The Volvo XC90 revolutionised the premium SUV market when it was launched in 2003. With its modern design, powerful engines, Roll-Over Protection System (ROPS) and seven-seat capability with up to 64 seating configurations, it rapidly became one of Volvo's best-selling models. It is produced at Volvo's Torslanda plant in Gothenburg, Sweden.
With increased refinement, desirability and performance, the Volvo XC90 features elegant exterior styling, a more luxurious and highly-specified interior, allowing it to sit comfortably in the premium SUV sector. The Volvo XC90 is available in Active and SE (D5 only), SE Lux, R-Design and Executive trim levels, all offering a high standard specification compared with most other premium brand rivals.
Environmental protection is another foundation stone of all Volvos and the XC90 is no different. The D5 Geartronic engine was re-homologated in 2008 resulting in the CO2 figure dropping from 239g/km to 224g/km. This means that both the D5 manual and Geartronic fall below the key threshold for Vehicle Excise Duty. The Volvo XC90 takes further care of the environment inside the passenger compartment and reduces the risk of allergy-related problems with its Electronic Climate Control (ECC) with automatic Air Quality System (AQS).
The Volvo XC90 is available with a choice of two high-performance engines - one diesel, D5 185 PS, and one petrol, 3.2 243 PS, - both of which produce plenty of power and torque from low engine speeds and through the mid-range for maximum flexibility and driving pleasure.
The Volvo XC90 features AWD (All Wheel Drive) with Instant TractionTM, with an electronic Haldex coupling system to maximise traction between front and rear axles, yet despite its substantial off-road abilities, it is as easy, responsive and rewarding to drive as any regular Volvo saloon or estate model.
In order to optimise safety in the Volvo XC90 and, in particular, reduce the risk of a roll-over, Volvo has fitted as standard a Roll-Over Protection System (ROPS) with Roll Stability Control (RSC) technology. This uses a gyro-sensor to register the car's roll speed and roll angle to instantly calculate the terminal angle and risk of a roll-over, and automatically activate the DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) anti-skid system, if required, to help the driver maintain control.
For added protection, Volvo has also reinforced the XC90's roof structure with extremely tough Boron steel, which is four to five times stronger than normal steel. In addition, the side Inflatable Curtain (IC) protects all three rows of seats and has been designed to stay inflated longer in case of multiple roll-overs, and to help keep occupants inside the vehicle. As you would expect, the Volvo XC90 scores highly in a variety of international safety ratings, including pedestrian protection test ratings.
Volvo has also considered the XC90's crash compatibility with other, smaller cars, and designed a lower cross-member - concealed behind the front spoiler - at the height of a bumper in a conventional car to impact with and activate its crumple zones as intended.
At the front, the traditional Volvo V-shaped bonnet incorporates a grille with a wide chrome surround and three-dimensional mesh inserts, plus a large Volvo 'iron mark' badge. The front bumper has a degree of colour-coding and an extended skidplate built into it. The Volvo XC90 is also distinguished by 18in alloy wheels (standard on SE and SE Lux) and colour-coded side mouldings, door handles and wheelarch mouldings with black stone protectors. In line with the rest of the Volvo range, the Volvo XC90 also features large, body-coloured door mirrors, which incorporate the side indicator lights.
The muscularity of the Volvo XC90 is matched by rounded corners front and rear, a gently sloping (split) tailgate and shorter roof section to promote a smoother, non-aggressive impression and help the vehicle to look more compact and desirable.
The Volvo XC90's 'cockpit forward design' enables the passenger compartment to be as far forward as possible with a more steeply raked windscreen than in most other SUVs. This has allowed Volvo to make a seven-seat SUV within modest overall body dimensions.
The Volvo XC90's tailgate is gently sloping rather than vertical to clearly state that this is not a regular Volvo estate car. The resulting shorter roofline also helps the vehicle appear smaller and gives it a sporty stance.
For added convenience, the tailgate is split so the lower section can be used as a seat or table; it is strong enough to be stood upon when loading items onto the roof, and the upper section is not too large, heavy or high when opened.
