The average model life for a new car is around five years. For trucks and SUVs, it's more around seven. The days of a decade-long model cycle being considered acceptable are long over. But perhaps for embattled Swedish brand Volvo, we might cut a little slack, if just a little. The 2014 Volvo XC90 is now officially entering into its 11th model year on the fundamentally same platform as when it debuted as a 2003 model.
Between its debut and now, there have been a few updates, some of them significant, in the areas of trim and powertrains, but the shape is still unmistakable, and largely unchanged. The XC90 was handsomely rugged and contemporary when it debuted, and it's still handsome, but not quite as contemporary as it once was, especially alongside some of Volvo's newer models, and most notably the recently-redesigned XC60.
Six on the Side
In its more than decade-long run, the XC90 has offered some intriguing powertrain options, ranging from a turbo I-5, a twin-turbo side-saddle I-6, and even a narrow-angle V-8 co-developed with Yamaha. For the 2014 model year, there's just one option underhood for the XC90, a 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated I-6, sitting transversely under the hood. This layout is highly unusual for an inline-six, and although we appreciate its novelty, we can't say it does a great amount for NVH isolation. The straight-six makes 240 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, numbers that the BMW M3 were making 15 years ago.
But alas, the XC90's nearly 4700 lb blunts the enthusiasm of the sidesaddle six. Power delivery is also less than exemplary, with some flat spots up the rev range. And for those expecting Lexus levels of NVH isolation, the XC90's noise and vibration might seem a little coarse. The level of noise and vibratory feedback might be appropriate or even expected in a sport sedan, but in a nearly $48,000 SUV, they seem a bit out-of-place. Thankfully, the straight-six sings a relatively happy song at full whack, something you'll be hearing often, as the 240-hp engine works against the XC90's not-insubstantial heft. It's not exactly gutless, but neither would we call it especially lively. Competent seems the best term.
Contemporary, a Decade Ago
The rounded-font numbers and letters in the XC90's interior are somewhat of a Volvo trademark, and lend a comfortable familiarity to those that are brand loyalists. But for the uninitiated, they come across as a slightly dated futuristic affectation, like what they thought would look futuristic in the mid-'90s. The controls likewise have a stark, plasticky, functional feel to them, with the characteristic European phone keypad on the dashboard, and basic, but not entirely intuitive buttons and knobs on the dash. We also had mixed luck initially pairing our smartphone to the Bluetooth system. At first, the steering wheel phone and audio controls did not sync with our phone, requiring us to use the console-mounted controls. However after a few pairings, the wheel-mounted controls magically started working. The floormat carpeting has a thick pile, and the leather on the doors and seats feels appropriately rich, but not in a remarkable or outstanding way.
The audio display is a monochrome gray LCD, once again, looking at least a decade old. However, it did display Bluetooth music metadata, a fairly contemporary function on what looks like a dated display. Our tester was not the Platinum trim, which includes the pop-up navigation screen, but we've learned to use the voice prompts of the Google Maps app in our smartphones to similar effect.
Our vehicle's as-tested price of $47,590 is not unheard of in this class and size of vehicle. But considering the basic design's age, and the consequently dated driving experience that comes along with it, we can't say we think the XC90 is an especially compelling value. Dropping the Premiere Plus, Climate Package, Sovereign Hide leather, and all-wheel drive will get you off the lot for just a hair over $40,000, including destination. At that price, it’s a reasonable deal, but you can get much better-equipped, more modern models from less "premium" brands for about the same price.
If you're a Volvo loyalist that appreciates the brand's traditional values of safety, solidity and understated Scandinavian style, you might find the XC90 an attractive proposition. But frankly, we would recommend waiting about a year for the all-new XC90 that Volvo has already promised. If you're a fan of Volvo's unique transverse I-6, act fast, as Volvo has already gone on-record saying that its future models will be exclusively four-cylinder-powered. But with output as high as 300+ hp for a compound turbocharged/supercharged engine, the new mills will certainly not lack for power, and we've driven other four-cylinder models that are easily the peer or better of the current I-6 XC90's level of powertrain NVH, so even the prospect of a four-cylinder in a vehicle this large is no longer as horrifying as it once was.
For now, consider the XC90 the modern-day spiritual successor of the 740 and 940 wagons from the '80s and '90s: Big, basic, functional, and just luxurious enough to be comforting, but without the "look at me" pretense of the German brands. This may be enough for Volvo's loyal legacy customers, but the true test of whether Volvo's basic brand values still appeal to the broader spectrum of SUV shoppers will likely need to wait for the 2015 model.
| 2014 Volvo XC90 |
| BASE PRICE || $40,615 |
| PRICE AS TESTED || $47,590 |
| VEHICLE LAYOUT || Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass 4-door SUV |
| ENGINE || 3.2L/240-hp/236-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6 |
| TRANSMISSION || 6-speed automatic |
| CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) || 4729 lb (53/47%) |
| WHEELBASE || 112.6 in |
| LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT || 189.3 x 74.7 x 70.2 in |
| 0-60 MPH || 9.0 sec |
| QUARTER MILE || 16.9 sec @ 84.0 mph |
| BRAKING, 60-0 MPH || 130 ft |
| LATERAL ACCELERATION || 0.74 g (avg) |
| MT FIGURE EIGHT || 29.0 sec @ 0.57 g (avg) |
| EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON || 16/23 mpg |