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Volvo XC90 V8 2006 MY Road Test

30 June 2005

For many, Sport Utility Vehicles are a plague that needs to be eradicated sooner rather than later. With World oil supplies slowly (or rapidly depending on some opinions) depleting, consumer groups and manufacturers alike are looking for alternatives. The fact of the matter is that there is still a strong demand for these types of road hogging means of transportation even though the $1 litre and $2 gallon of fuel are here to stay.

Volvo has been selling 90 000 XC90s a year since 2002 when Volvo's first SUV was launched as a 2003, a daunting 80% more than they had anticipated. For the mid-cycle refresher, Volvo has commandeered the services of Yamaha (best known for their motorcycles and for giving the Ford Taurus SHO its reason for being) to build a powerful and compact V8 engine to satisfy the American craving for more muscle. Volvo expects that 75% of all the V8s sold world-wide will be brought home by North Americans. Volvo also did this to remain competitive in the luxury SUV segment which continues to grow and be dominated by the European makes. By the way, this is the first time ever that Volvo offers a V8 engine since the company began in 1927.

The price range for the 2005 XC90 starts off at $49,995. As of July 2005, the range will be capped at $64,995 for a 5-seater V8 and $67,295 for a 7-seater V8.

The 2006 V8 retains the look and styling of the XC90 as we know it. All but the V8 badges, a graphite grey grille and specific optional 18" alloy wheels make it impossible to differentiate it from the 2.5T.

The cabin of the XC90, or any Volvo for that matter, is tasteful and spartan at the same time. The materials used, both synthetic and natural, are exquisite and brilliantly put together. Optional with the Luxury group is a Dolby Pro-Logic II audio system that gives new meaning to concert hall-like sound. The front seats snuggle the occupants and never make you feel like you have been sitting down too long. Of the two available seating options, 5 and 7 passengers, the latter should outsell the earlier by 5 to 1.

For 2006, two engines will remain available for the XC90, however the T6 (turbocharged inline-6 cylinder 2.9L) will be replaced by an all-new Yamaha-built V8. The base engine is a carry-over and comes in the form of a 2.5L turbocharged inline 5-cylinder that develops 208 hp at 5 000 rpm and 236 lb/ft of torque at 4 500 rpm. It is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode and an AWD drivetrain.

The optional engine is the narrow-angle 60° V8 that displaces 4.4L and produces 311 hp at 5 950 rpm and 325 lb/ft of torque at 3 900 rpm. Together with a new 6-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, the V8 and gearbox weigh 10 kg (22 lbs) less than the 6-pot and the 4-speed autobox. Not only that but the combo takes up the same amount of space in the engine bay thanks to all of the engine accessories being mounted on the motor.

Along with Haldex, Volvo has created an electronically controlled AWD system that provides instant traction. The way it works is by maintaining or pre-loading the system with 50 lb/ft of torque. This means that the front wheel will not experience the normal wheel spin associated with a regular AWD setup. This new drivetrain will make its way into every AWD Volvo in the near future.

On the road, the XC90 feels lithe and sure footed. Its rock-solid chassis, shared in part with the S80, Ford Five-Hundred and Freestyle, purveys build quality like few manufacturers can deliver. Steering is light and precise and never gives you the impression that you are driving a 2 100 plus kilogram truck. When pushed the engine emits a subdued roar reminding everyone around that this is not the Volvo that your father used to drive. On the highway, the XC90 is stable and well controlled. The 6-speed tranny is slick-shifting and quick on its toes.

The V8, which makes 274 lb/ft of torque available at as little as 2 000 rpm, generates a very satisfactory kick in the pants. According to Volvo, the Japanese built powerplant can launch the truck from a standstill to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds. To boot, it is also the cleanest burning V8 on the planet; it meets ULEV II requirements. Fuel consumption ratings have increased by barely 3.5% for a 14% output improvement.

The XC90 was the first SUV introduced with a roll stability control. It is then no surprise that standard safety features abound. It has dual front, side and side curtain air bags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution and assist, traction, roll and stability control and seatbelt pre-tensionners. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) awarded the 2004 XC90 5 out of 5 (a perfect result) for the driver and 4 out of 5 stars (a good result) for the passenger in frontal impacts. Also, it received 5 out of 5 stars for the front and rear passengers in lateral impacts. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has rated it a "Best Pick" and puts it on top of 9 SUVs in its category.

There are different approaches to every obstacle regardless of its nature. Volvo chooses simply to be more eco-friendly (PremAir radiator and recyclable parts and body panels) and they have always put emphasis on safety. These issues are principal matters in many people's lives and Volvo is capitalising on this: their sales have increased by nearly 8% from 2003 to 2004. So far, in the first 1/3 of 2005, sales are up by 30%. Volvo has created the "good guy" SUV that everyone seems to want.

Montreal is and has been the most loyal market to Volvo for many years. The Swedish company expects to deliver 2 500 XC90s to Canadians for 2005-2006 and they are well on their way. Of those, 500 should wear the V8 badge. This represents the same percentage of takers for the T6 (80% base, 20% T6/V8).

The beauty about the XC90 V8 is that it really can do everything well. It is competent on and off-road, is roomy, comfortable, can tow up to 2 250 kg (5 000 lbs) and is well dressed for you to go out for a night on the town. Volvo suspects that many of the V8 buyers will be golf enthusiasts, so here's to a tee-off time at Glenn Abbey.

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