More than any other vehicle in the running this year, the Volvo XC90 moves the standard in its market segment. This innovative machine drives comfortably like a sedan, tows like a pickup, off-roads like sport/ute, and moves bulky cargo or as many as seven people like a minivan.
And it does it all with the mechanical polish, premium exterior style, and attention to interior detail associated with top-drawer luxury vehicles. In addition, this Volvo addresses the safety, emissions, and, to a lesser degree, fuel-use issues associated with SUVs.
The XC90 is a critical model for Volvo, with stretch-goal sales targets. First, it has to stem the tide of customers leaving the Volvo family for Mercedes-Benz MLs, Lexus RX 300s, and Acura MDXs. Second, it has to convert new buyers in serious numbers. For the first full year of XC90 production, Volvo hopes to sell 35,000-40,000 units. Considering that in 2001, Volvo sold a total of 134,937 vehicles in North America, this additional XC90 volume is an ambitious leap of more than 25 percent.
The XC is a clever piece of engineering that offers two gutsy powertrain choices. The first is a light-pressure turbocharged inline-five-cylinder making 208 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. This efficient five bolts to a slick five-speed automatic. The bigger motor is a twin-turbo inline-six mated to a four-speed automatic (there isn't room to package it with the new five-speed). While both engines are aided by continuously variable valve timing, the six generates 268 hp and provides a V-8-like 280 lb-ft of torque. Peak output is on tap from just 1800 rpm. Both engines also manage 0-60 runs in 9.0-sec territory (9.8 for the I-5, 8.9 for the I-6).