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2003 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Review

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SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide


    To many people around the world, ``Volvo'' is nearly synonymous 
with ``wagon.'' After all, Volvo has been building wagons for fifty 
years, starting with the PV445 Duett in 1953. And Volvo is the 
wagon leader, import or domestic, in the U.S. today, with around 
half of the market.

    Of course, today in the U.S., wagons are niche players and SUVs 
sell in mass quantities. But despite the SUV rugged go-anywhere 
image, most are used for exactly the same purposes as wagons. 
Since many Volvo owners have expressed a desire for something 
larger than a Volvo wagon, and Volvo has been fueling growth with 
conquest sales, a Volvo SUV was an obvious choice to please both 
existing and potential Volvo owners.

    So Volvo built the XC90. It is a contemporary mid-premium 
``crossover'' car platform-based sport-utility vehicle, built on the 
architecture used in the mid- and full-sized Volvo sedans and 
wagons. Like those cars, the XC90 has a transversely-mounted 
inline engine in the front, either a 2.5-liter, 208-horsepower light-
pressure turbo five in the XC90 2.5T or a 2.9-liter twin-turbo six in 
the XC90 T6, matched to an automatic transmission with 
``Geartronic'' manual mode. It is offered with front- or all-wheel 
drive. As in a car, the transverse engine mounting in the XC90 gives 
something for which SUVs are not normally known - great space 
efficiency. The XC90 is about the same length as Volvo's S80 sedan, 
yet can be configured to hold seven people.
    The XC90 was successful even before its introduction, with 50 
percent of the first year's production pre-sold. I first drove it when it 
was introduced to the press a year ago in California's Napa Valley. 
Whenever we stopped, it attracted attention, from Volvo drivers and 
non-Volvo drivers alike. It was a pleasant vehicle for the Northern 
California mountains, with decidedly un-trucklike ride comfort and 
handling even on narrow semi-paved roads. More recently, I've 
spent a week with an AWD T6 at home. Its combination of Volvo 
comfort, safety, space, and versatile interior arrangement makes it a 
very pleasant vehicle for the real world. 

APPEARANCE: With its broad shoulder line coming off the vee-
shaped hood, and the diagonal bar across its rectangular grille, even 
a quick glance will tell that the XC90 is the Volvo SUV. It looks just 
like a Volvo wagon, only taller, wider, and brawnier. More massive 
SUV-style matte-finished bumpers, with matching wheel arch and 
rocker panel trim reinforce its look. The taillights extend up toward 
the roof as on Volvo wagons, but, like the rest of the XC90, are 
wider and more massive. The design concept, according to Volvo 
styling chief Peter Horbury, was ``masculine but not macho; 
muscular, but not aggressive.'' And that sums it up very well.

COMFORT: Volvo fans will find the XC90's interior familiar. It's 
like any other premium Volvo in basic design and appointment, but 
larger. In T6 trim, excellent power front and split folding bench rear 
seats have leather upholstery. Wood trim on the instrument panel 
and doors adds luxury ambiance. Instruments are shaded by a 
familiar angular hood, while the center stack features Volvo's easy-
to-use iconic climate controls and a new audio control system. The 
LCD screen for the optional navigation system pops out of the top 
of the instrument panel, and so takes up no center stack real estate. 
In the up position it is still below the line of sight for forward vision. 
Versatility starts in the second row, which is split 40/20/40 as part of 
the ``Versatility Package,'' which also included the third-row seat. 
All segments are independently adjustable fore-and-aft, and head- 
and leg- room is very good. The outside sections slide forward for 
third-row access. Here, the third row is not an afterthought. It will 
hold two medium-sized adults, and they get a 2+2 arrangement with 
a center console, cupholders, storage space, lights, and fan control. 
And there is still good space for luggage. The third row folds flat in 
an interesting manner, and, if the second row is also folded there is 
enough space for long cargo or a camping bivouac. 

SAFETY: Like all Volvos, the XC90 is designed for maximum 
safety with a systems approach integrating active and passive safety 
devices. Because the XC90 is higher than a car, its front subframe 
has a lower crossmember positioned at regular car bumper height 
that will activate the other car's crumple zones in case of a frontal 
collision. The XC90 also introduces the ``Roll-Over Protection 
System'', ROPS. It includes the ``Roll Stability Control'' (RSC) 
system, an enhancement to the DSTC stability control system to 
lessen the chance for a rollover in extreme maneuvers and strong 
boron steel components in the roof for protection if the vehicle does 

ROADABILITY: Volvo also makes real trucks - semis - but they 
have nothing to do with an XC90. Built on the same platform as the 
S60, V70, and S80 models, with unibody construction and fully-
independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension, 
the XC90 unsurprisingly feels and handles like a large Volvo car. 
The emphasis is on large - at 4,600 lbs. in T6 AWD 7-seat trim, it 
weighs over 1,000 lbs. more than a V70, so it's not as nimble as a 
V70 or V40. The suspension is firm in calibration, with little body 
roll, and steering response is very good. Despite its good clearance, 
height, and weight, the XC90 has a low center of gravity, so 
emergency maneuvers can be done with confidence, aided by 
DSTC, RSC, and ROPS. All-wheel drive models have a new 
electronically-controlled AWD system that interacts with the 
stability- and traction-control systems provides all-weather traction 
and control.

PERFORMANCE: The XC90 T6 uses Volvo's 2.9-liter twincam, 
intercooled twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine. Two smaller 
turbos operate in parallel, fed from three cylinders each to eliminate 
turbo lag. That, and continuously-variable valve timing on both 
camshafts, help the engine to make 268 horsepower at 5100 rpm 
and, more importantly for everyday driving, 280 lb-ft of torque 
between 1800 and 5000 rpm. With the broad torque band, the four 
speeds of the automatic transmission work just fine, and manual 
shifting is possible in ``Geartronic'' mode. Towing capacity is 5,000 

CONCLUSIONS: Volvo redefines the SUV with the XC90.

2003 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

Base Price			$ 40,565
Price As Tested		        $ 47,865
Engine Type			twin turbocharged and intercooled 
                                 dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum
                                 alloy inline 6 with variable valve
                                 timing on both camshafts
Engine Size			2.9 liters / 177 cu. in.
Horsepower			268 @ 5100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			280 @ 1800-5000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length		112.6 in. / 188.9 in.
Curb Weight			4610 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        17.2
Fuel Capacity			19.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline 
Tires				P235/60 Michelin Pilot MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		four-wheel vented disc, ABS, EBD, EBA 
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance		9.2 (T6 AWD)
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		15 / 20 / 16
0 to 60 mph				8.7  sec
Towing capacity			        5,000 lbs.

Metallic paint				$   450
Climate package - includes: Interior
  Air Quality System (IAQS), rain
  sensor, heated front seats, headlamp
  washers				$   595
Versatility Package - includes:
  Third-row seats, air conditioning 
  for 3rd row, rear headphone
  outlets, self-leveling rear 
  suspension, center cushion
  second row				$ 1,675
Premium package - includes:
  18" Atlantis alloy wheels, premium
  sound system, power retractable
  rearview mirrors			$ 1,300
Volvo navigation system		        $ 1,895
Wood steering wheel			$   300
Reverse warning system		        $   400
Destination charge			$   685