Car Test   R0322
March 2003
First Drive Volvo XC90
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: D5 SE Automatic
Well, at last! Itís been a long wait, but Volvoís new sport utility vehicle has finally arrived to do battle with already well-established rivals such as the BMW X5 and the Mercedes M-Class.
   The Swedes have taken their time because they wanted their new Ďall roads vehicleí right and they wanted it safe; poor stability in avoidance manoeuvres has been a serious failing of too many vehicles in this sector. Volvoís solution is to give the XC90 a relatively low centre of gravity and equip it with sophisticated roll stability and traction controls. In addition, thereís a steel reinforced roof, should the worst happen.
   And, of course, de rigueur to the designersí brief was to give the XC90 a sound (though not a seriously mud-plugging) off-road capability to add to its versatility. Any wheelspin is instantly detected by the AWD system, which automatically apportions power between the front and rear wheels. Our test route included nothing harsher than glassland tracks, which the XC shrugged off with disdain, a roundly absorbent ride and creditably little kickback through the steering.
   Back on tarmac, the long-travel suspension soaks up road faults with ease to give supple progress, and although cornering roll is apparent, itís well controlled and grip is as tenacious as you would expect. Itís a pity the steering isnít more communicative, but at least the optional electronic variable assistance makes it light when parking and usefully weightier when on the move.
   Of the two engines on offer, the silky six-cylinder petrol is the quieter and gives the swifter performance. Itís also well suited to the excellent Geartronic auto transmission with its almost seamless shifts and nifty sequential manual override. Even so, we have a soft spot for the refined D5 turbo-diesel. It may be 3sec slower to 60mph and emit a thrummy hum on acceleration, but itís a strong-pulling, high-geared, easy-cruising unit that will average (it says here) 31mpg.
   Thanks to an Ďin-commandí position and an electric seat that adjusts every which way, driver comfort is unlikely to disappoint. The facia and console styling and layout are very Volvo, too, with clear dials and ergonomic switchgear that includes cruise control and hi-fi controls on the height and reach adjustable steering wheel.
   The three seats behind the front occupants slide fore and aft to give fair-to-generous kneeroom. Headroom and footspace are plentiful, too, but itís a shame that the backrests canít be reclined.
   Access to the rearmost pair of seats is awkward for adults, as is the accommodation provided. Youngsters will be happy back there, though, especially as headphone sockets allow them to listen simultaneously to CD, radio or mini-disc.
   The ingenious thing about these two occasional seats is the way their backrests fold down and the cushions slide away under the load area floor. This gives a big, flat, carpeted deck, accessed via the split tailgate. The downside is that the deck is well off the ground and so demands a high lift to get cargo and arthritic animals aboard.
  considering size, price and rivals
  • modest road and wind noise
  • cleverly integrated slimline telephone handset
  • three sets of roof lights
  • softly lined stowage areas prevent rattles
  • headrests mar rearward vision, even when folded
  • foot-operated parking brake
  • temporary-use, 'space-saver' spare wheel
  • shallow door pockets
The SUV experience can involve too many compromises, but not in this case Ė unless, of course, you want to indulge in really serious mud-mauling. The XC combines MPV-like seating versatility and load space with near car-like comfort and on-road presence. And, like all Volvos, itís built to the highest standards of quality and safety. Itís an altogether formidable all-rounder thatís seriously going to put the wind up that rival Germanic duo. Well worth waiting for.

engine 2401cc, 5-cylinder turbo-diesel, 163bhp at 4000rpm, 251 lb ft at 1750rpm; belt-/gear-driven double overhead camshafts, 20 valves
transmission permanent, variable four-wheel drive; optional 5-speed Geartronic automatic on test car
suspension front: independent MacPherson coil spring/damper struts, anti-roll bar
rear: independent multi-link, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
wheels/tyres 7in alloy with 235/60R18V tyres; temporary-use (steel) spare
brakes ventilated discs front and rear with brake assist/ABS
0-62mpha 12.3sec
official mpg~ 23.7/37.7/31.0
maximum speeda 115mph
CO2 emissions 242g/km
a maker's figure  ~ urban/extra urban/combined

size and type large, premium-priced, five-door SUV (7 seats)   trim levels S, SE
engines petrol: (T6) 6 cylinder/2.9 litre/272bhp
diesel: (D5) 5/2.4/163
  drive Haldex electronically controlled permanent but variable four-wheel drive, with dynamic and stability controls. D5: 5-speed/T6: 4-speed, Geartronic automatic with manual sequential override. 5-speed manual available on D5 diesel late 2003
notable features electronically controlled all-wheel drive, seven seats (rear pair with slide-away stowage), two-piece tailgate, integrated child booster cushion in middle second row seat; option packs: Winter, Premium, Communications, Cross Country

  in centimetres (5-door SUV)
  length 480
  width - including mirrors 213
    - mirrors folded 190
  height (inc roof bars) 178
  load sill height (inside/outside) 0/82
  turns lock-to-locka 2.7
  turning circle (metres)a 12.5
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 87-110
    - headroom 95-101ß
  rear - typical legroom 101
    - typical kneeroom 74
    - headroom 99
    - hiproom 137
  load area(5-seater mode)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 47-116b-205c
  load length to facia 289
  load width 114-139
  load height (to blind/top of aperture) 42/82
ß no sunroof  a maker's figure  b with rearmost seats folded  c with all five rear seats folded
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