We must seem like gluttons for punishment. If you're a regular reader of Truckin, you know that we recently broke our "no crossover" rule and took on the daunting task of trying to make a first-gen Toyota Highlander cool. And by the feedback we've been getting, we pulled it off. This really got us thinking about what else we could get our hands on that you'd typically never see on these pages and make cool. You know, something your aunt Sally drives.
When you hear the combined words of Volvo SUV, two words come to mind, and they're not "cool" or "performance." Safe and heavy are much more likely. The Volvo XC90 was introduced in 2003 and ran all the way through 2014 before the second-gen models were introduced. Although there are some V8s and some R models out there, the vast majority of the XC90s were pretty basic models that filled the void for buyers that wanted more than a Camry or Accord but weren't ready for a full-on luxury vehicle. That said, the XC 90s are pretty well-appointed, and the bells and whistles increased exponentially as the years went on. Our guinea pig is a front-wheel drive (some had AWD) and has the small-but-peppy 2.5L turbocharged five-cylinder (not a misprint). Lucky for us it was also black—because the Swedes used some funky colors on these SUVs.
But what should we do with it? We knew the struts and shocks were shot, so it made sense to build a story around that. We started doing some research and quickly realized there is not much aftermarket support for the XC90. Almost none, actually. We accepted the challenge and began to dig deeper.
One name that came up a lot was IPD. They seem to be the go-to spot for all things Volvo, classic or modern. They are like the Brothers or CPP for Volvos! Even still, there wasn't a ton of stuff for XC90s, but they helped us figure out what we needed to get the suspension in shape.
We lifted our last crossover project, so why not lower this one a little. We ordered up a plethora of parts from IPD. All of the suspension components actually, except the Bilstein struts and EBC brakes, which we went straight to the manufacturer for. We also ordered up a set of 20-inch TSW wheels that fit the bill perfectly, and we wrapped them with Continental tires. From there, we gave the SUV a serious de-badging and detail, tinted the door glass, and then made the biggest single change of all. Elevate Cars, Inc was another company that popped on our radar more than once. They offer lots of performance aftermarket parts for Volvo cars, but only one thing for the XC90s—but it was a big one. Elevate Volvo XC90 T5 Performance Software Tuner adds a real-life 40-horsepower to these engines without ever popping the hood. That increase legitimately took this Volvo from barely getting out of its own way—did we mention they were heavy—to actually being pretty fun to drive.
The suspension swaps were pretty involved, especially for people that normally don't work on unibody, front-wheel-drive vehicles, but we knocked it out in a couple afternoons, and soon we were on our way to some dramatic final photos. If you enjoy checking out some vehicles that are off the beaten path of the custom truck world, let us know, and stay tuned right here because we have one more surprise Crossover before we return to your regularly scheduled programming.
| We were starting with a fairly well maintained 2006 XC90 with the 2.5L I5 turbo. At this point, it was bone stock. The only thing it has going for it is its black.
| Some badge removal was definitely in order.
| As much as we wanted to do a bunch of paint-matching, it just wasn't in the budget. Throughout the build, we used every "back to black" plastic product out there until we got some decent results. But really, all the magic was happening underneath this grocery getter.
| Here's what we were met with under the hood. The upper strut mounts were completely separated, so the first inch or two of up-travel was just the shaft banging around in the body!
| Things weren't much better in the rear. Tread wear like this means the struts are beyond shot.
| Bilstein came to the rescue for the item we needed most: a set of heavy duty B6 replacement struts, PN114291.
| Our other major issue was solved by IPD and their OE strut mount kit, PN121557.
| Because we were tearing into the front end already, we added in IPD's performance front sway bar and heavy-duty end link kit.
| The rear had issues, too, so just like the front we ordered up Bilstein heavy duty B6 shock, PN114292.
| Also just like the front. We picked up IPD's rear sway bar and heavy-duty end link kit.
| Because we would be lowering the XC90 about 1.5 inches with a set of springs that had already been purchased for the car, we also ordered these IPD adjustable rear toe rods, PN121589.
| Also from IPD, this rear camber bushing kit, PN112394, will work with the adjustable toe rods to correct the rear alignment.
| EBC came through with a set of their USR Series Sport Slotted and black zinc finished rotors for front and rear, along with their Yellow Stuff pads.
| The TSW Nurburgring is one of the most iconic wheel styles there is. Because we don't dabble in this market much, we ordered a set in Matte Gunmetal. These 20x8.5-inch wheels are made of rotary forged alloy, and they come in a 5x108 pattern and a +40 offset.
| We couldn't add all these upgraded suspension components without some sticky high-performance tires. These Continental Extreme Contact DW came in the 245/45ZR20 sizing we wanted, so we could fill up the wheel wells and still give the low-profile look we were after.
| Last, but certainly not least is this little kick in the pants, the Elevate Cars Inc. Performance Software Tuner. It's going to give us a dyno-proven 40-plus horsepower that will complete the transformation of this grocery getter SUV.
