At this point, we might be pushing our luck. If you've been following along, 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. When we got a solid amount of positive feedback, we decided to take it one step further in the form of a 2006 Volvo XC90 SUV. This time, instead of lifting it a little like the Toyota, we lowered it a little and added a plethora of suspension upgrades, 20s and even an extra 40 horsepower. At this point, it really feels like we were on a roll.
We had easy access to a 2017 version of the Volvo XC90, so we thought, "Why not? We don't know much about them, but we didn't know much about the other ones either." The learning curve is steep with the 2015-present XC90s. There's not a whole lot we can do to this newer Volvo variant. It's not like having a new body style truck and throwing some upper control arms or headers on it. Parts like that simply do not exist. We started thinking about the basics and asking ourselves what this well-equipped crossover actually needed.
The two things that were ready for replacement were the tires and the brakes. And we weren't about to leave those stock. And we didn't want to waste our time on the factory 19-inch wheels, either. We were weighing our aftermarket options when we decided, just for kicks, to see if any of the Volvo 22-inch wheels—the ones that only come on the very top of the line XC90s—were for sale online. Sure enough, at 5:00 on a Friday we were on our way across SoCal to pick up a set of 22s. Later, we ordered up a set of Continental Extreme Contact DWS 06 265/40ZR22 tires to fit the bill perfectly. While this wheel and tire combo would fill out the wheel wells much better than what we had, we wanted more. We looked around for a lowering kit and learned that only one German company (Heico) makes a kit, and only one company in the U.S. (Viva Performance) sells it. With an extremely long lead time for the parts, we once again took to the online ads. And as luck would have it, we found a kit that was taken off to turn in a leased vehicle, so we now had the basics of a story. The brakes were looking pretty bad in both the front and rear, so we called our guy Carlos at the Hawthorne Autozone and ordered up some drilled and slotted rotors and matching ceramic brake pads. We even picked up some caliper paint in various shades of black to detail the area before bolting up the new wheels.
From there, we were left wondering what else we should, or could, do to this Volvo to make it Truckin-worthy. After all, the turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L I4 engine makes 316 horsepower, so this safe-but-heavy SUV has some real power, and there's a performance mode that really makes this thing scream. Besides that, the interior is all leather, the sound system is stellar, and the touch screen is bigger than an iPad! We decided that the only thing we needed to do was some simplification of the exterior trim.
We liked the Savile gray paint, but unlike the R-design (which is what the 22-inch wheels came off of), this T6 Momentum model has less of a monochromatic trim program and more of a kitchen sink approach. There's gray, shiny black, textured black, polished stainless, chrome, and silver paint. We decided to pair that down dramatically by blacking out most of the trim, leaving only the front and rear valance sections in silver to tie in with the accents on the wheels. To achieve that without dropping the SUV off at a body shop, we contacted Daley Visual, who has been helping up out with our vinyl wrapping needs for several years now. We chose a matte black, and his crew got to work realizing our vision. We even ditched all the badges while we were there. Finally, we called John Cole of Dent Masters to stop by and massage out a few door dings so our final product would truly be better than new.
Once again, we were happy with the results. The mildly customized version of this XC90 has a much better look and stance, and has been garnering a second glance ever since. Take a look to see what it took to make the transformation below, and we promise to return to lifting, lowering, and making horsepower on trucks for the foreseeable future. But we hope you enjoyed our little COVID-induced detour!
| Like we said above, we might be pushing our luck with this nicely equipped 2017 Volvo XC90, but after two successful crossover SUV transformations, we set our sights on it.
| First and foremost, the factory 19s just weren't doing a very good job filling up the wheel wells. The tires were worn, and we weren't feeling the gloss silver anyway.
| We also were baffled by the trim choices all over the exterior. Besides the gray paint, this XC90 features chrome, stainless, silver paint, shiny black and textured black. We're going to do something about that, too.
| Once we tracked down the factory 22-inch Volvo R-Design wheels, Continental tires, and Heico lowering kit, we got our latest experiment up on the lift at new Century Tire. They do lifting and lowering of all kinds every day, so this would be a quick process.
| Getting the strut assembly out for a lowering spring is the same procedure as replacing the struts themselves. Ours had plenty of life left in them, and the New Century crew got them out quick.
| With the proper equipment, removing the factory spring from the strut and replacing it with the Heico unit takes just a few minutes.
