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2006 Volvo XC90 V8 AWD Review

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2006 Volvo XC90 V8 AWD

The XC90 SUV has been a success for Volvo, which should not surprise anyone. After all, Volvo is best-known for wagons, and what is the modern SUV if not an update on that most useful type of vehicle. Based on an enlarged version of the platform found underneath Volvo's midsize and large sedans and wagons, there is no truck in the XC90's family tree. It's pure crossover, with a transverse engine mounting, now common for cars, but nearly unheard of in large SUV design. That allows a maximum amount of interior space for a given size, and the XC90 takes advantage of that with a seven-passenger capacity in a vehicle no longer than the company's S80 sedan.

Even though XC90 sales exceeded Volvo's expectations, there was a drawback when compared to other luxury crossovers - power. The original engines were Volvo's 208-horsepower light-pressure turbo 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder or 268-hp twin high-pressure turbo inline six T6, both of which fit neatly into the short space in the engine compartment. But the XC90 was considerably larger and heavier than a regular Volvo wagon or sedan, and competitors were emphasizing power. What to do?

If increased turbo boost was even considered, it likely wasn't considered for very long. While a high-boost turbo can work in a sports sedan, it's not at all appropriate for a vehicle that may be called upon to tow up to 5,000 lbs. A hot and overworked turbocharger is not an asset.

A larger engine, perhaps? But fitting a V8 into a space designed for a narrow inline engine could be more than tricky, and major re-engineering would be prohibitively expensive. Unless a narrow V8 could be found...

Volvo is now part of the Ford extended family, and Ford has resources and contacts. No, a Mustang V8 wouldn't fit, but there was once a Ford car with a transverse V8. The second-generation Taurus SHO used an unusual V8 based loosely on Ford's Duratec V6 and developed and engineered jointly with Yamaha. Unlike most V8s, which have a 90-degree cylinder angle for reasons of balance, the SHO had the 60-degree angle of the ancestral V6, with a balance shaft canceling vibration. The SHO never sold in great quantities, and its 3.4-liter, 237-hp V8 would be no improvement on the XC90's six, but a larger engine developed along the same lines could work wonders.

And so it has. The XC90 V8 was created with a 4.4-liter Yamaha-sourced 60-degree V8, and has replaced the T6 at the top of Volvo's SUV lineup. With 311 horsepower, it's the most powerful Volvo ever made, besting the T6 by 43 hp. With no adverse effect on weight or fuel economy, it significantly improves acceleration and drivability. That power gets to the ground better with an improved version of Volvo's all-wheel drive system. Add in the XC90's car-like ride and handling, first-class comfort, safety, space, and interior versatility, and Volvo's SUV heads to the top of its class. I've been happily driving one for the past week, and have found it to be an improvement over the old T6.

APPEARANCE: There have been no major changes to the XC90 since its introduction in late 2002. With its broad-shouldered presence, rounded vee-shaped hood, and the diagonal bar across its rectangular grille, there is no doubt that the XC90 is a Volvo. Bigger, taller, and more massive, it looks like a Volvo wagon that's been on a training program. The V8 can be distinguished from the five-cylinder model by its unique badging and trim, color-coordinated body molding and mirrors, gray grille, and twin exhaust pipes.

COMFORT: As outside, all of the familiar Volvo styling cues are found inside the XC90. In style, it's not too different from the V70 or XC70 wagons, but it is noticeably larger, especially in height. And an interesting seating arrangement makes very good use of all that space. Both front passengers are treated to excellent bucket seats, and the front passenger seat can be folded flat for extra cargo space if necessary. The driver has good visibility and a very good control layout. Both models feature a 40/20/40 split second-row seat, with each section adjustable fore-and-aft and foldable. The center section is expressly-designed to hold a child seat, and be moved forward for easy access from the front seats. Access to the third row is by moving either second-row outside section, and there is reasonable space for two children or medium-sized adults. It folds flat when not needed, as does the second row. There are enough cupholders and power outlets around the cabin to keep all occupants happy. The optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system is notable for having two screens - one in each front seat headrest - and is designed to be used by the second-row passengers with easy access to the DVD player. Interior space is optimized by locating the full-size spare tire outside and underneath, as in a pickup.

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 roll.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Because, in construction, it is a large car, the XC90 has the ride and handling characteristics of a large car - in particular, a larger, heavier Volvo wagon. This is good. Even with its high driving position and good 8.9 inches of debris-avoiding ground clearance, it feels solidly-planted to the road. The fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension gives a moderately firm ride, in the manner of other Volvos, and steering effort is light. At 4,600 lbs, the XC90 is no lightweight, and inertia does make its presence felt when changing direction. But it's no worse in that respect than any other 4,600-lb vehicle, and there's no getting around the laws of physics. The standard Nivomat self-leveling system in the rear helps when a heavy load is carried, and the improved ``All-Wheel Drive With Instant Traction'' AWD system now uses a computer-controlled device to deliver up to 50 percent more torque to the rear axle much more quickly than with the previous system. This helps maintain traction under heavy acceleration and on slippery surfaces.

PERFORMANCE: More power with no weight or fuel consumption penalty is always a good deal. And the 4.4-liter 60-degree DOHC, 32-valve aluminum alloy engine with continuously-variable valve timing on all cams is also the first V8 to meet Federal ULEV II emissions standards. The effect of its 311 horsepower (at 5850 rpm) and 325 lb-ft of torque (at 3900 rpm) is further enhanced by a six-speed automatic transmission with electronically-controlled shift logic and ``Geartronic'' manual-shift mode that improves both performance and economy. With the engine's good power, and broad torque curve, the transmission works very well in ``D,'' with manual mode useful only for entertainment.

CONCLUSIONS: With an innovative new V8, Volvo has made significant improvements to its XC90 SUV.


2006 Volvo XC90 V8 AWD

 Base Price $ 45,840 Price As Tested $ 51,475 Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve 60-degree aluminum alloy V8 Engine Size 4.4 liters / 269 cu. in. Horsepower 311 @ 5850 rpm Torque (lb-ft)  325 @ 3900 rpm Transmission 6-speed electronically-controlled automatic with adaptive shift logic and Geartronic manual-shift mode Wheelbase / Length 112.6 in. / 188.9 in. Curb Weight 4,610 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.8 Fuel Capacity 21.1 gal. Fuel Requirement  91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended Tires P235/60 VR18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 Brakes, front/rear  vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink, Nivomat self-leveling system in rear standard Ground clearance 8.9 inches Drivetrain transverse front engine, part-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 21 / 17 0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec Towing Capacity 5,000 lbs

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Metallic paint $ 475 Climate Package - includes: heated front seats, headlamp washers $ 675 Touring Package - includes: 18-inch Atlantis alloy wheels, 6CD in-dash premium sound system, wood inlays, wood steering wheel $1,795 Rear seat entertainment system $1,995 Destination charge $ 695