By on September 3, 2013

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I recently saw some teaser images of an all-new, fully-redesigned Volvo XC90. You may have seen them too. If you did, your reaction was probably fairly mild. Maybe you yawned and drank some coffee. Maybe you resumed scratching yourself just out of view of your boss. But me? I was consumed with pure horror.

Before we cover the reasons behind this, let’s back up a bit.

First, we have to talk about the pictures themselves. What does the phrase “teaser image” mean to you? A couple of blurred photos of a car? A few images of some body panels? The kind of picture a slutty co-worker texts you late at night?

Not this time. In this case, Volvo released a photo of the XC90’s illuminated headlights, with the entire rest of the car shrouded in darkness. You can’t see anything. And yet every single major automotive news outlet picked up this story, proving once again that automaker PR is the easiest job on earth: release a photo of some headlights, create a major buzz. I often think Ferrari could tweet a picture of their latest model’s valve stem and end up on the front page of Automotive News.

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Anyway: the reason for all the secrecy is because Volvo isn’t quite ready to show us the new XC90 yet. In fact, they won’t even bring it to the Frankfurt Auto Show, preferring instead to show off a bizarre concept car that looks like an Audi A5 with tailfins.

And to me, that’s just fine.

You see, I don’t want a new XC90. That’s because I like the current one just fine. In fact, it’s better than just fine: it’s perfect. And now, we must cover that statement with a little background.

The current XC90 came out for model year 2003. Think about that. In the fall of 2002 – some 11 years ago, just as President Bush was settling into office and all major airlines were rushing to declare bankruptcy – Volvo debuted the XC90. As I recall, it was met with virtually unanimous praise for its handsome styling, its crash safety engineering, and the fact that Connecticut soccer moms could finally ditch their station wagons.

And now, here we are, 11 years later. President Bush is settling into retirement. And the airlines were able to pull themselves out of bankruptcy, presumably by charging fees for checked baggage, carry-on baggage, and customers who think about baggage. But the Volvo XC90 is still here, just as it was then, soldiering on with only minor updates.

To give you an idea how unusual that is, some perspective. One: the XC90 is now the second-oldest car on the market. It loses out only to the Mercedes G-Class, which was the vehicle of choice for the smaller dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous Period. And two, here are some cars that came out after the XC90 made its debut:

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But the interesting thing about the XC90 isn’t its longevity. It’s that, after ten years, it still looks great. Seriously: the XC90 looks like the kind of car that would look tremendous if it came out tomorrow. The lines are flowing and gorgeous. That Volvo shoulder crease is perfectly placed. And most rivals look far more ungainly, or at least have a D-pillar the size of a travel trailer.

For those of you doubting my love of the XC90, I’d like to point out that the market agrees with me. Last year, the XC90’s eleventh year on sale without a full redesign, Volvo sold nearly 10,000 units – a figure on par with the Audi Q7, the Lexus GX and the Infiniti FX, and well above the Land Rover LR4, the Range Rover, and the Infiniti EX.

And it’s not heavily incentivized, either. A quick check on Volvo’s website pulls up a lease offer that doesn’t seem tremendously enticing. They rarely offer low-interest financing, and they never provide cash back. That means people are spending big money to buy new XC90s, even though it’s basically the same car you can find used on Craigslist for six grand.

So my worry here is that Volvo will take this car – an icon of the private school dropoff lane – and ruin it. Admittedly, that hasn’t been happening lately in the world of Volvo design. The new S60, for instance, is a marked improvement over the last one, which was itself a beautiful car. And the latest S80 transitioned perfectly from a boring sedan driven by professors to a boring sedan driven by professors who have the option of specifying a refrigerator in the back.

But it’s hard to update an icon, even with the most talented designers in the world. And so I say: Be careful, Volvo. Connecticut soccer moms are watching.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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55 Comments on “I’m Terrified at the Thought of a Redesigned Volvo XC90...”

  • avatar

    While I agree that the xc90 is a good looking car, doesn’t it have a reputation as being slightly more reliable than a 2003 Jetta with failing coil packs?

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah. Virtually everyone who owns one regrets it distinctly, then buys another. It’s bizarre. I call it “Jaguar syndrome.”

