February 19, 2007
photos courtesy Volvo
February 19, 2007
Every now and then, I’m reminded why it’s a good thing I write about new vehicles and not, oh say, manage billion-dollar hedge funds, where correctly predicting future trends is the job requirement. Testing the new Volvo XC90 V8 reinforced that wise career choice. When the staid and solid Swedish automaker entered the savagely competitive SUV marketplace in 2003 with the debut of the XC90, I wondered aloud if the Volvo executive had lost its collective mind. I questioned the logic of bringing “yet another sport-ute to an already over-burdened market.” And I asked if this signalled the beginning of the end for the ubiquitous Volvo station wagon.
Turns out my predictions were wrong on all counts.
The sport-ute market today, now evolving into the Crossover Utility Vehicle category, is bigger and more successful than ever. How big? There are no fewer than nine new CUVs in the 2007 Canadian marketplace, and a U.S automaker recently announced it is ceasing some minivan production in favour of CUV development.
So, Volvo was right on the mark and relatively early out of the gate with the XC90: the 2006 XC90 was Volvo’s top-selling model in North America. And as to the demise of the Volvo station wagon, Canadian sales have never been stronger.
For 2007, the XC90 makes some big leaps forward in the styling and luxury feature departments. In fact, the redesigned exterior, with an emphasis on more chrome and cleaner lines, and the introduction of wood and brushed aluminum interior options, elevate the Volvo CUV into the company of the class-leading German and Japanese CUVs.
The biggest news, though, is a new six-cylinder engine under the hood of the base XC90. The 235-horsepower 3.2-litre in-line six replaces last year’s 208-hp turbocharged five-cylinder powerplant. A turbo is always nice, but with comparable fuel consumption figures and 27 more ponies, the new engine is a winner.
So too is the 4.4-litre V8 engine. Producing 311 horsepower and an incredibly smooth and even application of power, the big engine provides the kind of pull required in a loaded-up seven-passenger vehicle.
That’s right, seven-passenger. The XC90 is available as a five- and seven-passenger vehicle, though the third row seat in the latter requires some yoga-like moves to get in to and out of. Still, for small children, it is ideal. Speaking of child seats, the XC90 comes with a clever built-in child seat located in the middle of the second row. In addition to being safer than a removable car seat, the built-in one slides forward to bring the tot loser to mom and dad.
The handling and overall performance of the XC90 are what you’d expect from a luxury sport vehicle, from quick acceleration to stable and sure cornering and from confident braking to surefooted traction. My only complaint about the driving dynamics of my test XC90 V8 were the unnerving blind spots created by the vehicle’s thick A-pillars.
Likewise, safety features are what you’d expect in a Volvo, and a new option indicates the company has not stood still in the safety department. The Blind Spot Information System (or BLIS) uses cameras integrated into the door mirrors to register whether another vehicle has entered the XC90’s rear blind spots. If so, a light is illuminated in the relevant mirror to alert the driver and help them avoid a collision. Count on other manufacturers to install similar BLIS-like features into future models.
Inside the cabin, there have been a number of changes for 2007, including new colour combinations and a wider range of choices. The centre console has been upgraded with a new display and aluminum-effect trim. New trim panels, with Sapeli Wood as an added option for the XC90 V8, impart an elegant touch to the interior. Borrowing some styling cues from its racy stalemates the S60 R and V70 R, the XC90 V8’s instrument panel features a watch dial-inspired design. An interior rear-view mirror with an integrated compass is optional for all trim levels.
Another option worth considering is the Alpine digital ICE Power amplifier powering Dynaudio speakers. The new sound system enhances the effectiveness of the Dolby Pro Logic II Surround sound processing for a truly world-class audio experience. In the High Performance and Premium Sound systems, it is now possible to play CDs with music in MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) format. All audio systems will be equipped with an extra input (AUX) to connect external equipment.
The Luxury Package option features Active Bi-Xenon Lights – moving headlights that follow the curve of the road. A mini-processor analyzes a number of parameters and optimizes the beam pattern accordingly. The headlight beams can be turned up to 15 degrees in either direction in response to steering input and vehicle speed, illuminating a larger stretch of road even in curves. The system is disabled during daylight.
The Active Bi-Xenon Lights and BLIS supplement the XC90’s list of standard safety features. The systems include a number of airbags, Inflatable Curtain, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, Rollover Protection System, Roll Stability Control, Whiplash Protection System and Side Impact Protection System. The XC90 is also equipped with a bar in the front structure designed to improve collision compatibility with cars and other vehicles with lower ride heights.
The 2007 XC90 has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $50,995 for five-passenger vehicles equipped with the six-cylinder engine and the Volvo All-Wheel Drive system with Instant Traction. The seven-passenger model ($56,895) includes a sunroof and leather seating. The MSRP for the five-passenger XC90 V8, with a 311-horspower, 4.4-litre 8-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission is $65,695. The seven-passenger XC90 V8 is $67,995.
My tester even provided me an “I did not know that moment.” Travelling in dark and gloomy light on the freeway one morning, I was followed and pulled over by a West Vancouver policeman. After the routine exchange of pleasantries and documents, the officer informed me that the rear passenger-side fog lamp was out. “And that seems unusual for a new vehicle,” he added before sending me on my way.
Upon returning the XC90, I informed my Volvo contact about the faulty bulb. “It’s not supposed to light up,” he said matter-of-factly. “All Volvo’s right rear fog lamps don’t illuminate. Only the driver’s side.” Like running lights on boats, the single rear fog lamplight indicates, particularly in dark and stormy conditions, the position of the car to oncoming motorists.
Given the quality and competitive aspects of the 2007 Volvo XC90, I have a feeling that West Van cop is going to start seeing a lot more ‘burned out’ rear fog lamps.
Manufacturer’s web site