Volvo's 2005 XC90 sport-utility vehicle gets an engine most Americans can fully understand—a V8. It' the first V8 in the Ford-owned Swedish automaker's nearly 80-year history, although it comes from Japan's Yamaha.
A Ford-Yamaha connection has existed for years; Yamaha supplied a high-performance V8 for Ford's limited production, second-generation Taurus SHO (Super High Output) model.
Ford estimates it has lost about 20 percent of customers for the XC90 because that sport ute hasn't offered a V8. Such an engine is de rigueur for upscale SUVs such as the XC90, but there was no Ford V8 that would fit longitudinally, or lengthwise, in the XC90. And none of Ford's V8s were compact enough to fit transversely, or sideways.
The nifty V8 is shipped from Japan to Sweden, where its sideways location in the XC90 allows the SUV to have a relatively short length.
The 4.4-liter 311-horsepower V8 is outstanding, being smooth and strong. Yamaha has had considerable experience developing advanced auto engines. It even supplied the engine for the rare 1965-70 Toyota 2000GT sports car.
The XC90 arrived as a 2003 model, with handsome, distinctly Volvo styling. Considering intense midsize SUV competition, even Volvo has been surprised that the XC90 is the top-selling European SUV in America—and Volvo's best-selling vehicle.
Perhaps all those folks who faithfully bought Volvo station wagons for decades have purchased an XC90. After all, the XC90 is based on Volvo's S80 car platform and isn't all that far removed from a Volvo wagon. It even drives much like a Volvo sedan or wagon.
Many Safety Features
Standard XC90 features such as anti-lock all-disc brakes, anti-skid/traction-control and Volvo's Roll Stability Control system, which reduces chances of a rollover. They enhance Volvo's traditional safety image—as do this SUV's side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags for all seating rows.
But the new V8 is the big news for the 2005 XC90. The aluminum engine has continuously variable valve timing for good response at all speeds and propels the XC90 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds.
The new engine is the only gasoline V8 with strict Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle II status. Packaging for the new engine allows the XC90 to maintain high head-on and 40-mph offset-crash properties.
The new V8 represents a big investment for Ford, which likes to spread good components around. So watch for the new engine in other Volvos and perhaps Ford's new Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, which some feel needs a more potent engine.
Two Other Engines
The XC90 also is offered with turbocharged 5- and 6-cylinder engines. The 2.5-liter 208-horsepower 5-cylinder is rather small and strains when pushed. But the smoother 2.9-liter 6-cylinder does much better with 268 horsepower and more torque.
The V8 powers the $45,395 XC90, which is the most expensive version. The 2.5 engine is in the well-equipped, $35,290 2.5T base model. And the 6-cylinder motivates the midrange $41,550 T6.
The 2.5T has front-wheel drive, but the T6 and V8 versions have standard all-wheel drive, which is a $1,775 option for the 2.5T. The system is advanced, but lacks low-range gearing for rough off-road use because the XC90 mainly is an on-road SUV.
You can't tell the XC90 V8 from the other two trim levels from the outside, except for a few V8 logos, large 18-inch wheels and dual tailpipes. It also has items including leather upholstery, more bright interior trim and rear climate and radio controls. The V8 is quiet at idle but emits a sexy exhaust note during rapid acceleration.
No Fuel Miser
None of the engines is miserly with gasoline, although midsize SUVs aren't noted for very good fuel economy. The 2.5T does the best, delivering an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 24 on highways, while the T6 figures are 15 and 20. The V8 provides virtually the same economy, at 16 and 20.
The 2.5T is backed by a 5-speed automatic transmission, while the T6 is hooked to a 4-speed automatic. The V8 works with the best XC90 transmission—a beefed-up 6-speed automatic. All transmissions have a manual-shift capability.
While the T6 is pretty fast, the XC90 V8 is especially fast under all conditions, despite weighing approximately 4,600 pounds.
The XC90 steering is rather light, but precise, and handling inspires spirited driving, even on curving roads. The firm ride of the XC90 is one of the most car-like among SUVs, being comfortable and well controlled. The brake pedal is rather touchy, but stopping distances are short.
The accelerator pedal takes getting used to because it has an unusually long throw, causing a driver to extend his leg a lot if he floors it to engage passing gear.
There's good room for four 6-footers in the first two rows, although rear doors should open wider.
The XC90 seats up to seven with the third-row seat, which is difficult to reach and best suited to several children. That seat is standard in the V8 version and in the optional Versatility package for the other two XC90 trim levels. That package also contains rear air conditioning and third-row side-curtain airbags.
An available integrated child booster seat flips out of the middle of the second-row seat. If the XC90 has a third-row seat, the child seat can slide forward so it's just behind the two front seats to improve contact between a child and front occupants.
Second-and third-row seats fold flat to enlarge the cargo area, which is fairly roomy with the second-row seatbacks in their normal position. Facilitating loading is a two-piece tailgate.
The interior is quiet and attractive, with upscale materials, although the cushy front seats should provide more lateral support in curves. Large sound system and climate controls are welcome, but gauges sometimes are hard to read in bright sunlight.
The V8 promises to make the XC90 even more attractive to potential buyers.