By: Mike Ginsca
In 2003, Volvo introduced the XC90, its first ever SUV. Just over a decade later, it remains virtually unchanged. So does this mean that it is the perfect SUV or has it gone on long enough and become outdated? Read on.
Performance – When it was new, the Volvo XC90 was offered with three engine choices for customers to choose from. There was the entry level T5, the mid-range T6, and the top spec Yamaha derived V8 with 288hp that was later bumped up to 311hp. These days, you don’t get any of those choices because it is only available with the 3.2L T6 turbocharged inline-6 engine that produces 240hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately these days 240hp, and approximately the same torque figure, is considered on the low end for an SUV especially when it tips the scales at 2100kg. Under normal city driving conditions the power is adequate but trying to accelerate onto a highway feels painstakingly long in the XC90. When on a highway the driving experience does improve slightly because the XC90 is an excellent long distance SUV due in part to the quiet cabin and the soft tuned suspension.
If you’re in the market for only comfort, the Volvo XC90 is a great alternative to some of the more expensive SUVs on the market today. The suspension irons out any and all bumps on the most heavily potholed city streets. If you stepped into this vehicle blindfolded, you’d think that you were in a Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GL class SUVs. The ride of the Volvo XC90 is superb. However that does have an adverse effect on the handling characteristics. Recently, auto manufacturers have been trying to infuse “sporty” driving characteristics into their SUV models and while some have succeeded, Volvo hasn’t with the XC90. Due to the soft suspension, the body lean is excessive through corners and it takes a long time for the suspension to settle after driving over a bump. This is by no means a sporty SUV.
Comfort – As mentioned earlier, the primary focus of the XC90 is driver and passenger comfort. Nearly all exterior noises are kept out of the cabin and that goes a long way to provide the feeling of luxury and exclusivity. In addition to the soft suspension, the leather seats are supportive for long or short trips. But sometimes comfort means more than just leather and soft materials, it also means ease of accessibility. Who wants to spend precious time trying to figure out how to access the third row of seats for example? In the XC90, the third row of seats fold flat into the floor and the second row of seats can not only split 40/20/40, but also slide backwards and forwards for either more leg room, more storage space, or easier accessibility to the third row of seats. The front passenger seat can also be folded to accommodate long object…. such as the latest Ikea furniture.
The design of the cabin unfortunately does show its date. It’s been more than a decade since the XC90 was introduced and unfortunately the interior still looks like it’s from 2003 rather than 2014. The buttons on the center of the dash look utilitarian, the instrument cluster has not been updated with a digital display that is similar to the new S60, and this is a $55,000 vehicle and no Satellite navigation? Cars costing more than half the price are available with the latest satellite navigation and yet this Premier Plus trim XC90 doesn’t even have it as an option.
Odds and Ends – Volvo has also dropped the ball when it comes to safety on this SUV. This is by no means an unsafe vehicle (it is in fact safer than most other SUVs on the market today), what I mean is that Volvo has some astonishing safety technology that is fitted to a lot of their other vehicles. However that safety technology has not found its way into this XC90. The only advanced safety features that are available on the XC90 are BLIS (blind side monitoring system), roll stability control, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control. These are electronic safety features that almost all other vehicles made today have but Volvo also has technology such as Lane departure warning, City safety which automatically stops the vehicle if an accident is imminent, radar guided cruise control, pedestrian detection, and Road-edge and barrier detection with auto steer and yet none of these safety technologies are available on the current Volvo XC90.
Thankfully this is the last year of the XC90, next year there will be a new generation of the XC90. It will have a 320hp engine, navigation as standard, all of the latest safety features as standard, and a new design inside and out. Volvo seems to be putting all of its eggs into one basket with the new XC90 because they are also offering incentives such as if you order the new 2016 Volvo XC90 by December 15, 2014, Volvo will offer 2 years or 48,000km of no charge scheduled maintenance on the new XC90.
If you don’t like the current offerings from the established German manufacturers and you’re only interested in comfort and safety for your family, this Volvo XC90 is all you need. But if want to have some fun from time to time, wait until the 2016 Volvo XC90 becomes available in early spring 2015.
Thank you to Jim Pattison Volvo of Surrey for providing the vehicle.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.