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2007 Volvo XC90

The Family Friendly Crossover

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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2007 Volvo XC90

The XC90 is big. Vertically, that is.

Photo © Philip Powell
Volvo's popular mid-size sport-ute has had a freshening for 2007, though you'll have to look closely. New bi-xenon headlamps swivel up to 15 degrees to illuminate around corners, tail lights have a different illumination pattern, bumpers feature slightly different intakes and vents. More important is what's under the hood, where a new 3.2 liter aluminum inline six delivers a smooth 235 hp. Loaded with active and passive safety features, the Volvo XC90 is aimed at families who can appreciate the advantages of all-wheel-drive. EPA "don't-you-believe-it" mileage: 17 city/32 highway.

First Glance

I began this by looking for DNA belonging to Big Orange, the third and last Volvo I'd owned, a 1970's station wagon. It was big and it was orange because at the time Europe had developed what it called "safety colors." An orange car was a strange sight on American roads in those years. Big Orange was my third Volvo and though they came from different eras there was a Volvo-ness to all. It was there in the several Volvos I've tested since, so I didn't think it unreasonable to look for evidence in the XC90.

I found some. The XC90 is big. Vertically, that is. Horizontally it's no longer than my old wagon but has the edge in width. They're both boxy (the XC90 adds a few curves) and both share a grille with the familiar slash that dates back to the very first Volvo. Comparing performance may be a stretch since my car was rear-drive with a 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed auto, whereas the XC90 features a V-6 and a 6-speed automatic, yet the difference was less than you might think due to the SUV's weight.

Steering feel, roadholding, ride, functional interiors, those were other areas in which I discovered similarities. Safety, too. Volvo is arguably the industry leader in both active and passive safety but so was Big Orange in its day, even without the XC90's remarkable technology. Okay, perhaps DNA is not that important, but it was nice to discover that even in a massive SUV like this some things never change. A Volvo's always a Volvo, thank goodness.

Continued below. . .

In the Driver's Seat

The instrument panel is surprisingly basic; a good thing as too much information can be hard to read and even distracting.

Photo © Philip Powell
With Big Orange I slid into the driver's seat. With the 2007 XC90 I climbed up. Way up is how it felt to this driver, who prefers the way low seating of a sports car. So after the long step I sat back and admired the functional design that characterises all Swedish products. The instrument panel is surprisingly basic; a good thing as too much information can be hard to read and even distracting. The console appears, at first glance, to be a clean, simple treatment but when I counted buttons and switches, they totalled 47.

No complaints about the heated leather seats, which were suitably firm and offered a reasonable amount of grip. The list of multiple airbags, pretensioners, whiplash protection and other interior safety features, all standard, is worthy of a page onto itself. Our test vehicle came with a phenomonal 12 DynAudio speaker system that would have been even more impressive if Vancouver had a jazz station or if Seattle's was pointed in my direction.

Visibility was good out front, barely adequate to the rear. Checking the back seat, I was disappointed in the kneeroom, however an integrated child-booster cushion allows the center section to slide forward so Mom can cater to the little one's needs.

On the Road

I'm a fan of inline sixes so Volvo gets my vote for dropping the five and moving up to a 3.2 liter all-aluminum six. Sure, you can get a gas-guzzling V-8 but why? With 235 hp and ample torque, aided by a 6-speed automatic, the six propels an XC90 like a fast-moving express train. A mellow song accompanies it even under light acceleration. As always when driving vehicles with a manual shift option, I tried the "Geartronic" once and forgot about it.

One certainly gets a sense of security when driving as this tall SUV features Roll Stability Control, using a gyroscopic sensor to reduce the possibility of a rollover by applying brakes and modulating engine power. Electronic Stability Control is included to help keep the car on the driver's intended path whenever the tires lose grip. Volvo was certainly keen to help in emergency braking: the system includes huge 4 -wheel disc brakes, electronic brake distribution, emergency brake assistance, and ABS. Watch out for tailgaters!

Built on the S80 sedan's platform, with fully independent suspension, the XC90 feels more like a station wagon than a conventional SUV. Steering is firm but accurate, wind and tire noise minimal, the ride a bit stiff over potholes.

Journey's End

A Volvo's always a Volvo, thank goodness.

Photo © Philip Powell
"Family friendly" is, like user friendly, an overworked phrase. Yet I can't resist applying it to the Volvo XC90. Everything a family might wish for is there, from safety to comfort to convenience, plus the added advantage of all-wheel-drive. It's a pleasant vehicle to drive, too, with just a hint of sportiness coming from under the hood. And if five seats aren't enough, a third row seat is available.

At the conclusion of my test it occured to me that the XC90 wasn't the handful in big city traffic that I expected. Quite the opposite, except for the limited rear view; my car did not come with optional rear parking assistance though it did have "puddle lights" in the mirror housings, a useful guide in Vancouver where the worst winter weather in 50 years almost drowned the citizens. (Don't smirk, easterners, the daffodils will still make their appearance in February.)

To my astonishment I learned that the XC90 is Volvo's best seller. If all those buyers lived in snow country I could understand but most reside in big cities and use their XC90 for everyday errands. Perhaps they price-shopped against a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne and found the XC90 offers better value for money. As for me, I'd be happy with Big Orange. It was friendly for my family and more fun to drive, especially on the snow-covered roads leading to Quebec's ski areas.

Who should buy this car?

Families who really need all-wheel-drive and count safety as a major priority.

Who should not buy this car?

Old guys still hung up on 1970's Volvo wagons.

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