's little storage space for the front seats. The door pockets are narrow and the small center console compartment is slim and difficult to access; if you store a few CDs in the slots, there's no more room at all. The only open bin for tossing small items is on the dash panel, about big enough for a cell phone. 

The gauges are simple and the instrument panel is canted upward toward the high seating position. The wood-and-leather steering wheel that comes with the Touring package was more comfortable than the standard steering wheel because it's round; the standard wheel has edges and angles that defy understanding. 

The front bucket seats are good, especially with adjustable lumbar support, and Volvo leather is some of the best around. More side bolstering wouldn't hurt, though. 

Headroom is exceptional, thanks to the roofline, and the big windows offer excellent visibility and a feeling of roominess. Unfortunately, the price for the. 

Driving Impression

The character of the Volvo XC90 is greatly affected by whether you choose the standard five-cylinder model or the V8. 

The best deal is the base five-cylinder engine with the five-speed automatic. It delivers ample acceleration for all situations, good gas mileage and ultra-low emissions. Volvo's 2.5-liter five-cylinder produces 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. We found it delivered plenty of power for the real world, and the 24-mpg EPA Highway rating is excellent for that much power in a vehicle as heavy as the XC90. But what makes the five-cylinder engine especially sweet is the five-speed automatic that comes with it. It's a responsive transmission. Stand on the gas while cruising along on the highway and it quickly downshifts from fifth to third gear and XC90 eagerly zooms away. The five-cylinder engine doesn't seem to have a lot of torque at engine speeds below 2000 rpm but the responsiveness and flexibility of the five-speed transmission makes good use of the engine's power. The transmission includes a manual-shift feature called Geartronic. We recommend adding the optional all-wheel drive for driving in foul weather conditions. 

The V8 engine was developed for the U.S. where 30 percent of all SUVs are sold with V8 engines. Because Volvo has no history with V8s, it turned to Yamaha, which has a good relationship with Volvo's parent company, Ford, to develop a new engine compact enough to fit in the XC90's engine bay. Volvo linked the V8 to a six-speed automatic to make the best use of the engine's torque curve, which reaches 271 pound-feet of pulling power at just 2000 rpm and peaks at 325 pound-feet at 3900 rpm. 

Volvo also made some changes in its all-wheel-drive system to send more power to the rear wheels for better take off from a standing start, and incorporated a fast-reacting Instant Traction system to minimize wheelspin. We spent several hours in the V8 and found it well-suited to the sort of driving done by many American SUV owners. We enjoyed its quick acceleration and sure-footed passing maneuvers. 

Regardless of engine, we were impressed with how silky smooth the XC90 feels at 80 mph. Its chassis closely follows the design of the Cross Country wagon, but is wider and the components are beefier. It handles bumpy roads with dips and gullies well without bottoming when driven hard. It doesn't offer the sporty handling of a BMW X5 or Infiniti FX35, however. Its power rack-and-pinion steering is on the heavy side, and not as quick in the really tight stuff. But, in general, the XC90 feels reasonably tight, with decent feedback to let you know how the front tires are gripping. There's minimal body sway under hard cornering. The electronic stability control, called DSTC, stepped in a few times when we were thrashing down a particularly ornery road, and the system applied the brakes at one wheel without cutting the throttle, although we aren't sure if it was the gyroscopic roll sensor or traction sensors that triggered its operation. 

The ride quality in the XC90 is very good, stiff at the wheels, but not in the cabin. It didn't exactly absorb the ridges and bumps, because you could feel the suspension working over them; but it didn't transfer any harshness to the arms or seat of the pants at all. Speed bumps in particular were interesting; it was as if the suspension challenged them and hammered back, protecting us from jouncing even when we hit them at 15 mph. 

The all-wheel-drive system operates seamlessly, and the driver will almost never know when it's working. In normal, good-traction conditions, 95 percent of the engine's power goes to the front wheels. If the front wheels lose traction, a multi-plate clutch begins routing power to the rear, to a maximum split of 65 percent to the back tires. This frontward bias leaves the XC90 with a default understeer condition, or a sliding at the front tires near the limits of hand. 


The Volvo XC90 is packed with safety and utility features. It's as good or better than its competitors at hauling children around and offers superior cargo flexibility. The XC90 2.5T uses a quiet, proven engine with good power and a smooth five-speed automatic. The V8 is significantly more expensive, but faster, with more torque. 

New Car Test Drive correspondents Sam Moses reported from the Columbia River Gorge, with Larry Edsall in Goteborg, Sweden, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles. 

Model Lineup

Volvo XC90 2.5T ($35,640); XC90 V8 ($45,840). 

Assembled In


Options As Tested

Touring Package with 18-inch alloy wheels ($1,795) which includes premium sound system with 6-cd in-dash changer, wood inlays and steering wheel, and leather gearshift knob. Climate package ($675) includes heated front seats, headlamp washers, interior air quality sensor and rain-sensing wipers; reverse warning system ($400). 

Model Tested

Volvo XC90 V8 ($45,840). 

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