    • 0 avatar

      They are pretty reliable if you stay away form the T6 with the Crapmatic GM 4-speed. has plenty of higher mileage ones and if you check the CARFAX Data (Which many of them offer it for free) you’ll find pretty decent repair history

      • 0 avatar


        Stick with the T5 mated to the Aisin Warner tranny, make sure your indy mechanic doesn’t pump it full of dexron/mercon and you should be fine, plus run synthetic in the engine and you’re golden.


        You’ll have to fix dumb things like AC. I had 3 FWD/AWD Volvos, a ’01 V70, ’02 S60R & ’05 XC70 and I’d have to replace something AC related every summer to the tune of $1,000 plus. After 7 years of AC fixes plus a myriad of other minor problems such as EBD (Exhaust Bracket of Doom), a strange problem where the blower motor would magically turn itself on after the car was turned off (V70 & S60), Alarms that would go off for no reason in the middle of the night or while I was at work, the instrument cluster which was a $450 fix that took a week during which I could not drive the vehicle because that’s generally not a good thing to do… Plus a lot of other little problems that added up to make them annoying vehicles to own.

        I finally got fed up and dumped all my Volvos for a couple of Nissans, first time since 1995 that I’ve not owned at least one European car, of course now I have children so I don’t have time to deal with car issues…

  • avatar

    I prefer a good looking car that doesn’t have styling that excites today, and horrifies tomorrow. So I sort of agree. I also fear they could go all Toyota/Lexus on us and ruin a good thing. (Every Land Cruiser looks worse than the last with the exception of the very late nineties version which they fiddled with until they ruined it.)

    OTOH, the XC90 has gotten to be long in the tooth. Eventually, you need some level of redesign.

  • avatar

    Doug, I know that when you post a story you sit with baited breath and ask yourself, “what will Matt Farah think?” Well, Matt’s busy. Matt’s at Galpin Ford trying to convince them to lend him cars because a few teenaged boys following “The Smoking Tire” makes him relevant. They’ll believe him because Galpin Ford is in the “Valley” and people in the “Valley” will buy anything. Proof? They’ve bought enough Fords to make Galpin the #1 volume dealer for 23 years. If it makes you feel better, I did enjoy your story. I know I’m not Matt Farah, but take your compliments where and when you can.

  • avatar

    Those T-bars at the front belong on Tom Ford sunglasses, not a car.

    And how you gonna light up the face of the thing, and have the diagonal grille bar at a different angle and alignment than the lower bumper valance bar? The fack, Volvo?!

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I don’t think its legal to have those kinds of lights if they aren’t just for show. Even the new glowing Mercedes-Benz emblem–which is just about the tackiest option I’ve ever seen–lights up when the car is unlocked, not while it’s driving.

  • avatar

    The interior needs an update, though.

  • avatar

    I, for one, welcome our ‘two bent nails through a wheel of cheese’ overlords!

  • avatar

    Volvo’s designs of that era have held up well–look at the S80, which IMHO is a seriously good looking car.

    We looked at the XC90 and thought about buying one, but we needed a legitimate third row seat, not one that is smaller than the parcel shelf in the back of an air-cooled 911.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m annoyed when I see an S80 because it should be larger. The S60 should be called the S80, and the S80 should be something else about two feet longer.

      • 0 avatar

        Very much agreed. Both the 240 and the 850/S70 were the entry models for Volvo in their respective times, and both were comparably larger in presence and interior room than S60, let alone the “entry” S40. S80 as it stands should be lengthened and sold as a standard LWB in all markets, if Volvo is serious about offering a real executive sedan.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t think they will under their new Chinese ownership.

          Or else, if they DO make one, it will be an S80L/S90 and won’t come to the US because it’s made in China, etc.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree too–I never understood why they sold the S60 since it was so close to the S80 in size. Or at least seems that way. The S80 should be larger, but it is still good looking.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          The S80’s “executive” status only extends to the FWD-comfort luxury segment…which includes the MKS, RLX and XTS. In no way would it be able to compete with a 7-series, A8, XJ, LS, S-Class…or an Equus.

