There I was, riding an Arctic Cat to an igloo village in a country known for its eccentric traditions. This is home to Dragon Boat Racing, a World Wife-Carrying Championship, the World Mosquito-Killing Championship, Inter-national Ice-Swimming Contests, and the Anthill Competition, in which the winner is the person who sits naked on an anthill for the longest period of time. Even though the area's not first in the minds of most people for vacation destinations, by the end of the first evening in Lapland (the northern region of Finland), it was clear why Volvo adds this locale to its testing sites for evaluating the traction capabilities and winter-worthiness of its all-wheel-drive SUV and wagons.

While testing in Finland, we drove the 2005 Volvo XC90 V-8 for a closer look at what makes this model extreme-weather worthy. We drove in all conceivable conditions, from hot deserts below sea level to harsh, severe winter above the Arctic Circle. During our own driving evaluations in Finland, as well as through our interviews with cold- and hot-weather-testing engineers, we learned that the new powertrain of the XC90 V-8 not only brings more power and torque to the equation, but also advanced technology (in some cases, where you'd least expect it) as a result of Volvo's unforgiving test regimen.

Test Tracks
Cold-weather testing takes place north of the Arctic Circle in Kiruna and Jokkmokk, Sweden, locations at latitudes between 64 and 65 degrees and at the World Mellatracks in Ivalo, Finland (www.testworld.fi). Split-traction handling, braking, and cornering maneuvers in snow and ice are evaluated. Farther south, near Volvo's headquarters in Gothenburg, Volvo has a large facility where 20 to 100 vehicles are tested at a time, often in back-to-back shifts. In addition, at Volvo's proving grounds in Phoenix, Arizona, a group of 13 Swedish engineers, currently managed by Peter Borjesson, execute reliability and development tests. This team evaluates the performance of materials and fuels in this hot atmosphere and also simulates domestic driving patterns.

The Arizona facility has about three-dozen vehicles that run seven days a week in two shifts. In some cases, the team heads up to Canada for winter expeditions; however, there is a climate chamber on site that ranges from -40 to 54 degrees F. All data is transferred between North America and Scandinavia on a daily basis.