Volvo XC90 V8

Volvo XC90 V8 and D5 Review

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First Drive:

• Volvo XC90 V8 - $84,950 launched late October 2006
• Volvo XC90 D5 - $72,950 In showrooms now

Volvo Car Australia recently gave the automotive media some time behind the wheel of two new model variants of their biggest seller, the XC90 SUV.

Volvo was one of the last car companies to build an AWD SUV, and that hasn’t been a bad thing given the worldwide success of the XC90. Back in 2003, the XC90 won a string of awards from car magazines around the world including the UK’s “Top Gear” which gave it “Best 4X4 2003”. The model was only launched in 2002 and current sales are said to be around 90,000 units a year.

For so many automotive brands, the United States remains their biggest market and it’s no different for Volvo. Mid –size SUV’s are still big business in the US, despite the recent fuel price spike, and many of them, V8 powered. To increase its market share in the ‘big car’ friendly US, Volvo really needed to get hold of a V8 powertrain for their number one selling model.

Volvo lives under the Ford umbrella, so you would think finding a suitable V8 engine for the big Volvo, would be a piece of cake. You’d be wrong. You see, the problem is, Volvo’s obsession with safety (a good thing) means that they mount their engines transversely rather than longitudinally. This thoughtful piece of engineering allows for both a greater crumple zone and as a bonus, provides more cabin space than similar sized vehicles in the class. The other requirement Volvo has with its engines, is that they must be environmentally clean. It was a tough brief.
Volvo XC90 V8 D5

Who better to deliver on this challenge, than Yamaha. The manufactures of lightning fast motorcycles and powerful V6 outboard engines for speed boats. Think compact.

Yamaha got to work and provided the XC90 with a high output 4.4 litre V8 engine, producing 232kW and a thumping 440Nm of torque at just 3900rpm, via the cleanest V8 petrol engine in the world!

The XC90 V8 has replaced the T6 – a twin turbocharged 2.9 litre six-cylinder and surprisingly, the V8, as well as being more powerful, more refined and cleaner, is just as economical, sipping just 13.5L/100km when you factor in both city and highway driving.

While some of the large SUV’s are an effort to drive around town due to their sheer size and bulk, the XC90 feels more car like behind the wheel. Although the driving position is commandingly high, you never actually feel like you’re driving a large wagon with three rows of seats on board.

Accelerator response is super sharp for a vehicle of these proportions and you get the feeling that at least one or two Yamaha GP 500 motorcycle engineers have put their five cents worth into this engine. Off-the-line sprints are strong with Zero-to-100km/h times in the low 7-second range. This vehicle is plenty quick, with an engine note that could only be described as a refined V8 growl.

On the Highway, the XC90 V8 cruises effortlessly, as you’d expect from one the lightest vehicles in the large SUV class. Complimenting the V8’s power and smoothness, is a six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with manual capability, if you feel the need.

With standard all-wheel-drive, and a well sorted chassis, riding on 235/60 rubber and 18 inch alloys, cornering limits seem reasonably high for a vehicle in this class, with body roll minimal, when pushed hard. The XC90 feels stable on a variety of surfaces and the ride is always comfortable. Steering is precise and is Speed sensitive on the V8.

This Volvo doesn’t mind playing in the mud either. After the recent deluge in NSW, there was plenty of wet, soft stuff, to test the XC90’s off-road ability. The V8 uses Volvo’s clever Haldex electronic all-wheel drive system (standard across the range) which made light work of these slippery conditions. If that wasn’t enough, the Swedish engineering boffins have added a new feature called Instant Traction. In plain English, this means that there will always be enough torque available to the rear wheels when starting from standstill.

If you’re worried about how the XC90 handles rough, rock laden forest tracks, don’t be. It’s a cushy ride over this terrain, with Volvo’s numerous electronic safety systems, ensuring car like handling and tracking on all surfaces.

Cabin quality inside the XC90 V8 is nothing short of luxurious with a standard features list, longer than a Woollies shopping receipt. The sound system in this car is definitely worth a mention. Rather than installing an off-the-shelf system like most car makers, Volvo elect to build a system from the best possible audio components they can find. The result is superb sound through no less than twelve Dynaudio speakers powered by a 5 X 130W amplifier.

Rain sensing wipers are of course standard but surprisingly, the auto headlight on/off function is not, nor is it an option.

What does work well though, is the Park Assist Camera which not only provides a wide screen view of anything behind the vehicle, but also marks your track with a pair of coloured lines. It’s a reasonably expensive option, as it works in conjunction with the Satellite Navigation system, but if you’ve got young kids or toddlers, then it’s probably worth the expense.