The interior of the Volvo XC90 endorses the car's premium feel, materials used and a high standard of detailing impart an air of luxury and craftsmanship. The driver will appreciate a clear and ergonomically designed instrument panels, which has a typically Scandinavian simplicity of line and functionality: plenty of information from a small number of meticulously designed instruments.
The instruments and controls are angled slightly up towards the driver's eyes. Together with the high seating position, this enhances the feeling of control - the single quality that SUV buyers generally prize most highly.
Despite being 25mm shorter than the Volvo V70 premium estate, the Volvo XC90 offers the greatest flexibility in the premium SUV class, with generous interior space housing seven individual, forward-facing seats - all with head restraints and seat belt pre-tensioners.
The middle seat in the centre row has an integrated child booster cushion and also slides forwards independently so it can be positioned directly between the two front seats, thus improving contact between a child and the front seat occupants. What's more, the armrest between the front seats is removable to create more leg room for the passenger in this centre seat. In total, there are 64 different seating configurations.
The third row features two separate seats, offering full comfort for children or for adults of modest build. Unlike some rivals, these do not take up valuable space or have to be clumsily removed, but instead they neatly and simply fold away individually out of sight into the boot floor when not in use, so are always on hand.
Both the second and third rows of seats can be folded down to create an entirely flat luggage compartment floor no less than 3845mm long and 1127mm wide, with a volume of 1837 litres. In addition, the front passenger seat also folds forwards to accommodate extra-long loads. Even with all seven seats in use, there is still a useful amount of load space for the family - 249 litres, to be precise.
The Volvo XC90 is available with a choice of two high-performance engines - one diesel and one petrol - both of which produce plenty of power and torque from low engine speeds and through the mid-range for maximum flexibility and driving pleasure.
The six-cylinder 3.2-litre (3192cc) engine develops 243PS and 320Nm of torque, which translates into a 0-60mph time of 8.9 seconds with emissions of 269 g/km and a top speed of 130mph. It also comes as standard with Volvo's six-speed Geartronic transmission and the latest All Wheel Drive (AWD) system with Instant TractionTM.
Built at Bridgend in Wales, the 3.2 is a modern unit, mostly made of aluminium with an efficient design. A straight-six engine is, intrinsically, the most refined and smoothest of all engine configurations. But their length makes them difficult to package transversely. Most straight-six engines would not fit into a car's engine bay crossways; they're too long. Volvo engineers overcame this problem by making the new in-line six-cylinder (SI6) engine extremely compact, and much shorter than the straight-six norm. In fact, it is more compact than Volvo's five-cylinder engines as its ancillary components are neatly positioned behind the engine in the space above the transmission.
The key was a new, unique and highly innovative drive system' known as READ - Rear End Ancillary Drive. All ancillaries, such as power steering pump and air conditioning compressor, are driven by gears at the rear end of the crankshaft. The alternator is direct driven and installed on the engine block. The flywheel damper is now inside the engine.
The result is an extremely short engine, of just 625 mm, or only 3mm longer than Volvo's five-cylinder engine. This substantially increases engine bay space, so the straight-six can be fitted crossways and the excellent crash structure can be configured around it. The SI6 has aluminium block and head and both are structurally optimised to balance low weight and stiffness. Even the camshaft cover is structural, allowing it to incorporate the camshaft bearing caps for further weight reduction. There are twin overhead camshafts and 24-valves (four per cylinder) to provide optimal engine breathing. Engine breathing is further improved by Volvo's patented Cam Profile Switching (CPS) system that features two completely different intake cam profiles machined onto the same camshaft. The engine management system decides which cam profile to use, depending on the engine's running conditions and driver's torque demands. One profile is ideal for low speed/low load driving and offers good torque and excellent fuel economy. The other, which gives longer valve lift, is ideal for enthusiastic driving, at higher speeds. An ingenious two-piece hydraulic valve tappet arrangement alters the cam profiles.
