Volvo XC90 3.2 proves smart as less equals more

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Sometimes less is more.

In the case of engines you won’t find us touting less over more very often. But there are exceptions and one is found in the 2007 Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle.

It comes with an all-new inline six-cylinder engine replacing the turbocharged 5-cylinder that had been used as the base engine since the SUV’s inception in 2003. The new six makes more horsepower than the 5-cylinder and propels the mid-sized premium SUV in more enthusiastic fashion. A 4.4-liter V-8, an option since 2005, is more aggressive than the six, but it’s thirstier too, and demands more up-front cash.

After nearly 1,000 miles behind the wheel, which included a couple hundred miles of mountain driving, the six with its mpg rating of 17-city and 22-highway won us over. No need to buy the V-8 for an additional cost of around $10,000 — $36,830 vs. $47,120 — and the loss of a couple miles to the gallon.

Less in this case is indeed more — more money remaining for other necessities of life.
This marks the fifth year for the Volvo SUV and in that time a lot of new vehicles have been introduced and competition in the mid-sized premium crossover field has grown more intense. For that reason we were surprised how well the XC90, with only a minimum of upgrades over the years, has held up.

Figure in class-leading safety, comfortable interior accommodations and the new engine, and the XC90 remains a viable player in the $40,000 crossover segment. It continues to live up to the honors it received in 2003 as Motor Trend’s Sport Utility of the Year.

Our trip not only included mountain two-lanes, but a full day of heavy rain, making interstate travel treacherous. Flooded highways induce white-knuckle driving, but perhaps it’s just age catching up with us. Or perhaps knowledge of hydroplaning now figures more prominently into our consciousness.

Of course, we were cocooned in arguably the safest vehicle on earth. That is some consolation if an accident ends a beautiful weekend. But who wants that scenario?

The Volvo pulled us through with no need for the full menu of side airbags, head-curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front seats, Roll Stability Control or the Volvo safety cage construction. But we were glad those items were at the ready, but happier not to need them.

Also available for 2007, but not included on our test vehicle, is a digital video Blind Spot Information System. This unique option — a $595 extra — uses mirror-mounted cameras to monitor vehicles entering the Volvo’s blind spots and warns the driver with indicator lights.

We punched through the water with front-wheel drive, but a sophisticated all-wheel drive system is available as a $1,850 option.

Thankfully we didn’t test the top five-star ratings the XC90 has received for frontal crashes and side-impact collisions from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The rest of the trip was dry and mostly sunny and the mountains offered wonderful, relaxing autumn vistas.

The Volvo’s 6-speed “Geartronic” automatic exhibited some busyness at times, but for the most part handled the hills without the distraction that gear hunting causes.

The 3.2-liter inline six developing 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque was up to the task of hill climbing, what we figure is a good test of an engine’s ability to adequately move a vehicle.

The new engine maintains the same fuel consumption as the 5-cylinder it replaces while developing 27 additional horsepower. Torque is the same.

One thing that remains as fresh as the first day it entered a showroom in 2003 is the XC90 styling. The most obvious attribute is its aggressive wide-track stance, which is enhanced with a long wheelbase and short front and rear overhangs.

The XC90 stands tall, almost nine inches higher than the XC70 Cross Country wagon. Its muscular attitude was achieved while keeping many of the Volvo styling cues intact including a bulging hood that recedes from a prominent Volvo-style grille, and tall rear taillights flanking the tailgate. The smartly reworked grille, bumpers and taillights, and body-color side moldings and door handles have enhanced the exterior styling for 2007.

The XC90 has an attractive passenger compartment with good-looking leather seating, which comes courtesy of the Premium Package. An eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar and a power front passenger seat is included in the package.

Our test vehicle also came with the Versatility Package, which includes air conditioning for third-row passengers, self-leveling suspension and second-row child booster cushion that slides forward so that parents will have better contact with the little one.

As in most mid-sized vehicles, the third row should be reserved for pre-teens unless you are carrying someone for whom you are holding a grudge.

The front seats are extraordinarily comfortable — 1,000 miles offered convincing proof — and second-row passengers can gain comfort as well. Second-row amenities include cupholders, reading lights and a power point.

Luggage capacity is 21.6 cubic feet. With all rear seats folded, the SUV opens up to swallow a generous 92 cubic feet.

And one other statistic that may interest those with boats and other toys — towing capacity is an ample 5,000 pounds.

The XC90 3.2 starts at $36,830 and the 311-horsepower V-8 begins at $47,120. The V-8 comes with several features standard that are optional on the 3.2 including all-wheel drive, third-row seat and leather seating.

Options can run up the price rather quickly. Our test vehicle came with several extras as noted above taking the bottom line to $43,350. Carefully pick your options and you can have solid family transportation for a few dollars over 40 grand.

We think the XC90 is still a very relevant vehicle with class-leading safety, attractive styling, and comfortable accommodations and now with a relatively frugal 6-cylinder engine theoretically proving that more is less and less is more.


Base price: $36,830; as driven, $43,350
Engine: 3.2-liter inline 6
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 236 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Turning circle: 40 feet
Towing capacity: 4,960 pounds
Maximum cargo capacity: 92 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,400 pounds
Wheelbase: 112.6 inches
Length: 189.3 inches
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons – Regular 87 octane
EPA mileage: 22 mpg highway, 17 city
0-60: 8 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Lexus RX 350

The Good:
• Class-leading safety features
• High-quality interior materials
• Excellent cargo room with seats folded

The Bad:
• Even with new 6-cylinder fuel mileage is nothing to write home about

The Ugly:
• Options can send price of XC90 into the economic stratosphere