    • 0 avatar

      That 2000-06 S80 really is handsome. It also came with some of my favorite wheels of all time:

      • 0 avatar

        Hey buddy you picked the right color for that one. A family friend got an 05 or so with the updated headlights and grille, and less fadey-prone grey trim, in white. Looks good.

  • avatar

    While the styling of the XC90 is still surprisingly handsome, I am disappointed that it can no longer be equipped with the Yamaha-built B8444S V8.

  • avatar

    If only they had designed it to use true 4×4 or at least have a longitudinal drivetrain. Unfortunately the XC90, like much of Volvo’s lineup, is simply disposable. You won’t see restored XC90s in car shows of the future.

  • avatar

    Had a 2001 S60 for over 9 years. Looked at an XC90 5 years ago and didn’t pull the trigger. It had the Yamaha V8 with Range Rover gas mileage, and was priced about 8,000 below where it should be (lightly used) as gas had first spiked over $4 and people were dumping them. Six months later the prices went back up and my window was closed. Should have taken the chance.

    But the 5 cyl turbos are under-powered and the 3.2 L straight six is an engine I dislike in every Volvo vehicle. Why does it feel so anemic compared to the 3.0 in my E90 BMW? Why is its MPG awful no matter what car the put it in? Yes, it’s time for a new XC90, and I hope it steals sales from the XC60, so the prices drop on those.

  • avatar

    “even though it’s basically the same car you can find used on Craigslist for six grand.”

    Don’t pay over $1500 for those $6,000 XC90s. They might be worth it at $1,500 to then put the $3K in to fix whatever is wrong and your wife get 5-10,000 miles out of a yuppie CUV before it needs another four figure injection.

  • avatar

    Let’s hope that Volvo don’t do an Infiniti with the XC90. I look at the original FX and still see a vehicle that looks fresh, while the current 2nd gen still looks like a contrived reinterpretation. Functional or not, I never came to terms with their “me too” fender vents.

  • avatar

    Your concern is not misplaced. Aren’t the S60 and V40 the last cars built on Ford chassis with some Ford motors (the 2.0T)? This XC90 is supposed to be the first on an all new platform, with new engines, so who knows what will happen…

  • avatar

    I keep looking at the Cayenne, and BOY has it aged poorly. Ugh. The original Touareg looks more modern.

    Hell an 04+ Navigator looks more modern.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing has aged worse than a 2003 Cayenne. By comparison the Touareg looks great as you say. The only first-gen Cayenne that I think still looks great is a Gen-2 GTS.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Meanwhile, what’s taking so long to do a new Q7? I understand that the Q7 came out in MY2007 (versus MY2004 for the Cayenne and Touareg), but the interior of the Q7 looks quite dated now, and it lacks many features that are all but standard in the luxury market…

        • 0 avatar

          Audi is killing off the Q7 if memory serves me correctly. Don’t remember if there will be another generation but they may just be keeping the lines running while it remains profitable.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        The Cayenne did not AGE bad. It was hideous from the beginning.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        That Cayenne profile pic looks very Hyundai/Kia, especially the headlamps.

        • 0 avatar

          As the owner of a ’04 Cayenne S – I only partially agree with you.

          Doug picked about the worst combo you could possibly get on a Cayenne – the v6 in Camry beige with the tiny 17″ wheels.

          They can look better:

          While certainly not a looker – and not as good looking as the XC90 or Rangie of the period – I wouldn’t call it a Hyundai.

          • 0 avatar

            Hard to compete with that redesigned RR. Still looks better than the later fiddled ones, and certainly better than the brand new one.

  • avatar

    My first car was a used, high mileage, Volvo 240 turbo wagon with 4speed MT and push button overdrive on top of the stick. The previous owner put a fantastic (for the time) alpine stereo in it. It was a fairly luxurious car for a kid and very cool despite its long roofline.

    Thinking of that car creates an almost overpowering sense of nostalgia in me. Every time I go out to look at new cars Volvo is always on my shopping list and ever time I walk away becuase despite the appeal of their cars, they always seemed to be priced closer to the premium segment than their specifications and cache warrant. I always talk myself out of it thinking of the pending repair bills.