'In principle, Cam Profile Switching creates two engines in one,' says Derek Crabb. 'We can unite widely differing demands on one and the same engine and easily meet the requirements of customers with entirely different wishes. Our focus is just as much on satisfying customers who prioritise performance as those who are more interested in driving comfort and fuel economy.' The SI6 engine also features a continuously Variable Cam Timing (VCT) system, to constantly alter valve overlap to achieve optimum power, efficiency and emissions. The combination of CPS and VCT gives the new straight-six engine an astonishingly broad power and torque band, and improves both outright performance and the vehicle's driveability.
In addition, the Variable Intake System (VIS) - which varies both intake tract length and, more unusually, plenum volume, through two throttle flap valves - boosts low-end torque and high-end power, further helping the breathing capability of this astonishing engine. For instance, 80 percent of the vehicle's maximum torque is available across the entire rev range, and 256 Nm is on tap all the way from 1400rpm to 6400rpm.
'VIS enables us to exploit the engine's capacity to the maximum and extract the maximum possible power throughout the entire rev range,' says Derek Crabb.
The SI6 engine is also amazingly clean, complying with Euro5 emission control standards, and ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) II standards in the US.
It achieves high performance with good fuel economy thanks to its valve train, with both Variable Cam Timing (VCT) and Cam Profile Switching (CPS) on the intake side. With CPS, the intake valves can be lifted to different heights depending on engine revs and load - a lower lift for economical driving and a higher one for more power, almost creating two engines in one.
Volvo's 2400cc, D5 turbodiesel, which develops 185PS and 400Nm of torque, offers both strong mid-range urge and refinement. It is fitted with a diesel particulate filter as standard, a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) Volvo's six-speed Geartronic, plus the latest common-rail direct-injection technology. The manual Volvo XC90 D5 gets from 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds and has a top speed of 121mph, whilst achieving an average of 34.0mpg on the combined cycle.
The Volvo XC90 boasts a C02 figure of 219g/km for the manual 185 PS D5 diesel engine and now the best selling automatic version, the D5 Geartronic has a tax-appealing figure - 224g/km.
This CO2 figure means the D5 Geartronic engine falls into Band K for Vehicle Excise Duty, saving new Volvo XC90 owners L570 in Vehicle Excise Duty over three years.
The D5 turbodiesel engine was substantially revised and enhanced in 2005 following technological developments and extensive changes to the performance characteristics. For example, these included:
New electronic glow plug system for faster starting.
A collaboration between Volvo's Racing Team, Polestar, and Volvo Car Corporation's powertrain department has produced 'Polestar Performance'. This bespoke software is available on the D5 185 PS engine and enhances the vehicle's performance.
The engine control system upgrades offer a power increase of 20 horsepower to 205 PS, without affecting the car's fuel consumption in normal driving. After optimisation, the acceleration of the car improves on average by 0.5 seconds in both manual and Geartronic transmissions. Naturally, the car also complies with the strict emissions regulations stipulated by EU legislation.
More importantly, all warranties from Volvo will apply. None of Polestar's power optimisation kits increase the car's top speed. As a result, standard brakes and tyres can be used.
The software upgrade is available from Volvo's UK dealer network and costs Â£650 including VAT.
The Volvo XC90 is designed for all types of roads, irrespective of the surface beneath the tyres or the weather conditions. Even though it was never designed to be a serious off-roader, the Volvo XC90 has the versatile combination of electronically controlled Haldex All Wheel Drive (AWD) with Instant TractionTM and a generous 218mm of ground clearance for when the going gets tough.
A high seating position gives the Volvo XC90 driver a feeling of safety and greater awareness of the road ahead, with the knowledge that he or she can control the car with the help of instant, well-weighted response from the chassis, engine and brakes.
The chassis in the Volvo XC90 is designed to give the vehicle the same ride and roadholding characteristics as a passenger car. The suspension is more substantial, however, to handle heavier loads, as well as the higher ground clearance and all-terrain possibilities.
The rear multi-link suspension is well isolated, with the dampers and springs attached directly to the subframe. This results in a quieter ride as road and transmission noise is largely filtered out before it reaches the bodywork.
