While some car companies were pinning their badges and grilles over someone else's machinery, Volvo was putting SUV sales, design trends, and customer preferences in its crosshairs. And it waited. And waited some more, keeping a steady hand on the new-product trigger.
For 2003, Volvo introduced its first-ever sport/utility vehicle, the XC90. Predictably, it blended Volvo's longstanding legacy of pragmatic station wagons and solid-as-Grant's tomb safety engineering with all-wheel drive, seven-passenger versatility, and a command-driving position. Surprisingly, however, Volvo crafted a package that exhibited a high degree of finesse and polish, challenging established luxury SUVs from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Acura, and Lexus. The XC90 so impressed Motor Trend that we named it Sport/Utility of the Year in 2003. A long-term test was in order.
The first long-term XC90 T6 destined for the MT offices met a watery demise along with several hundred other Volvos, BMWs, and Saabs in a ferry sinking en route to America. So this time we waited. And waited some more. After an unfortunate delay of nine months, a second XC90 arrived at Motor Trend's Los Angeles offices, but it had morphed into a base 2.5T five-cylinder model. We took it, anyway, even though the Volvo garnered SUV honors in 2003 largely on our enthusiasm for the twin-turbo six-cylinder version. The good news was this long-term tester was a 2004 model benefiting from a host of improvements and running production changes made throughout the 2003 model year.
Our dry-behind-the-ears 2.5T came with a base sticker of just $35,125, including destination. A hefty option load included Crystal Green Metallic (more silver than green) paint ($450), all-wheel drive ($1750), the Versatility Package consisting of self-leveling rear suspension, third-row seats, and air conditioning and audio controls for said third row ($1675), the Climate Package including heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and more ($595), and the Premium Package consisting of a power moonroof, leather seats, six-CD in-dash changer, and other amenities ($2575) for a grand total of $42,170. It was everything we'd hoped for, short of a navigation system and the 268-horse, 2.9-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine.
When word got out that the Volvo had landed, it didn't take long to fill the signup sheet. One staffer drafted the XC90 to drag gear for Car of the Year testing and was amazed at the amount of space left over. Weeks later, another editor grabbed the Volvo keys to take friends to Las Vegas. The flip-down lower portion of the liftgate proved perfect for an impromptu tailgate party.