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2006 XC90

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 3.5

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How much difference does the new V8 make?


by mkaresh:      Apr 3, 2006 - Updated Jan 13, 2007


Product Rating: 3.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: V8 a very welcome improvement over the turbo six, handles better as well
Cons: Interior needs the upgrade it will receive for 2007, a bit tight inside
The Bottom Line: The V8 is easily worth its higher price. I enjoyed driving the XC90 much more this time around.


I last drove and reviewed the XC90 in both five- and six-cylinder forms a couple of years ago, and wasn't terribly impressed. The SUV's steering was overly light at low speeds, the handling was a bit tippy, and both turbocharged engines suffered from non-linear power delivery. It was too easy to have not enough one second then too much the next. Finally, I saw little point to the more expensive T6 because the 2.5T's extra gear ratio largely compensated for the five-cylinder's power deficit.

In the middle of the 2005 model year Volvo began offering a Yamaha-engineered normally-aspirated 311-horsepower 4.4-liter V8 in the XC90. Teamed with a six-speed automatic and a faster-reacting all-wheel-drive system, it promised to eliminate many of the problems I had with the turbocharged engines. Furthermore, this engine will soon be offered in some Volvo and Lincoln sedans. Eager to sample it and see how much it improved Volvo's SUV, I took an XC90 V8 for a test drive.

Styling

Unlike the overly cladded XC70, the XC90 is an attractive vehicle, looking at once SUV rugged and luxury car elegant. In it Volvo’s current design language has translated very well to SUV proportions. The proportions themselves deserve some of the credit. They’re pretty much perfect. Unlike with many car-based SUVs (especially the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX sibs) the front overhang does not appear excessive. It might have helped that no attempt was made to share a platform with a minivan, as was the case with the Honda products and GM’s Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous. Unlike with those GM products, the Volvo possesses a healthy amount of ground clearance, without which an SUV doesn’t quite look like an SUV (and doesn’t clear rocks like one theoretically should, either).

Last time I noted that the XC90 needs at least the 17-inch wheels to look right. The V8, with standard 18s, does just fine here. Though an even larger wheel would improve the styling even more; 18s just aren't as large as they used to be.

The XC90 also strongly resembles other Volvos on the inside. Most of the controls are well laid out and intuitive to use—the radio being the major exception. Nothing fancy, just moderately luxurious functionality in the Scandinavian idiom.

As in other Volvos, materials quality is roughly equivalent to VW’s, and a step or two below Audi, BMW, and Lexus. The interior continues to be less rich than that in some other Volvos. Help is on the way: the 2007 will have an upgraded interior.

Accommodations

As noted above, the XC90 stands well off the ground, and the seats are similarly positioned at a conventional SUV height. The BMW X5 is similarly packaged, but many other car-based SUVs sit a few inches lower—most notably the Chrysler Pacifica and Infiniti FX (which are marketed as a new, not quite SUV type of vehicle). One benefit is a commanding driving position with excellent visibility over the hood and out the side windows.

The view rearward is much less happy when both rows of seats are up. Three rows of tall headrests block most of the view out of the rear window. The XC90 desperately needs a rear-view camera like the ones offered by many competitors.

The first two rows of seats are typical Volvo: large and softer than the Germans. The driver’s seat doesn’t cup you quite as much as that in the S60/V70, but it’s still very supportive and comfortable. The second row slides fore-and-aft a few inches in three sections split 40/20/40. It can also be reclined. In its rearmost position there is a decent amount of legroom, but nothing to write home about. If the front seats are far back and the second row is not, then adults will be a bit cramped. Shoulder room in the first and second row is similar to most midsize SUVs, with the notable exception of the Honda and Acura, which feel considerably roomier than the norm.

The sunroof is a conventional, standard-size unit. More and more SUVs are taking advantage of their large roofs to fit extra-large sunroofs. One would be welcome here.

The third row, which is standard with the V8, resembles those in the Honda/Acura sibs and Chrysler Pacifica. Both headroom and legroom are inadequate for adults. To get any sort of legroom back there the second row cannot be all the way back. Access is not easy.

With the third row up, cargo space is limited. The second and third rows can be folded to form a flat load floor. Folding the seats, especially those in the third row, requires many steps, all of them manual. Among them, the headrests must be flopped forward. But at least there is no need to remove the things, unlike in some other SUVs. Cargo volume with both rows folded is an excellent 85 cubic feet. An Acura MDX offers 82 cubic feet, a Chrysler Pacifica offers 80, a Lexus RX 330 offers 85, and a BMW X5 only 54.

The XC90 for reasons I cannot fathom uses a two-piece tailgate. The top part is so much larger than the approximately six-inch tall bottom part that I do not understand why Volvo bothered with the additional complexity and cost of two pieces. As with other two-piece tailgates, the top part must be raised first.

When I last reviewed the XC90 an entertainment system was not available. To compensate for this odd omission, Volvo now offers a twin-screen system. It'll cost you two grand, though.

