The Volvo XC90's fine quality, loads of innovation and safety equipment, and Scandinavian good looks have made it North America's best-selling European sport-utility. But with a V-8 engine now de rigueur among premium SUVs, the XC90's underwhelming five- and six-cylinder engines weren't going to cut it for long. Trouble was, the XC90's P2 platform wasn't designed to accommodate a longitudinally mounted V-8, and corporate parent Ford had not a single eight-cylinder engine compact enough for transverse application. A lengthy search led Volvo to Yamaha, which, as you may recall, created the trim, 3.4-liter V-8 in the second-generation Ford Taurus SHO. Although very similar, the XC90's 60-degree V-8 shares no parts with the SHO engine; it has more in common, in fact, with Yamaha's current range of V-6 outboard boat motors. Displacing 4.4 liters and featuring continuously variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing, the all-aluminum V-8 produces 311 hp at 5850 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm. Built in Japan and shipped complete to Sweden, the engine is also the only gasoline V-8 to meet ULEV II emissions standards.
Power reaches the pavement through a new six-speed manu-matic gearbox and Volvo's excellent all-wheel-drive system, which has been beefed up slightly for V-8 duty. The new powertrain weighs only about 30 pounds more than the twin-turbo straight-six in the XC90 T6, so suspension settings are unaltered.
The Yamaha's quiet, creamy demeanor better recalls a Lexus V-8 than one from BMW or Infiniti. The 43 hp and 45 lb-ft of torque by which it tops the T6 are certainly welcome, considering the XC90's 4610 pounds. It's certainly swifter than before, though still hardly breathtaking. Volvo claims the V-8 gets from 0 to 60 mph in a competitive 7.0 seconds, but the flagship XC90 is still more Birkenstock than Nike.
The V-8 model offers just a touch of visual distinction from lesser XC90s, with eighteen-inch wheels, a bit of additional chrome, and a twin-pipe exhaust outlet. Full leather and a power moonroof are standard, as is seven-passenger seating. Priced at $46,080, it's $2800 more than a Volkswagen Touareg V-8 but a whopping $6700 less than a BMW X5 4.4i.
A new engine is a major investment, so it's a good bet that the Yamaha V-8 will soon grace other P2-based vehicles, including Volvo's S80, the Ford Five Hundred/ Mercury Montego, and the Ford Freestyle and its Mercury spinoff-which only shows that everyone likes extra muscle, no matter where it comes from.