Exterior Design: *****
The XC90 s instantly recognizable sheet metal isn t exactly a game-changer, but why in the world would Volvo want to do that? The XC90 V8 is elegant in its inoffensiveness, and inoffensive in its elegance.
She s a bit of a mover, this one. Zero to sixty in about seven seconds won t scare top-of-the-range Bimmers and Porsches, but Volvo s SUV is no longer the fat guy puffing for breath at the back of the class. That said, you ve got to carpet slam the XC90 s gas pedal to get her into proper go-mode, and the Yamaha-sourced powerplant has about as much sonic character as Up With People!
In day-to-day driving, the XC90 s vented discs offer excellent sensitivity and power. During emergency stops, the binders become seriously squidgy, as the electronics quickly wrest all control from the pilot.
Despite the Volvo-wagon-on-stilts routine, and the best efforts of Ford s chassis tuners, you can t escape the fact that the XC90 is a portly, ladder frame chassis SUV; the suspension s sleep number is sky high.
Driven sensibly, the XC90 handles with all the mindless ease of a well-sorted luxury car. Body roll is wonderfully suppressed — to the point where you begin to think you can throw this big boy around. Wrong. As soon as you do anything remotely energetic, the electronic Nanny steps in, confiscates your toys and sends you off for a quiet nap. Give the Nanny the day off, and the XC90 will understeer all day, every day.
The XC90 s sick-speed slushbox is particularly bad at in-gear selection. At mission critical speeds, the computerized throttle serves up a stark choice between too much or too little acceleration.
The stereo works best at low volumes; crank it up and grating mid-range tones predominate. The optional video system is terrific, with excellent screens (clearly visible from the third row) and a sensibly placed head-unit (front seat armrest, facing backwards). Equally impressive, the driver and co-pilot can listen to a separate audio source while the rug rats zone-out in wireless headphones.
As you d expect from a Swedish SUV, the XC90 s inherent minimalism avoids the death-by-frippery found on most range-topping SUV s. Even so, you get all the oxymoronic luxury car basics: heated seats, separate HVAC controls for rear passengers, enough cup holders to create ten gallons of sun-warmed apple juice, etc.
Five-up, you ve got more than enough space to accommodate the most elaborate domestic invasion. Seven-up and you re looking at a top box or a trailer. Can someone please extend these seven-seat SUV s by another foot? [by Robert Farago]