    I will be looking for a new car in 2014 and will no doubt give the new V60 wagon a look. All the previous reseverations remain, but this time, there is also the possibility that Volvo will retreat from US shores. I dont know how likely that is, expecially with Geely probably wanting the existing sales outlet for a future in the US, but it is enough to give me second……make that third thoughts about the wisdom of buying a new Volvo.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Great job Doug – I agree – the XC90 looks perfect. All I’d ask is for Acura to design the dash, and a diesel hybrid option for no more than $3000. Hey I can dream can’t I?

  • avatar

    I think the XC60 has taken the sexy over for Volvo lately. Especially in “R-Design” form, it just looks so sleek and modern. Makes the XC90 look old.

  • avatar

    These and other Volvos of their years have indeed aged well, I personally think that automakers stylize their cars as much as they do with the specific intent that they look dated in short order.

    Credit to Volvo for keeping a model consistent rather than face-lifting and “squatting” it every 3 years.

    At the same time I still think they should go square again, when I was young I remember seeing Volvo 240s and thinking “Thats an expensive European car I’ll never have the money for”, never did I think “Thats an updated 1960’s brick”, not until I owned one.

  • avatar

    I thought I was the only one to feel this way about this era of Volvo styling! It makes me sad that I could never consider owning one given the price, spotty reliability, and eye-bleed fuel economy.

    One other thing that Volvo should never change (and deserves its own article) are their optional thrones in the S80. Greatest seats in a car I have ever sat in.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Considering the PDI facility of a big dealeship joint is just a couple of buildings away… and I see these almost everyday, along with RRs, BMWs and MINIs.

    Design has aged well, you can get it with a diesel down here and from what I see, it also sells well. And they seem to (very subtly) put some lipstick there from time to time.

    Current S60 is gorgeous, and you have to see the new V40. But the old S60 and S80 being beautiful? Inte!

  • avatar

    I personally loathe the CUV/SUV trend, but I always thought the XC90 was a really handsome model. It’s understated yet elegant…not unlike what I used to admire about Jaguar and Land Rover.

    I’m a Volvo fan (our DD is a v50) and always appreciated this about the brand. It doesn’t try too hard in terms of style and instead sticks to clean but still distinct lines. Looking back, they always feel more timeless than their brethren.

    I hope no matter what Volvo does, it sticks to this. The last thing I want it to turn into is a Swedish Hyundai.

  • avatar

    Hey Doug, I finished your book last night. Hilarious! Sequel!!

  • avatar

    I work in higher education, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a faculty member in an S60. The Prius is the car of choice for those outside the business school. The ones who drive Volvos are still driving 960’s that are held together entirely with duct tape and “war is not the answer” bumper stickers.

  • avatar

    This is where the bumper ads are really really annoying. Every one of these cars “came out after XC90” could easily be mistaken as a Jeep or a Dodge or a Chrysler.

    I know TTAC needs to support itself but these bumper ads are really bad form in that it interferes with the editorial contents.

  • avatar

    I could’t wait for the three year lease to end on my 2008 Volvo XC90.
    The transmission on this lumbering eight cylinder beast was rough and made lots of noise. I declined leasing the six cylinder version since it felt so under powered that it seemed dangerous to take on highways.
    Also, how could Volvo make such a large vehicle in 2008 without parking sensors in the rear or a back up camera? The third row seating was unacceptable for adults and the middle row seats were overly complicated to lower. Finally, the spare tire, under the vehicle, was difficult to get to in an emergency.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, how could Volvo make such a large vehicle in 2008 without parking sensors in the rear
      I have an 05 with sensors. What are you talking about?

      or a back up camera?
      Again, this exists…What are you talking about?

      The third row seating was unacceptable for adults and the middle row seats were overly complicated to lower.
      Complicated? Not really.
      Do you really own a Saab? Hmmmm Not adding up for me.

      Finally, the spare tire, under the vehicle, was difficult to get to in an emergency.
      I need to change my tire…an emergency?

      Are you able to work the windshield wipers?

  • avatar

    I’m afraid of the new XC90 design too. I love my very reliable 2006 2.5T AWD XC90. Nice lookin’, fun to drive, comfortable seats, and it can haul lots of stuff. In 2002 the XC90 was a home-run. I’m just hoping for a double this time.

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