| Soon, the strut assembly was returned to the SUV.
| The three bolts on the shock tower hold the assembly from above.
| Below, the strut is locked into the upright with two mounting bolts. The sway bar end link was removed and replaced as well. But that's it for the front. It should be approximately 1.2-inches lower now.
| In the rear, the kit consists only of these 2mm "blocks". We were curious to see how that was going to work.
| To our surprise, the 2nd Gen XC90s changed the rear suspension to a composite monoleaf, updated from the standard rear struts on the first-gens. Simply put, the large block you see here will be replaced by the smaller one.
| We removed the lower shock mount, the sway bar end link, and the upright mounting bolt to pry the lower arm down far enough for the mounting bolt to slip out of the monoleaf.
| From there, the factory block was removed, and the Heico version was set in place. Then everything we disassembled was bolted back up.
| With the rest of the suspension all back together, the monoleaf was snugged back down onto the control arm pad. With that, the rear end was now lowered to match the front.
| The New Century Tire crew mounted our Continental Extreme Contact DWS 06 265/40ZR22 tires to our Volvo R-Design 22-inch wheels. Then we moved over to the rack for a precision alignment.
| A few days later, the wheels were back off so we could address the worn stock brake pads.
| Through our friends at Autozone, we ordered up Powerstop Evolution performance-drilled and slotted zinc-coated rotors and ceramic pads. We also picked up some high heat caliper paint to make things look cleaner behind our new wheels.
| We started by removing the entire caliper from the upright, removing the two bolts from the rear.
| Then we removed the small Torx bolt that holds the rotor in place and removed it, too. Four more 8mm bolts hold the backing plate in place.
| We cleaned and painted everything while it was off. The calipers themselves got gloss black paint; everything else got satin black. The actual calipers were painted on the SUV.
| While the front components were drying, we removed the bolts that hold the rear calipers in place.
| Then the rear rotors were removed, followed by the backing plates.
| Once everything was totally dry, we loaded the new ceramic brake pads into the front calipers.
| Then we reattached the newly painted backing plate.
| Next, our custom-detailed front rotor was slipped on and bolted down.
| Finally, the caliper was bolted back in place.
| In the rear, we repeated the process, starting with the backing plate and rotor.
| Then we bolted the caliper bracket in place and loaded in the ceramic pads.
| Finally, the rear caliper was bolted down, and we were calling our brake upgrades complete.
| We really wanted to add a performance look to the area behind the wheels, as opposed to various pieces of dirty metal. The rear calipers aren't nice to look at, so the black paint helped out a bunch.
| Up front, the XC90 came with a big, smooth performance-style rotor already; all we did was pretty it up and add performance rotors and pads!
| We reinstalled our new wheel and tire combo and got the truck on the ground because we had a few more stops before calling this SUV done.
| We brought the XC90 out to Daley Visual in Corona, California, where Josh and the crew gave the SUV a onceover, and we decided what exactly we wanted to do and not do. We decided that leaving a small bit of silver would complement the details on the wheels, as opposed to totally blacking everything out. Look for the accompanying story on the entire trim wrapping process that's linked to this story for all the details.
| The grille was gloss black and chrome. We decided to leave the gloss part as-is and wrap the chrome with the matte vinyl for a custom look.
| We also wrapped the silver portion of the roof rack and the stainless around the glass. We also did sections on the front bumper, door handles, and exhaust tips.
| The last trick we had up our sleeve was back at home with a visit from John Cole of Dent Masters of California. John has 30 years of experience with removing door dings from painted metal. He made four or five small dents totally disappear in less than an hour, truly making this SUV look better than new.
| Once again, we even impressed ourselves with the results. In just a few days, we changed up the stance, wheel and tire combo, brakes, and all of the trim.
| Not that these second-gen XC90s are cheap, but we really think we made this one look like a much higher-end luxury performance machine.
| The biggest part of the transformation came from the Volvo R-Design 22-inch wheels and Continental Extreme DWS tires. And the lower altitude, combined with the clean brake system behind the wheels, really drives the point home.
| Up front, the two-tone black grille really takes this SUV from grocery getter to performance machine.
| The blacking out continued to the rear, right down to the exhaust tips! We even did some debadging out back. You are the real judge, but we think this was another success!
New Century Tire
Dent-Masters of California