Volvo XC90 V8 Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Porsche salesman Kirk Stingle calls it 'tip in'. It's those initial few seconds of acceleration, when a vehicle's engine tries to convince the stationary mass surrounding it that it's time to hit the road, Jack. A surprisingly large number of SUV's tip in like they're racing for pinks. Not so the Volvo XC90 V8. With a 311hp powerplant mated to a six-speed slushbox, the formerly slothful Swede glides off the line with all the grace and strength of an Olympic figure skater starting her routine. Even the Russian judges give it a perfect ten.

The newly-engined Volvo XC90 shows that the Ford subsidiary understands that the ideal 'soft roader' is nothing more than a luxury car on stilts. It must be comfortable enough so that none of its occupants wants to throttle a fellow passenger (always a plus for family car buyers), tall enough to impart a sense of superiority, fast enough to exercise that authority and nimble enough not to roll over and die when you do. Oh yes, and safe. It's got to be safe.

Obviously, Volvo's got the safety part wired. The XC90's standard equipment reflects the brand's longstanding expertise in anti-maim, anti-mortality technology: roll stability control with gyroscopic sensors, seat belt pretensioners all 'round, airbags for all, a boron steel passenger safety cell, ABS brakes, faultless ergonomics, car-like handing and… a V8 engine. Yes, the new eight-cylinder engine is part of Volvo's cunning plan to keep its customers alive long enough to buy at least two Volvos per lifetime, and spawn 2.3 future buyers.

The automotive media has been banging on about how the Volvo XC90 needed a "proper" V8 to compete with its mucho macho rivals– as if all SUV buyers are men who equate valve numbers with penis size. The truth is that the XC90 needed a V8 because the 2.5 and 2.8-liter turbocharged engines aren't powerful enough to quickly and efficiently propel the 4500lbs. SUV out of harm's way.

Granted, the XC's four and five-cylinder engines aren't stupidly slow; in the same sense that the new V8 isn't searingly quick. But overtaking in the smaller-engined variants requires planning. Emergencies are, by their nature, unplanned. So let's call the 4.4-liter V8 "reassuringly swift'. Put the hammer down and the powerplant will squirt the XC90 past an 18-wheeler on an unmarked two-lane road, in the dark, on a bend, with no fuss, no twisted metal muss.

The XC90's new V8 is also a safety feature because of its size, shape and positioning. Here's the deal…

When Volvo decided to add oomph to their first-ever SUV, they were stuck with a vehicle designed around their compact turbo engines. They had to find a V8 small enough to fit– sideways– inside the SUV's petite nose. So the brand hooked-up with Yamaha, who built them a narrow-angle V8 good for three hundred plus horses. Call it good luck born out of necessity; the upright engine's compact dimensions leave the original amount of space allocated for front deformation (that's crumpled metal to you and me). It's an elegant solution.

That said, the Japanese engine's singular design is not without its faults. Though suitably loud, it's certainly not the most charismatic sounding V8 since muscle cars first roamed the earth. There's also a bit of an accelerative dead zone between 40 and 60mph, which only a big old stomp on the go-pedal can cure, where the computerized gearbox sacrifices speed on the altar of fuel efficiency. And here's where Volvo XC90 V8 is a little, um, conflicted.

The top-of-the-range XC90 V8 gets 17mpg in the city and 21mpg on the highway. The good news is that these mileage figures are only slightly less bad than the mpg's 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-powered SUV that meets the government's Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standards.

So… You burn up a lot of fuel in an XC90 V8– especially if you're not prone to dawdling– but the SUV doesn't release as many ozone-killing hydrocarbons as the other guys'. Plus you're driving one of the safest and most luxurious SUV's on the planet, with a low-slung front bumper that lessens your chance of skewering fellow road users with your prow.

Where does all that leave an XC90 V8 owner in the politically correct scheme of things? Hell if I know. But any SUV that can sprint from zero to sixty in 6.9 seconds, cruise serenely, corner confidently, coddle magnificently and protect my four children (even if it's just theoretically) is always welcome to tip on in.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Pelle Schultz Pelle Schultz on Aug 08, 2007

    Nice vehicle. I had one as a loaner for a while. As I write this it's been 2 years since then, and the design was already dated in 2005. Still far more tasteful and a good bit cheaper than some of its more recent competitors like that fugly thing from Audi (the Q7). A fine vehicle, but this review hits on two of the main points directly: the gas mileage is atrocious, and the tip-in is very 'civilized'. I averaged 14.5 mpg (!) in mixed city-highway driving. Admittedly I was flogging it a bit to test the performance of the V8. But it's also not fast off the line, like that matters. Still hustles though.

  • Jharna Jharna on May 11, 2011

    Just got our estimate for $10 K to fix our transmission and engine support pads on our 2004 Volvo XC90. It first started the warning light at 86,000 and no one could figure it out. We will not pay that amount to fix the car. Rather sell it for scrap than pay that amount! I would like a lawyer to contact us if this class action litigation goes through.