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2006 Volvo XC90 review

December 14, 2005 12:27 PM EST | SUV's , Volvo | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageEasy to drive and easy on the eyes, Volvo's first SUV has everything it needs to compete in the crowded midsize category. If you're shopping for a kid-friendly, premium-brand sport-ute, make sure the XC90 is on your test-drive list.

Safe as a bank vault, plush ride, solid performance from V8 model, feels smaller than it is, high-quality interior materials, ample cargo room.

Third-row seating takes up too much second-row space.

What's New for 2006
The T6 model and its turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine have been deleted from the Volvo XC90 lineup for 2006. A new computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system debuts as does a new optional 18-inch wheel design. New SAE testing procedures have dropped the horsepower rating on the V8 engine from 315 to 311. See 2005 model.

Safety is so ingrained into Volvo's image that it could offer a detachable sidecar made of cardboard for its vehicles and most customers probably wouldn't think twice about hopping in. This unassailable reputation for passenger protection is just one of the many reasons Volvo knew it could compete in the fiercely contested realm of the premium midsize SUV. This class includes some of the best-selling sport-utilities on the market, namely the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Lexus RX 330 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Like its competition, the XC90 is a car-based SUV designed to offer all the comforts of a luxury sedan in a package that's versatile enough to accommodate an active family. There's seating for up to seven, loads of cargo room and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system designed to keep the XC headed in the right direction no matter how deep the snowdrifts get. Like other Volvos, the XC90 has an extensive list of protective measures to cocoon you and your family from harm, and it was the first to introduce some additional safety features that are only now finding their way into the competition. Most prominently, there is Roll Stability Control (RSC) that activates the DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) to help prevent rollovers. And just in case there is a rollover, the roof of the XC90 is composed of Boron steel, which Volvo notes is four times stronger than conventional steel. Furthermore, its side curtain airbags extend all the way to the rear, rather than just covering the first two rows.

Safe, easy to get in, easy to maneuver, smooth on the highway or about town, the XC is hard not to like. With the addition of an optional V8 last year, the XC has also mitigated one of its few faults -- the sluggish off-the-line performance. While it still doesn't have as much room in the second row as we would like, only the most discerning buyers are likely to be let down by its size.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The XC90 comes in two models, 2.5T and V8. The 2.5T comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, a CD player and 12 cupholders. A premium package adds leather upholstery, a moonroof, a power passenger seat, an in-dash CD changer and an auto-dimming mirror. In addition to this, the V8 model gets 18-inch wheels, body-colored door handles, aluminum interior trim and built-in, second-row child booster seats. Individual options include a DVD-based navigation system, bi-HID headlamps, parking sensors and a DVD entertainment system.

Powertrains and Performance:
The 2.5T model comes with a turbocharged 208-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. This engine is adequate around town, but once on the highway, you may wish for more power. The top-of-the-line V8 model gets a 4.4-liter V8 with 311 hp and a standard six-speed automatic for optimum performance. You can choose either front- (2WD) or all-wheel drive on 2.5Ts, while V8s come standard with AWD.

Standard safety features include a full menu of side airbags to protect the heads and torsos of outboard occupants in all three rows, seatbelt pre-tensioners in all seating positions and anti-whiplash seats. The XC90's standard Roll Stability Control system uses a gyro-sensor to calculate the SUV's roll speed and angle; if it's determined that a rollover is imminent, the stability control system is activated. In the event the vehicle does roll over, an inflatable curtain covers all three rows. Unlike most SUVs, the XC90 is equipped with a front crossmember that's compatible with a car's bumper height. In the event of a collision, this crossmember strikes the oncoming car's protective structure, activating its crumple zone to give the car's occupants maximum protection. The Volvo was named a "Best Pick" in IIHS frontal-offset crash testing. In government crash tests, the XC90 earned a perfect five stars in passenger and driver side impact and frontal driver protection, and four stars in rollover and frontal passenger protection.

Interior Design and Special Features:
You can order the XC90 as a five- or seven-seater; in both variations, the second row (and third row if equipped) folds down to create a flat floor. The middle seat in the second row can be equipped with an integrated child booster cushion; in seven-seaters, the child seat slides forward, allowing for contact between parents and tykes. Legroom in the third row is better than in many competitors, although the second row is a little cramped as a result. Cargo capacity tops out at a generous 92 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions:
The XC90 rides on the same underpinnings as most of Volvo's sedans. Appropriately, ride quality is soft and comfortable. It lacks the silky, fluid quality of the Lexus RX 330 and the quasi-sport sedan demeanor of a BMW X5, but like the Acura MDX, it offers an appealing compromise of comfort and handling that will satisfy most drivers.

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