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Story and photos by Paul Williams
Phoenix, Arizona – It’s been only two years since the Volvo XC90 won the Canadian Car of the Year’s “Best New Sport Utility Vehicle” category (over $45,000). But competition is tough in this segment, and category winner or not, Volvo was looking for ways to enhance their big truck.
One obvious upgrade was to expand the XC90’s engine offerings from five and six-cylinder power to a V8. Volvo’s research indicated that 30% of premium SUVs are equipped with V8s, so adding such an engine would enable the company to market its XC90 to a more complete range of SUV buyers.
In practical terms, it would enable the XC90 to compete on an even footing with the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML500 and Volkswagen Touareg V8, for example, providing a Swedish alternative to its German competitors.
But Volvo didn’t want just any V8. Its engine would have to fit with the company’s “core values” of high safety and good environmental properties. Consequently, the company, using the services of specialty engine-builder Yamaha, developed a state-of-the-art, lightweight, low emissions V8 powertrain (the first V8 from Volvo cars) that could be mounted transversely in the XC90’s engine compartment.
Mounting transversely maintains the existing frontal crumple zones in the XC90 and preserves the vehicle’s occupant safety design, a key condition for Volvo. It’s the way all engines are installed in Volvo’s consumer products.
The all-aluminum, 4.4-litre, 60-degree V8 is extremely compact, measuring 754-millimeters long and 635-mm wide. At 190-kg it’s also very light. But even though the engine is compact, Volvo’s V8 generates 311-horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. torque and meets stringent ULEV II emissions standards, the first gasoline V8 to do so.
The V8 is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission, and the Haldex all-wheel drive system features “Instant Traction,” a technology whereby a pre-charged valve applies torque to the rear wheels as soon as the accelerator is engaged. This eliminates delay of torque transfer front-to-rear, and minimizes wheel slippage.
Volvo gave the XC90 V8 a resonant but retrained exhaust note, more “in the European fashion,” said one company executive. Don’t expect the sound of a throbbing Volvo hot rod, but do expect a very quick SUV.
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On the road, the XC90 V8 acquires new levels of responsiveness and smoothness, accelerating from 0-100 km/h in only 7.3 seconds. Once up to speed, the overdrive sixth gear permits relaxed highway driving at very low engine speeds (this also conserves fuel).
However, rather than wide open freeways, Volvo chose to demonstrate the XC90 V8 on a route through Arizona’s Mazatzal Mountains, where its ample torque could be put to good use on steep inclines that punctuated long stretches of twisty two-lane roads.
There the XC90 V8 impressed with its quiet ride, sure footedness, smooth power delivery, and excellent visibility (the dual plane exterior rear view mirrors are a notable feature).
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The interior is finely rendered with leather seating surfaces and high quality materials throughout. A third row seat standard, and dual video monitors are available, embedded in the back of the front seats (an preferred location that doesn’t block rear visibility for the driver).
This is a vehicle that’s packed with sophisticated safety and performance features. Given that the traditional Volvo buyer may be sceptical about the need for SUVs, let alone powerful V8 engines, the XC90 V8 positions itself as the thinking person’s sport utility.
Standard safety equipment includes Volvo’s Side Impact Protection System (SIPS), side impact airbags and curtains, roll stability control, dynamic stability control and traction control, along with anti-lock brakes and the all-wheel drive.
Indeed, just about every stability technology currently available is standard on the XC90 V8.
Fuel consumption is good for a vehicle of this type. Volvo gives average city/highway fuel consumption figures of 13.3 litres/100 km, although Canadian Energuide numbers were not available during this preview.
Identifying features of the XC90 V8 include a V8 badge on the grille and tailgate, new 18″ wheels, body coloured side mouldings and door handles, a graphite-grey grille, chrome trim and twin exhaust pipes.
It’s all very low key, and while one can understand Volvo’s reluctance to show off, it will take a real Volvophile to distinguish an XC90 V8 from other XC90s at more than a few paces.
The big wheels are a nice touch, however, and Volvo’s “less is more” design approach is likely in keeping with buyer preferences for this vehicle.
Look for the Volvo XC90 V8 later this year at a price starting in the mid-to-high $60,000 range.