A wide track (1634mm front, 1624mm rear) and a long wheelbase (2857mm between the front and rear axles) make for exceptional stability, so the new Volvo XC90 behaves consistently and dependably, even on curving, twisting and uneven roads.
The XC90 R-Design features dynamic chassis settings, stiffer anti-roll bars, firmer shock absorbers and sport tuned speed-dependent steering.
The shock absorbers have stiffer rebound rates and the anti-roll bars are stiffer (front +0.5mm; rear +1.0mm) to offer a high level of stability when cornering. The speed dependent steering has also been adapted to offer a quicker steering response. Furthermore, Volvo's self-levelling system, Nivomat, has been fine-tuned to offer great stability and driving control.
AWD with Instant TractionTMThe Volvo XC90's AWD (All Wheel Drive) system has the latest electronic system developed in conjunction with the Swedish specialist, Haldex. It operates independently of driver input, distributing torque automatically between the front and rear wheels for the best possible grip in all conditions.
A 'pre-charged' function uses a non-return valve within the coupling, making 80Nm of torque instantly available to the rear wheels if the sensors detect any slippage. It feeds more power to the rear wheels as the car pulls away to improve acceleration. Once moving, power is balanced between front and rear, reducing drive to the rear wheels when not needed, and helping to reduce fuel consumption.
The intelligent AWD system uses a variety of sensors to monitor the road surface and the steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedal positions. In normal driving conditions on dry roads, 95 per cent of the power is distributed to the front wheels. However, for off-road work, or if the sensors detect slippage, between 5 and 65 per cent of the power/torque is diverted to the rear wheels to maximise traction, if required.
The XC90 further benefits from Volvo's TRACS anti-spin system and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC). TRACS prevents wheel spin by transferring power across the axle if it detects a wheel is losing grip on one side. This means power is automatically and smoothly distributed to the wheels with the best traction at any given time. TRACS is deactivated during braking so the brake and ABS systems can function effectively, for high stability and shorter braking distances.
In addition, the DSTC system increases driving safety on twisty roads and in slippery conditions by using sensors to detect if one of the driven wheels shows any sign of losing traction and cutting the power to it at lightning speed so it can quickly regain grip. And if the car shows any tendency to skid, the system automatically brakes the relevant wheels to help maintain smooth control.
STEERING, BRAKES AND TRANSMISSION
The Volvo XC90 is as easy, responsive and rewarding to drive as a regular Volvo saloon or estate model. Its torsionally rigid body, transverse engines and All Wheel Drive combine to create almost even weight distribution (53 per cent front, 47 per cent rear).
The front MacPherson suspension, together with the ZF steering gear, promotes increased precision and sharp response.
DSTC, EBD and EBA
The Volvo XC90's braking system is designed and tested to help stop the vehicle safely, even when it is fully loaded with seven people and luggage, and is backed by sophisticated traction and stability control systems.
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) is standard on every model and prevents wheelspin by either braking the wheel that has lost traction (up to 25mph) or, at speeds above 25mph, by reducing engine power and using extra sensors to detect the onset of a skid. The system then automatically slows the appropriate wheel to restore control. It ensures that the driven wheels get exactly as much power as they can transfer to the road.
All Volvo XC90s benefit from ABS brakes with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist) which monitors how quickly the brake pedal is pressed, and determines if the driver is panic-braking. When this occurs, the brake pressure is boosted to maximum in the shortest possible time, to reduce the stopping distance.
Volvo's Geartronic transmission - standard on 3.2-litre petrol models, optional on the D5 - gives the driver the best of both worlds. Geartronic automatically adjusts its shift points to reflect the driver's style and also offers a manual, sequential-shift facility where the driver is able to choose gears individually by tipping the lever forwards to change up and backwards to change down. It also features a 'W' setting for winter driving on slippery surfaces when it will start in a higher gear to avoid wheelspin and loss of control.
QUALITY AND EQUIPMENT
In the Volvo XC90 considerable importance has been attached to providing a comprehensive standard specification to reflect the upmarket ambience of the car itself.
