Vehicle Type: SUV

History/Description:  Volvo’s XC90 began its life over a decade ago as the brand’s first SUV, and after years of facelifts and tweaks to the same basic platform, an all-new model is coming out soon.

Your writer fondly remembers this generation XC90 as one of the best winter driving machines he’s ever got behind the wheel of, thanks to a heavy and locked-on steering feel, a great on-demand AWD system, a great forward view, and an overall sense that the chassis and steering and suspension were carefully calibrated against one another for a confident and stable feel on slippery surfaces.

Feature content included automatic lights, climate control and wipers, an up-level stereo system, push-button start, heated leather, a power tailgate and plenty more. Look for units with two or three seating rows, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive xenon lights, and more.

Engines / Trim: Look to XC90 nomenclature for a clue what’s under the hood. Standard 3.2 and R models were available, packing a 3.2L, 235 hp straight-six engine and all-wheel drive. The R variant used the same engine, but added some additional cosmetic tweaks and sportier wheels. Available was a gorgeous, Yamaha-built 4.4L V8 with 311 horsepower. There was a V8 R available, too.

Earlier models got turbocharged five and six cylinder engines, referenced by a T5 or T6 badge, respectively. Output landed around 210 and 270 horsepower from these units, respectively. From 2007, all XC90 units ran the naturally aspirated engines.

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2010 Volvo XC90, 2008 Volvo XC90, 2009 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Click image to enlarge

What Owners Like: Common owner praise points include a great up-level stereo system, a feeling of tremendous safety and security, good build quality, a high-utility design, and good handling in any weather. Exclusivity and a quiet ride are also noted as draws to the XC90, and owners of V8-powered units love the engine sound and power output. Further, most owners say the XC90 handles like a luxury sedan, not an SUV.

What Owners Dislike: As it tends to go with SUV’s, owner complaints tend to centre around fuel mileage, though other gripes include large blind spots, an overly-plasticky cabin in some models, and less-than-exciting performance on models with the smaller engines.

Check out some owner reviews from the

The Test Drive: The most discussed and well-documented issue you might encounter on a used XC90 deals with transmission failure, which is a pain in the backside. There are hundreds of pages of reading on the topic, several class-action lawsuits and the like, around the issue of XC90 transmissions that might fail. Here’s some reading on the issue. Said issue only affects T6 models, that is, earlier units, with the GM-sourced automatic transmission. In many cases, the transmission has failed early and was replaced under warranty. Though it’s unclear the root of the problem, the owner’s community suggests it may stem from Volvo’s modifying of the internals of the transmission from the GM design, or a leak that may allow engine coolant and transmission coolant to mix, which is bad news.

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2009 Volvo XC90 R-Design. Click image to enlarge

Solution? Avoid a T6 model where possible, and be absolutely sure to feel the transmission for any signs of slipping, either off the line or while accelerating and shifting gears. As this symptom may be more prevalent when the XC90 is cold, be sure it hasn’t been pre-warmed ahead of your test-drive by the seller. Note that the newer, non-turbo models won’t suffer from the same issues, as they use different transmissions.

Next, be sure to try and cycle the key between ON, RUN and START, several times, confirming that the key moves from position to position with ease. Any hesitation or failure to start or move the key could be a precursor to ignition switch failure.

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