On the Road

My first impression of the V8 was that it isn't that peppy. But then I discovered that the accelerator has a longer travel than most. My right foot soon learned to dig deeper to find a strong, responsive engine. The six-speed automatic's short first and second gears and tight spacing between ratios help get the engine into its power band and keep it there. Accleration still isn't breathtaking, but it's well beyond sufficient. Once over 4,000 RPM the V8 emits a sonorous growl that I found both pleasing and in-character for a premium SUV. A few times I took the engine to the redline just to listen to its song. Despite the 60-degree angle between cylinder banks, ideal for a V6 but odd for a V8, the new engine feels smooth. Needless to say, this powertrain is a huge improvement over the old six-cylinder turbo / four-speed automatic combo.

Volvo introduced a faster-reacting all-wheel-drive system with the V8. During my test drive I failed to notice any obvious power shift from the front to the rear wheels, or the trace of torque steer I noted the last time around. The XC90 with this system also understeers less when powering through a turn. So the new system works as advertised.

The steering remains overly light at low speeds, and feedback remains in short supply, but by paying especially close attention to my fingertips I could get a hint of what the front tires were up to. I've read no mention of alterations to the suspension, but the V8 seemed to lean less in hard turns, and lacked the rear-end sway in quick transitions that I warned about last time. The V8's chassis remains squishier and less responsive than a BMW X5's or Infiniti FX's. There's still a touch of slack and delay in the steering and suspension. The automatically adjusting shocks used in the R versions of the S60 and V70 could help. But the XC90's handling was taut enough this time around to provide a modicum of entertainment. It's certainly much handier than Mercedes' new three-row SUV, the GL450.

The V8's quick, linear responses and generous thrust help; they make driving the top-of-the-line XC90 much more a point-and-shoot (rather than point-squeeze-and-wait) affair. I also personally like how the moderate breadth of the XC90's cabin makes the vehicle feel smaller and lighter than it actually is. The XC90 might actually feel too small to people seeking a large, roomy SUV. But the front seat room is about right for those of us who prefer the more agile feel of a compact vehicle.

For an SUV the XC90’s brakes are powerful, though brake feel was a bit mushy. Once again I did not experience the touchiness I have in some other Volvos.

The payoff for the XC90’s less sporting handling relative to an X5 or FX is a much more compliant ride, even with the lower-profile 18-inch tires. A luxury sedan is much better still, but for an SUV the Volvo seems to ride well. It probably helps that even with the largest wheels the tires are not low profile, with an aspect ratio of 60. Also to its credit, the XC90’s ride was composed; it possessed none of the side-to-side or fore-aft rocking that plagues some loosely suspended SUVs, especially those based on trucks.

Noise levels were moderately low. The XC90 should be a comfortable vehicle to travel in aside from the seating issues discussed above.

I did not attempt to take the XC90 off the pavement. Like most other car-based SUVs, this vehicle is not intended for serious off-roading. Based on the ground clearance and ride compliance, however, it should handle unpaved roads well.

Overall, while the XC90 remains oriented towards comfort and safety, the V8 version invites and rewards aggressive driving.

Volvo XC90 V8 Price Comparisons and Pricing

The XC90 was initially the only European SUV with a third row. Mercedes soon responded with a third row in the ML, but by then that vehicle was past its prime. So the Volvo still pretty much had a niche to itself.

However, Merecedes and Audi have both recently introduced new three-row SUVs, the GL-Class and Q7, respectively. A new Acura MDX is also around the bend. Discounts can already be quite generous on the XC90. Expect them to get even better, giving the Volvo a significant price advantage over the new European entries.

Current comparisons, base to base without incentives:

GL450: $8,100 more at MSRP, $7,100 more at invoice

Q7: $2,500 more at MSRP, $1,400 more at invoice

Prices change frequently, and differences will vary based on feature level. To quickly generate these and other comparisons with the specific features you want, visit my Web site, www.truedelta.com. (It's the only site that provides true "apples-to-apples" price comparisons.)

TrueDelta's page for the Volvo XC90:

http://www.truedelta.com/models/XC90.php

Final Words

The new V8, six-speed automatic, and all-wheel-drive system, coupled with suspension tweaks, make the XC90 considerably more fun to drive. Even in regular driving the V8 is a more refined, better-behaved vehicle. If you want an XC90, I strongly recommend getting this engine.

That said, the XC90 is getting up in years. The interior will receive a much-needed upgrade this fall. The steering and suspension are not the best. And the interior is a bit tight. Put it all together, and I wouldn't pay MSRP for one. But given the right discount I wouldn't mind owning the V8.

A note on Volvo XC90 V8 Reliability

I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.

Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy an XC90 V8 rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Volvo XC90 V8 reliability comparisons.

Before I can report results, I need data on all cars--not just the XC90--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. For non-participants, this access will cost $24.95.

For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.

A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.

If you're a member, and you want to receive an email when I post a new review, click here.

Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
Acura MDX review
BMW X5 review
Land Rover LR3 review
Mercedes GL450 review
Volvo XC90 review (turbo engine)
Product Rating: 3.0
Recommended: Yes 

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