Graceful, hard-hitting excellence from Volvo’s XC90 |

Graceful, hard-hitting excellence from Volvo’s XC90

Andy Stonehouse

A thoroughly well-rounded, weather-beating vehicle that blends European design with the troop-hauling needs of American families, the Volvo XC90 continues to improve with each new model.

Pleasant to drive and powerful but not terrifyingly gas guzzling, the XC90 is a popular alternative to domestic sport-utes that’s cleanly and efficiently designed.

And with the option of reasonably sized third row seating – teamed with a unique self-leveling rear suspension which helps to accommodate the extra load of extra passengers – the XC90 is as adaptable as it is capable.

Maybe that’s why you see loads and loads of them in the High Country, with drivers choosing the XC90 for its substantial but not overwhelming size and the steady, all-weather reliability of Volvo’s electronic all-wheel drive.

After several variations on a powerplant over the years, the 2007 model year includes two options: a new, torquey 235 horsepower 3.2 liter V-6 engine (which replaces the older turbocharged 2.5 liter engine) and a punchy 311 horsepower 4.4 liter V-8.

I got to check out the new 3.2 liter version of the XC90 (featuring a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission) and will happily report that the vehicle produces loads and loads of power for general cruising and punching it on the passes. You’ll need to get in a bit heavy on the pedal to gather speed on tall inclines (I suspect that may be less of an issue in the V-8 equipped machine) but the overall feel is smooth and responsive. The six-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic is also seamless in its operation and can be switched over to manual mode for engine braking during descents; a winter driving mode button drops the revs for easier starts and stops in the snow.

Steady highway driving will produce up to 22 miles per gallon; my combined average was a bit closer to 19 mpg, which is not so bad.

Weighing in at close to 4,500 pounds, the XC90 is relatively hefty for a Volvo produce and you’ll feel it in the corners when you’re hurtling down from the Eisenhower Tunnel. But an anti-roll bar and the electronic enhancements of various stability and traction controls help to enhance the tightness of the handling, and the vehicle remains eminently more sporty and responsive than most sport-utes.

As a result, the vehicle was one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks for 2007, which lends confidence to the entire package.

The new edition of the XC90 can be tweaked with a variety of nice options, including bright bi-xenon headlamps which swivel 15 degrees with the turn of the wheel, as well as the digital video Blind Spot Information System. Similar to a system introduced on the new Audi Q7, Volvo’s technology sets off a warning light on the doorframe when it detects another vehicle traveling in your blind spot.

The XC90’s already stylish body design is updated, ever-so-slightly, by a new grille, taillights and bumper; many of the impressive looks shared with other Volvo sedans appear in the 90’s taller, gently rounded variation on the brand.

Interior design continues to feature stylized, stippled plastic, aluminum highlights and glossy hardwood inserts, with easy-to-read instrumentation and straight-forward (if not overly simplistic) audio and heating and cooling controls.

Leather seating throughout the cabin is comfortable and supportive, with multiple power adjustments for both passenger and driver. The second row features a unique built-in booster seat for the kids and third row seating can be accessed via either door, as both outer seats slide forward. The third row folds flat and entirely out of the way, creating good cargo space in the back.

Efficient and attractive, the XC90 is a great option for those seeking old world excellence with a bit of extra room as part of the bargain.

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