Luxurious touches such as the use of high-quality materials and upholsteries, and satin chrome inlays for the controls are matched by a high level of standard equipment on all models.
Hi-fi enthusiasts can upgrade to the Executive model's Premium Sound system with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround SoundTM and 12 speakers. It includes a 6xCD, FM and AM radio, 5 x 130w amplifiers, as well as MP3/WMA compatibility and an auxiliary jack input to enable customers to connect personal I-Pod players.
The Volvo XC90 is available in Active and SE (D5 only), R-Design and SE Lux variants, plus Executive trim levels.
Like all Volvo models, the XC90 features a comprehensive safety package designed to protect occupants in a wide variety of accidents. Given the higher centre of gravity of an SUV, however, there has been a greater focus on the increased potential for roll-over accidents.
Roll-Over Protection System
Volvo's Roll-Over Protection System (ROPS) tackles the problem from two directions:
A stability-enhancing system, Roll Stability Control (RSC), minimises the risk of the new Volvo XC90 rolling over in the first place.
However, this does not mean that Volvo has compromised on one of the properties that SUV buyers value so highly: a commanding seating position.
Roll Stability Control
In order to help reduce the risk of a roll-over situation, Volvo has developed an active stability-enhancing system known as Roll Stability Control (RSC). The system uses a gyro-sensor to register the car's roll speed and roll angle and instantly calculates the terminal angle and roll-over risk.
If there is an obvious risk of rolling over, the DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) anti-skid system is activated and responds by reducing the engine's power and braking one or more wheels as necessary until the car understeers and stability is regained.
This significantly helps reduce the risk of a roll-over accident initiated by extreme manouvres and is the only active stability-enhancement system to measure the car's roll angle.
Special Boron steel in a reinforced roof structure
If the Volvo XC90 experiences a roll-over, the passive safety systems kick in. The goal is to reduce the risk of occupants' heads coming into contact with the car's interior roof panel or sides. So, Volvo has reinforced parts of the roof structure in the Volvo XC90 with extremely tough Boron steel, which is four or five times stronger than normal steel.
All seven seats are equipped with seat belt pre-tensioners to hold the occupants securely in place. In an accident, the pre-tensioner pulls the seat belt firmly across the occupant's body in order to help provide maximum protection.
To help prevent the head from striking the car's sides, the Volvo XC90 is equipped with Volvo's Inflatable Curtain (IC). IC also helps prevent the occupants or any limbs from being thrown from the car in an accident. In the Volvo XC90, the IC protects all three rows of seats.
The Volvo XC90's IC is specially adapted to stay fully inflated for longer to offer maximum protection in a roll-over scenario. If the occupant's head is resting against the window at the moment of inflation, the curtain will slip between the glass and the occupant's head.
The problem of compatibility - when an SUV collides with a car that sits closer to the road surface - was another important focus throughout the development of the Volvo XC90.
A typical SUV has a high ground clearance and thus often comes with high-positioned bumpers. This may create a greater risk of damage to the oncoming car and more serious injuries to its passengers as the lower car's protective beams and crumple zones simply slip below the front of the SUV without being activated.
In order to reduce the risk of this type of injury, the Volvo XC90's front suspension subframe is supplemented with a lower cross-member neatly concealed behind the front spoiler and positioned at the height of the beam in a conventional car.
The lower cross-member strikes the oncoming car's protective structure, activating its crumple zone as intended so the occupants can be given the maximum level of protection.
Considerable attention has also been given to the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other relatively unprotected road-users. The entire front of the car features clean, gentle and smooth lines, and there are no protruding parts that may cause injuries.
The engine in the Volvo XC90 is installed low in the vehicle. As a result, the bonnet has no less than 80mm of deformation space before there is any contact with the engine below it. It thus serves as a soft, impact-absorbing 'bumper', reducing the risk of serious injury if a pedestrian is thrown onto the bonnet.
High safety level in the third row of seats
The Volvo XC90's third row of seats provides a high level of passenger safety. There is generous space behind it, so collision force in a rear-end impact can be effectively absorbed and dissipated.