| Once we were in the shop and ready to put the XC90 in the air, we buzzed off the upper strut mounts so we could drop the struts out later.
| The front Sway bar installation ended up being the second-hardest part of the job. Many parts had to go to be able to slide the factory one out and the IPD version in.
| First, the factory sway bar end link was removed from the strut and the sway bar, then we went ahead and removed the lower strut mounting bolts.
| Next, the factory strut was removed, along with the faulty upper mount.
| We actually had to drop down the rear of the engine cradle to access and remove the front sway bar, as it's attached inside and on top of the cradle!
| No sooner than we got the factory sway bar out, he had the beefy IPD unit back in its place.
| We used the supplied grease, which we're still trying to get off our hands, and locked down the new sway bar.
| Then we buttoned up everything we removed below the sway bar. These Volvos are serious business to upgrade.
| Next, we got our dropped springs and our heavy-duty mounts bolted up to the equally heavy duty Bilstein struts.
| We slid the all-new strut assembly up into place and reattached the mounting bolts.
| Then we snugged the IPD heavy-duty end links up to the strut.
| And the other end was locked on to the sway bar.
| The last step up front was to replace the pads and rotors with slotted and black zinc units from EBC.
| We removed the calipers, then ditched the rotors and pads.
| Our OCD kicked in, and the calipers got the semi-gloss black treatment before we loaded them with the EBC Yellow Stuff pads. At this point, we moved to the rear od the SUV.
| We removed the panels and accessed the top of the rear shock.
| Then we removed the bottom bolt and discarded the junk rear shock.
| The same went for the sway bar end links.
| Apparently, factory Volvo toe rods are made of sheet metal. We were happy we splurged on the adjustable IPD units that were made of actual steel tubing.
| Next, we separated the lower control arm from the rear hub assembly.
| That enabled the rear spring to drop out.
| Finally, the control arm was removed from the inner mount.
| The rear sway bar and mounts were the last items to be removed. Almost.
| We had no idea what we got ourselves into with the camber bushing kit. This photo represents victory after working for a couple hours to remove the stock bushings, which are pressed into steel, by the way. We used a torch and a sledge hammer to get the old ones out. Then we used heat again, as well as this makeshift press setup to get the new IPD bushings in.
| This was easily the toughest part of the job. But the rewards would be worth it. That oblong bolt hole in the bushing will straighten the rear wheel out after the lowering springs will cause it to camber in.
| Finally, we bolted the lower control arm back in place. The rest of the install was a breeze, comparatively.
| The IPD sway bas was next to be installed, while many of the other components were out of the way.
| Now, we installed the lowering spring and jacked the lower arm up until it could be reunited with the hub assembly.
| Then, we installed the Bilstein rear shocks. We'll snug up the top once the Volvo is back on the ground.
| Finally, we bolted up the IPD heavy duty sway bar end links, followed by the IPD adjustable toe rods. We matched the length to the stock ones, and will let Juan at the alignment shop handle the fine tuning.
| With the suspension wrapped up, we removed the rear calipers, trashed the old pads, and pulled off the factory rotors.
| We painted up the calipers before installing the EBC slotted rotors and Yellow Stuff pads. At this point, the rear suspension was completed.
| The front was all buttoned up as well, and we were ready to hit New Century Tire.
| Juan wasted no time getting our gunmetal TSW 20s on the machine and mounting our Continental Extreme Contact DW tires.
| This precision wheel and tire combo balanced out with almost no weight.
| Soon, the XC90 was on the rack, and Juan dialed in both the front and rear end with a custom alignment.
| The Elevate Volvo XC90 T5 Performance Software Tuning offers the highest power gain for the lowest cost that's available for this XC90. It gives a ton of power gain without affecting engine and drivetrain longevity and easy installation of custom-tuned software files with the handheld programming tool through the OBDII port. The power gains with the Elevate tuner have been proven many times over and boast a minimum or 41 additional horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque on the 208-hp five-cylinder! And when we went for our first test drive, we could feel the gains immediately. We can honestly say this was one of the most dramatic differences we noticed by installing a tuner we've ever seen. Elevate Cars, Inc. really did their homework on this setup!
| After a major detail, and adding some tint to the front doors, we were ready to call this experiment done. The new lower stance and aggressive looking 20-inch wheel and tire package really woke this grocery-getter up.
| By this time, we had used several products on the faded black plastic that the older XC90s are covered with, and we finally got it all looking new again. And it actually worked well with the gunmetal TSW wheels.
| We even did some debadging in the rear. For some reason, we really notice the lower stance from the back. We're calling this one success. It looks pretty cool to us! But you're the real judge. Let us know what you think. And stay tuned for the spiritual sequel to this story, which will be our last crossover experiment before we get back to our regularly scheduled Truckin programming!
TSW Alloy Wheels
New Century Tire