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2006 Volvo XC90 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

A Really Sweet Swede
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

When the XC90 was introduced at the North American International Auto Show a few years ago it was named the North American Truck of the Year, . . . or was that North American Car of the Year. If there had been a category called North American Cross-Over of the Year, that would have been most appropriate. With a high muscular stance, four-wheel-drive and the legendary Swedish crashworthiness on a car platform, it was a hit right out of the box.

Having not spent much time with Volvos in recent years, I was unsure what to expect. I was wondering if Volvo’s personality has been changed by being in the Ford family. My last mechanical mistress was a 1965 P1800S. Like other Volvos of that era it had a special, unique feel and ambiance unlike anything else. Of course, cars of that era were less homogenous than cars today so we could expect them to have more character. Volvos had a sort of purposeful eloquence that was unusual even for its time.

The XC90 is thoroughly modern, in technology and concept. Volvo calls it a “Special Purpose Vehicle.” Base MSRP on this one is $45,840. Metallic paint costs $475 extra and a Climate Package (heated seats and headlamp washers) is $675. The $1,795 Touring Package includes 18-inch alloy wheels, premium sound system, wood accents, and leather shift knob. And the rear seat entertainment system costs $1,995. These along with a $695 destination charge add up to $51,475 according to our sticker. Seems a bit pricy to me.

The XC90 is powered by a slick, spirited, compact 4.4-liter dual-overhead-cam V8 – the first V8 ever for Volvo - with variable valve timing making 311 horsepower and 325 lb.ft. of torque. The California Air Resources Board has certified this transversely mounted, Yamaha built engine as ULEV II, or Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle – the only V8 engine with that coveted designation. Yamaha, you may recall, built that wonderful, bullet-proof V8 that powered the Taurus SHO, one of which this reporter drove to nearly 180,000 miles. Power gets to all four wheels by way of Volvo’s Geartronic 6-speed automatic with Adaptive Shift Logic and Winter Mode.

The fuel tank holds 21.1 gallons and EPA mileage numbers are 15-city/21-highway. The XC90 V8 AWD weighs in at 4,825 pounds. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds. That’s the same as the Honda Ridgeline pickup we had this past week. You can tow a pretty good sized boat with that capacity.

Inside, the XC90 is luxurious, classy and efficient. Rich wood and brushed metal accents compliment the black leather and good quality plastics to give the interior a feeling of being first class. The shapes and designs of the controls, handles and seats are attractive and functional. After all, if they are to justify 50-grand on the sticker, they have to make it look and feel like 50-grand. Seating for seven is standard and all but one seat (the driver’s of course) folds down nearly flat, without having to remove the headrests. The rear access is a neat two-piece arrangement with a big conventional tailgate that swings upward and a little stubby one below that folds down. See the picture above.

The driving experience is first-rate but not unique to Volvo. Close our eyes and we could be in a BMW, Audi or GMC. All of those are strong and feel great. Front and rear suspensions are independent with coil springs, hydraulic shocks and stabilizer bars. Brakes are discs all around with 4-channel ABS. Steering is speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion.

The uni-body platform is stiff and rigid and we would expect the roll-over stiffness to be best-in-class. You probably know the reason the Swedes tend to make such tough bodies is that they don’t have to worry about hitting deer, like we fear here. Rather, they have to worry about the long-legged, three-quarter-ton moose trotting out in front of them on a cold dark curvy road.

XC90’s bad road credentials are excellent as well. With 8.6-inches of ground clearance and relatively low center of gravity Volvo’s electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system called Instant Traction ™ is “pre-charged,” so they say, to minimize the time it takes the car to adjust to slippery conditions. Under normal conditions 95% of the power goes to the front wheels but on hard cornering or heavy acceleration the torque split is 50/50.

Warranty is 4-years/50,000 miles.

Unlike Volvos of the past this new XC90 does not offer a unique feel or quirky personality. Is that a good thing? Some would say yes. It does feel just as solid, powerful and competent as anything in its class - high class, that is. And, I think it’s really good looking. It has a Swedish personality but with the design elements of other world class vehicles, that is, a broad-shouldered posture and high aggressive stance with an attractive, efficient and aerodynamic look.

I can’t say there is anything about the XC90 that reminds me of my favorite old Volvo but I think one could become nearly as enamored with it as I was with mine.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions All Rights Reserved