The occupants of the rearmost seats sit just above the rear axle, which is the optimum position in terms of side-impact safety. These seats also feature seat belt pre-tensioners, head restraints and protection from the Inflatable Curtain.
WHIPS, Volvo's award-winning Whiplash Protection System, is fitted in the two front seats of the new Volvo XC90. WHIPS is activated in the event of a rear-end collision from speeds as low as 9mph, helping to reduce trauma on the spine and neck and thus reducing the risk of injury.
An integrated booster seat is standard in the centre seat of the middle row, as are ISOFIX mounting points, and Volvo also offers a passenger airbag cut-off switch to enable child seats to be carried in the front of the car.
This glass is also available for (laminated) side windows.
On the side windows, the WRG gathers water together as pearls of moisture that are easily blown away by the wind, leaving a dry glass panel with unobstructed visibility. Since it is more difficult for dirt to fasten onto dry surfaces, it is also easier to keep the windows cleaner. The WRG treatment requires that the windows be laminated.
Volvo was the first car manufacturer to improve driver comfort by studying ergonomics and introducing adjustable lumbar support seat backs in 1964. After nearly 40 years of continuous research, crash-testing and innovation, it can also claim that its seats can reduce whiplash injuries by 50 per cent.
Seventy per cent of personal injuries in car accidents include whiplash, but Volvo's research shows this risk can be reduced by half with 'WHIPS' - the Volvo Whiplash Protection System, first introduced at the launch of the S80 in 1998, and now standard in all Volvo front seats.
Volvo's WHIPS seats significantly reduce the force on the spine and head by absorbing energy from the impact and offering superior support thanks to the combination of an innovative moving support mechanism in the seat back and a fixed head restraint design permanently at the right height and position.
In practice, the WHIPS seat mechanism bends backwards with the occupant's body - first in parallel and then in a short reclining movement.
Volvo's traffic accident research team compared real-life whiplash injuries from Volvos with and without WHIPS, and the results point to a clear conclusion: WHIPS reduced short-term and long-term (of more than a year) injuries by 33 per cent and 54 per cent respectively, while whiplash injuries in women were reduced by as much as 50 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively.
All Volvo car head restraints were placed in the highest category in the 'New Car Whiplash Rating' published by the Thatcham Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre. Static tests were carried out to measure the design and position of head restraints in 500 car models.
Like Volvo, the Swedish insurance company, Folksam, also compared real-life accidents, and showed that WHIPS seats reduced whiplash injury by 40 per cent. In 2003, Folksam crash-tested seats from a number of different manufacturers' cars, and Volvo seats were considered the best. An overall whiplash injury reduction in the region of 50 per cent was thought possible, if all cars had seats as good as Volvo's.
Volvo's passion for safety also extends to issues of personal security. The Volvo XC90 is fitted as standard with a wide range of features designed to protect occupants from burglary, theft and assault. An electronic immobiliser makes it impossible to start the car without the right key, while the outer lock cylinder rotates, making it difficult to break in to. If the thief does manage to get in, via a window, for example, the deadlock system makes it impossible to open a door from the inside. The availability of laminated side windows can also make it harder for thieves to gain access to a Volvo XC90, while dark-tinted rear windows protect the car's contents and aid personal security.
The deadlock system is activated by the remote control key fob, allowing the driver to open the car as they approach. This system can also be used to access the tailgate independently of the doors, which is a useful deterrent to opportunist thieves.
The same remote control system also switches on the alarm system, which is fitted as standard to the Volvo XC90. The alarm is triggered if anyone attempts to open the doors, the bonnet or the tailgate. It also reacts to movement inside the car or if a window is broken.
An important contribution to personal security is provided by the Home Safe and Approach lighting system. By pressing a button on the remote controller when approaching the car, the driver is able to turn on the inside lights, the side marker lights and the lights in the rear-view mirrors. On leaving the car, a tweak of the headlight stalk activates the dipped beam headlamps for 30, 60 or 90 seconds (programmable by a Volvo dealer), lighting a path to the door. It's a simple system that offers considerable peace of mind.