Boy is this vehicle getting old. From the antiquated dash design to the squeaks and rattles around town, I think it’s time for Volvo to start thinking about launching a new 3-row SUV. Additionally, the 3.2-liter inline-six isn’t any smoother than most V-6 engines and the fuel economy of this XC90 is not impressive.
Like most Volvo models, the good qualities shine once you settle into the cosseting seats on a smooth highway run. In that situation, this Swedish SUV still feels pretty good.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
Yep, the best thing about this Volvo XC90 are its very handsome, very comfortable seats, swathed in rich, creamy leather and accented with contrasting piping. They almost look like they came from a Range Rover. But the rest of the vehicle, as Marc points out, is pretty outdated, and the vehicle’s dynamics are a full generation behind the competition.
It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen to Volvo – its owner, Ford, is trying to find someone to buy the Swedish carmaker – but when it lands a new caretaker, the first order of business needs to be development of a modern, three-row crossover SUV. There are just way too many crossovers out there for this kind of money that are far better to drive than the XC90.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I haven’t driven an XC90 in years, so I thought it would be a good idea to spend a weekend with this R-design example. As Marc and Joe have pointed out, the 3.2-liter I-6 is getting tired along with the rest of the vehicle. There were a few squeaks and rattles present, but I didn’t mind that as much as Marc since I spent most of my time trying to plow through a fresh dusting of snow. I appreciated the awd but the braking performance, with all-season tires, was pretty poor in snow.
Inside, the XC90 still looks and feels good. As Joe points out, the seats look upscale and are supremely comfortable. It’s amazing how many automakers don’t have comfortable seats in luxury vehicles. Volvo may not have much right with the XC90 anymore but at least there’s no physical discomfort and the ergonomics are acceptable.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Yes, the XC90 is starting to show its age, but the qualities for which Volvo is best known – its safety features – are still there in spades, with roll stability control, a blind-spot warning system, and top ratings in every NHTSA crash test. On the plus side, the cabin environment is comfortable (the best seats in the business), and, with all-wheel drive, this SUV is reassuring to plow through the snow. Still, the XC90 would definitely benefit from some upgrades, starting with the base engine – the 281-hp 3.0-liter inline six that’s in the new XC60 would seem to be a good fit. Updated interior and exterior styling wouldn’t hurt, either.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I concur: seats from the gods! If I could have pulled one out and dropped it in my living room, I would have. The leather is amazingly soft and the contrasting color insert and side piping is a rich, attractive detail which, as DeMatio noted, makes them look as if they came from a Range Rover. The upright seating position and tall side windows give the driver a commanding view of the road below, another aspect that is reminiscent of a Land Rover.
If only the rest of the vehicle felt as high quality. After only a few minutes in the XC90, the mechanism inside the steering wheel adjustment lever broke leaving the lever dangling from the side of the column and forcing me to brace the wheel for the rest of my drive so it didn’t move up, down, or forward. The lever eventually popped back into place but it is indicative of the second-rate quality that is sprinkled throughout the XC90’s cabin.
The engine is not particularly smooth and it struggles to move this nearly 4500 pound vehicle with any urgency. Another negative is the huge turning radius which I discovered pulling into my side-entry garage. I had to back up and try again. Twice. This would definitely come into play around town and in tight parking lots.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
These posh seats that everyone’s fawning over are apparently part of our tester’s R-design package, which is one of the few attempts Volvo’s made at modernizing the XC90. Between the fancy seats, sporty wheels, and an auxiliary audio jack awkwardly placed right smack between the cupholders, there’s little to differentiate this 2009 XC90 from an original 2002 model.
Perhaps this wouldn’t feel so dated if Volvo didn’t have newer all-wheel-drive crossovers in its lineup. Yet it does. And when the all-new XC60 (or even a XC70, for that matter) looks and drives so much better, you’ll start wondering if the new model isn’t worth the extra $200 over a base XC90.
Although you’ll lose two seats and some interior space in the process, I’d argue that the XC60 is a much better vehicle. You’ll still get the same all-wheel-drive grip, but in a package that’s both chic and contemporary. Unless you absolutely need your next Volvo to be a seven-seater, I’d look at the other XC models.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Inline sixes seldom shake like wet dogs at idle. This one does. The reason why few makers cram such an engine sideways between the front wheels is that it results in a huge turn circle. In the Volvo XC90, you need a full 40 feet to complete a U-turn between curbs, 2.4-feet more than in an Acura MDX. To check out winter mobility, I drove into the teeth of a Michigan storm, an assignment this hulk completed with pride. Except for a slightly lazy stability-system engagement, the XC90 soldiered forth like a letter carrier anticipating the end of his route. To study passenger accommodations, I ushered four adults and three kids aboard to attend Detroit’s gala boat show. Loading the back row posed a more awkward climb than is typical of minivans but otherwise this mid-size SUV performed like a consummate servant. For $40,000+, it should. But since fun-to-drive is missing, I’d sooner invest in a Grand Caravan and pocket the $10,000 price difference.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
2009 Volvo XC90 AWD
Base Price (with destination): $42,245
Price as tested: $47,590
– Metallic Paint – $525
– Climate & Technology Package – $2970
– Heated Front Seats, Rain Sensor/Headlight Washers, Dynaudio Premium Sound System, Rear Seat Headphone Jacks and Audio Controls
– Electronically Controlled AWD – $1850
Fuel Economy: 14 / 20 / 16 (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.2 Liter 6-Cylinder DOHC Alloy Engine
HP: 235 HP @ 6200 RPM
Torque: 236 lb.-ft @ 3200 RPM
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 4464 lb.
– 19″ Alloy Wheels
– All-Season Tires