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XC90 SUV Looks Like a Hit For Volvo

Posted 10/11/02
By Joe Wiesenfelder
The Midwest Automotive Media Associationís fall road rallye on October 4 allowed journalists to test drive new 2003 models. Here are some first impressions of the 2003 Volvo XC90 by cars.com Vehicle Profiler Joe Wiesenfelder.

2003 Volvo XC90
(list prices: $34,010 Ė $40,635 including destination charge)
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. ó The hottest vehicles get snatched up pretty quickly at the MAMA road rallye, so while the others were still in the tent hoping the rain might let up a bit, I made a bee-line for the Volvo XC90.

Volvoís first sport utility vehicle, the XC90 is certainly larger in all regards than the companyís closest model to date, the V70 Cross Country wagon. The XC90 has 3.7 inches more wheelbase, is 2.6 inches longer, 1.5 inches wider and 8.7 inches taller. Its ground clearance, at 8.6 inches, is also 0.4 inch greater than the V70 XCís. In terms of price, the XC90 competes with the Acura MDX, which is in many ways the SUV to beat. For comparison, it is has 0.4 inch less overall length and is 2.3 inches wider and 1.5 inches shorter than the XC90.

The Volvo XC90 brings all the safety features (Rollover Protection System, curtain-type airbags) the company is known for adapted for an SUV.

The XC90 is understandably roomier than the Cross Country inside, and it seats five or seven. A two-position third-row seat comes in the optional Versatility Package for a list price of $1,675, which also includes automatic leveling for the rear suspension and third-row amenities such as reading lights, ventilation controls and a discrete audio zone with its own headphone jacks and controls mounted to the C-pillars. John Neu, XC90 product manager, says 80 percent of advance orders placed so far specify the third row. Volvo is building 50,000 units for 2003, of which 30,000 to 35,000 will be sold in the U.S. market. Neu says the first quarterís allotment is already spoken for.

The XC90 on hand featured the T6 package, which includes an engine upgrade from a standard 2.5-liter 208-horsepower inline-five-cylinder to a 2.9-liter 268-hp inline-6 with 280 pounds-feet of torque. Volvo cites the torque peak as a range from 1,800-5,000 rpm, and driving the SUV convinced me that the low-pressure twin turbochargers do indeed grant plenty of get-up-and-go from a standstill. (The standard I-5 has a single turbo, but its 236 pounds-feet of torque also is given as a range: 1,500-4,500 rpm.)

The XC90 T6 is no rocket, but itís plenty quick for an SUV. Interestingly, the T6 employs a four-speed-automatic transmission where the base engine mates to a five-speed auto. Arguably, a less powerful engine benefits more from additional gears. Both transmissions have the Geartronic clutchless-manual operation and a button for a Winter mode, which accelerates from a stop in a higher gear and lowers the rpm threshold of subsequent shifts to decrease torque at the wheels on slippery surfaces. Itís hard to imagine needing this mode. The XC90ís standard Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC) should address wheelspin on front-wheel-drive models, which come later in the first quarter of 2003. The optional all-wheel drive ó which adds $1,750 to the 2.5T trim level and is required for the T6 ó is a smart, electronically controlled system like Audiís Quattro and the more sophisticated of Subaruís two AWD systems (the type paired with automatic transmissions). Volvoís AWD is claimed to monitor wheel rotation and several drivetrain parameters 100 times per second and react instantly.

Volvoís AWD apportions 95 percent of the torque to the front axle in normal driving and uses a multiplate clutch in the rear axle that directs nearly 100 percent of the torque to the rear wheels when needed. The DSTC directs power laterally: If the tires slip on one side, it brakes the spinning wheel. When I jumped on the gas, the AWD and DSTC kept the XC90ís composure on the slick streets. I defeated the DSTC using the button on the dashboard, and still the AWD reacted so quickly that I never felt any wheels spinning.

The XC90ís ride quality is not unlike that of the V70 wagon. I tend to find that carís ride overfirm, but it seems more appropriate in this SUV. As standing water began collecting on the streets, I noted how unbelievably surefooted the XC90 is, even without triggering the DSTC. The XC90 has a wide stance that makes it feel extremely grounded. Volvo helped keep the center of gravity low by mounting the engine low, which has the added benefit of a low hood and good visibility for the driver. If the wide stance and stability system werenít enough, Volvo takes it further with Roll Stability Control (RSC), which uses gyroscopic sensors to determine if the vehicle is on the verge of rolling over, and triggers the DSTC to counteract the roll.

If it detects a rollover is unavoidable, the Rollover Protection System activates the seat belt pretensioners on all seven seats and deploys the curtain-type side airbags, which cover the side windows of all three rows and stay inflated for up to 7 seconds. A boron alloy makes the pillars five times stronger than regular steel, and twice as strong as conventional high-strength steel, to prevent a roof collapse. Naturally, all seating positions get shoulder belts and head restraints that raise high enough for adults. The front seats have active head restraints, dual-stage front airbags and supplemental side-impact airbags in their backrests to protect the occupantsí torsos.

XC90s equipped with the Versatility Package have a folding second seat row thatís split 40/20/40, similar to those in the new Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. This design allows access from either side to the third row, and the center section slides forward on a track to locate a child closer to the front seats. The package also includes an integrated booster-seat function for this center seat thatís otherwise available as a $150 stand-alone option: The front section of the cushion simply moves up and back, where it latches in place. The center storage console between the front seats is even removable to give the rug rat some legroom and provide unobstructed access for the parent.

In the XC90 I drove, the space behind the second seat row didnít look particularly roomy. Volvo cites the cargo volume as 41.6 cubic feet, which is slightly greater than the V70 XCís 37.5 cubic feet. Oddly, the seven-seat version has slightly more volume behind the second row when the third row is folded: 43.3 cubic feet. The space behind the third row is 11.1 cubic feet. The XC90 shows its advantage over the V70 XCís 71.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume (with all seats folded) with 84.9 cubic feet for the five-seat version and 85.1 cubic feet for the seven-seater. If youíre looking to carry many people and their cargo, youíll want to scrutinize the situation with any high-capacity SUV. The maximum capacity is competitive with the Acura MDX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, and superior to the Lexus RX 300 by roughly 10 cubic feet and the BMW X5 by more than 30 cubic feet. With a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, the XC90 is comparable to the MDX, M-Class and X5 and 1,500 pounds more capable than the RX 300.

Early EPA fuel-economy estimates are 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway for the five-cylinder and 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway for the I-6. Both qualify as Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEV) as sold anywhere in the country, comparable to the Acura MDX. (Ratings are less stringent for larger vehicles, so a car rated ULEV still pollutes less than an SUV of this size, but itís still above-average performance for the class.)

I look forward to giving the XC90 the full workup in a future Vehicle Profile. From my first exposure, I suspect it will be a hit for Volvo.

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File Type: jpeg 1010volvoxc90_310.jpeg (14.7 KB, 700 views)

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