When it comes to car design, dull but worthy is a winning combination. Volvo has been mining this rich vein of sheet metal mediocrity since the 60 s, creating vehicles so non-descript you only notice them when their owners pull a maneuver so absurdly dangerous it betrays the driver s brand-specific belief in personal immortality. When Volvo finally entered the SUV fray, their blend of inoffensiveness and invincibility remained unchanged — except that the XC s four and five-cylinder engines added the word slow to the mix.
Not good. You don t have to try to overtake an eighteen-wheeler in a 4610lbs. SUV to know that slow does not always equal safe. But once you do, you do. By the time Volvo s top brass got the message — American soccer moms want their kids and their horsepower too — it was too late. The XC s engine bay was too small for a proper V8. So the company went out and got itself an improper V8: a narrow-angle Yamaha powerplant. The 4.4-liter mill stables 311 horses, transversely, which allows the XC90 s chassis to maintain its exemplary front crumple zone.
So equipped, Volvo s SUV can now charge to sixty in seven seconds. And that should be it, really. Sluggish Swede gets engine implant, PC Volvo customers live happily-ever-after in nondescript, more-than-merely-adequately-horsed people carrier. And it is true: the XC90 V8 is an eminently sensible set of wheels, capable of transporting three to five sprogs in comfort and safety, with the added security of all-wheel-drive and a shape that s almost completely invisible to cops. But Volvo s V8-powered carcoon is not without its drawbacks
Despite a seeming surfeit of torque, Yamaha s carry-on-sized engine is not blessed with ideal engine management. More specifically, there s an automotive dead zone between 40 and 60mph. Gently point and flex your right foot and nothing much happens. Prod the go-pedal and the gearbox takes you down one cog. It ain t enough. Give the beast a proper kick in the sides and the thing books — when all you really wanted to do was lope. It s the kind of manic performance you d expect from an over-worked six, rather than a big-bore V8.
I suspect that Volvo decided to sacrifice speed on the altar of fuel efficiency. Even with easy-does-it-gearing and uncharacteristic restraint, I never bettered 14mpg around town and 18mpg on the highway. The good news is that the XC90 s mileage figures are only slightly less bad than those generated by the smaller turbo-charged engines. The bad news is that the numbers are bad — especially for a brand that likes to wear its eco-friendly credentials on its artfully creased fenders. The good news (and I mean it this time) is that the XC90 is one of the few V8-equipped SUV s that qualifies as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).
And there you have it: a pricey, practical, gas-guzzling Volvo that doesn t pollute the planet (at least not at the tailpipe). Where this leaves the brand is anybody s guess. Meanwhile, Volvo s selling these things like crazy. The suburbs have spoken. [by Robert Farago]