What the XC90 V8 misses out on in the cachet stakes, it more than makes up for in the safety department. For example, the simple stuff like kids booster seats, which from what the statistics say, rarely work effectively due to poor installation as a result of complicated instructions written in pigeon English. If you buy any Volvo car in Australia, you won’t need to fork out additional dollars for at least one of these seats. The XC90 range has an “integrated child booster seat” in the second row seating, (three rows of seats are standard across the XC90 range) which simply pops up when you need it, and retracts when you don’t. All Volvo cars have at least one of these seats, but some models come with two!

Braking is as good as it gets, with ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist, standard across the range.

Grip is well sorted, no matter what the weather dishes out, with Traction Control and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control which essentially work together by cutting power to, or braking wheels which have either lost traction or start to skid. Another active safety system Volvo employs, which you may not have heard of, is Roll Stability Control. RSC is there to avoid rollover accidents should you be forced to take extreme evasive action which could unsettle the vehicle’s balance. Sounds like a good thing for high riding SUV’s.

There are plenty of other safety systems on board the XC90 (mostly designed by Volvo) which warrant a mention such as, Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) and Whiplash Protection System) WHIPS and countless airbags including, Inflatable Curtain (IC) in all three rows of seats.

An interesting safety option on the car we drove was a system called BLISS (Blind Spot Information System) which is essentially a small digital camera mounted at the bottom of each side mirror with a viewing angle down each side. Working in concert with the cameras are small orange warning lamps that illuminate when any vehicle or bike enter a potential blind spot. While I can understand the benefits of this $1200 option as tested, it requires you to be aware of the warning lamps which would take some getting used to.

I didn’t get the chance to test the headlights in darkness but it’s disappointing to know that Bi-Xenon’s are not standard on the V8. In fact, they are a $2100 option across the range. Enough said.

Even with three rows of seats, the XC90 is plenty roomy. There’s enough luggage space behind the third row to swallow a weeks worth of shopping, with ease. However, if you fold them all down, you could literally move house in this thing.
There’s no question that the big Volvo is eminently practical and family friendly. There is an infinite number of seating configurations which are easily accessed. What I really liked, is the integrated child booster seat which can be brought forward, so as to be closer to the parents up front. You can even remove the rear section of the centre console, should you want to temporarily replace it with one of those portable fridges.

With petrol prices nudging $1.50 recently, Turbo-Diesel powered SUV’s are gaining a lot of respect. With some of these vehicles costing a whopping $150.00 to fill, you can understand the need to stretch that dollar further via Diesel power.
The XC90 D5 is Volvo’s answer to fuel economy in an SUV. The 2.4L, five-cylinder, turbo-charged engine is not the biggest or most powerful in its class, but it gets along just fine. Producing 136kW and 400Nm of torque at between 2000-2750rpm, the D5 has more than enough useable power to satisfy most drivers.

Diesel engines no longer pour out black smoke as they did not so long ago. In fact, most people these days would have no idea when they are behind a diesel powered car or SUV. The D5 runs particularly clean, due to a new engine management system which along with an advanced Particulate filter, reduces overall emissions dramatically. It’s worth mentioning that Particulate filters which are designed to catch minute pieces of soot usually require periodic maintenance to remove the particulates. Not so with the Volvo. The system continually burns away this stuff every 500kms or so.

If you’re the sort of person who has a whinge every time a service is due, then how’s a service interval of 30,000kms grab you?

The fuel economy for a vehicle with three rows of seats and weighing in at 2069kg is outstanding at 9.0L/100km (combined). Over lunch though, I heard someone mention that on a drive back from Melbourne to Sydney, they got around 8.0L/100km which is extraordinary and a figure I’d want to verify myself, given the opportunity.

With this level of consumption on offer, you can bet that the D5 will be the volume seller in the XC90 range. With a retail price of $72,950 its one of the better priced premium SUV’s when compared to say a BMW X5 3.0d which will set you back over $86,000 albeit with a bigger engine but two less seats.

Cruising at legal limits on the highway is a relatively quiet experience in the D5, which is a good thing, as you can fully appreciate those 30,000 plus tracks on your 60 gig ipod, through the twelve Dynaudio speakers.

Transmission is through the standard kit, 6-speed Geartronic auto, with manual shift option. It’s a fast acting box with smooth changes.

Crossing creeks and climbing rocky hills in the D5 is a walk in the park, with all the same traction control systems as you get on the V8 model but with the added benefit of low down torque.

In fact, there’s not much you don’t get in the D5 that’s standard on the V8 and at $12,000 less, is the better value option, if money is a consideration and your not yet addicted to the sound of that 4.4 Litre V8.

Volvo has closed the cachet gap with these new additions to the XC90 range, and with an encyclopaedic list of safety features on board, well worth a serious look.

By: Anthony Crawford