A person looking for a premium sport-utility vehicle that is roomy, more car than truck, filled with safety features and capable in foul weather and many off-road situations.
Comparable models in this class:
BMW X5, Infiniti FX45, Volkswagen Touareg, Lexus GX470, Mercedes-Benz ML500 and Cadillac SRX.
In the beginning there were four, then six, then five. And, now, there are eight.
Thats right, eight cylinders. For the first time in its 77-year history, safety-conscious and environmentally sensitive Volvo will install newly developed V-8 engines in its XC90 sport-utility vehicles beginning in February.
Loyalists, do not fret. The Swedish automobile manufacturer, now a subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., is not abandoning its core values of practicality and sensibility. These V-8s promise to be class leaders in both fuel efficiency and emissions, and they will not compromise any of Volvos vaunted safety attributes.
But they definitely will add some zest to the XC90 driving experience. The 4.4-liter powerplants produce 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and thats a big step above the output of the current No. 1 powerplant, a 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged, in-line six cylinder engine that produces 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
Volvo dragsters now theres a rare breed will find that the V-8-powered XC-90s can hustle from a stop to 60 mph in about seven seconds, a full 1 1/2 seconds quicker than the straight six.
Still, many may wonder why the company decided it needed a V-8 since Volvo already is the best-selling European SUV in the United States, with more than 25,000 in buyers garages so far this year. There were no real complaints about the power of either the six-cylinder or the standard 208-horsepower five-cylinder engines in the current models, and the V-8s towing capacity of 5,000 pounds is the same as its six-cylinder XC90 counterpart.
The answer can be found in U.S. sales figures. Thirty percent of all premium sport-utility vehicles sold in the United States have V-8 engines.
An SUV in the premium segment needs a V-8, especially in the North American market where we sell about 60 percent of all the XC90s we make, explained Vic Doolan, Volvo of North Americas president and CEO.
The challenge for Volvo was to get a compact V-8 that could be mounted transversely (sideways) in the XC90s existing engine compartment without compromising any of the vehicles safety standards. That meant an engine with 60 degrees between the cylinder banks instead of the normal 90 degrees. It also meant offsetting the left cylinder bank a half cylinder ahead of the right bank so it could fit within the vehicles structural beam network.
For this, Volvo turned to Yamaha of Japan, which already had experience in building a compact, 60-degree V-8 for parent Fords Taurus SHO sedan in the mid 1990s.
The result is a powerplant that is only 29.7 inches long and 25 inches wide. Through the use of an aluminum block and cylinder heads, weight has been kept down to 419 pounds.
Four catalytic converters, plus an elevated idling speed and leaner air/fuel mixture during cold starts, make the engine the only gasoline-powered V-8 to achieve the U.S. governments Ultra Low Emission Vehicle, stage II, requirements. The new XC90 is expected to average between 16 and 21 miles per gallon of premium fuel, and, while that might not seem much to a compact-car driver, it exceeds the averages of most V-8-powered SUVs.
Journalists attending the introduction of Volvos newest offspring were given the opportunity to sample the vehicle over several hundred miles of desert country east of Phoenix, AZ.
Compared with the sometimes uneven power thrust of the manufacturers turbocharged five- and six-cylinder engines, the V-8 responded instantly with more than ample power for passing or pulling the 4,600-pound beast up steep grades.
On the open road, the XC90 cruised smoothly and quietly, practically inviting a driver to devour long stretches of highway in fatigue-free comfort. On the narrower and sometimes dirt-covered back roads, it was sure-footed, with plenty of mid-range V-8 muscle available for passing.
And, any time the drivers foot urged the V-8 to get up and go, it responded with an engine note intoxicating enough to make a middle-aged Volvo driver recall the Mustang muscle of a misspent youth.
With 8.9 inches of ground clearance to elevate the center of gravity, the newest Volvo hardly qualifies as a sports wagon. But its competent and compliant suspension, combined with precise rack-and-pinion steering, gives it a car-like feel unmatched by most other SUVs.
Upgrades to the XC90 V-8 did not begin and end with the engine.
To complement the new powerplants increased power and smoothness, Volvo has replaced the four-speed automatic transmission with a six-speed unit that has manual shift capability.
The standard all-wheel-drive system, developed by the Swedish company Haldex, has been upgraded to improve quick starts and enhance traction on slippery surfaces. It will find its way into additional Volvo AWD models in the 2006 model year.
And, while most people probably will not notice the difference when a V-8 powered XC90 passes them on the street, there are some new design details. All V-8 models get 18-inch wheels, body-colored side moldings and door handles, a graphite gray grille, chrome plated trim around the bumper air intake and new dual exhaust pipes.
Inside, the V-8 XC90 is nearly identical to the top-of-the-line six-cylinder model. There is room for adults of most any size in the two front buckets and the split second-row bench. Two average-size adults could squeeze into the third row for short journeys, but that space is basically for kids.
The cargo space behind the third seat is ample for grocery runs and, perhaps, weekend journeys. Push forward the third- and second-row seatbacks, however, and cargo space expands to 85 cubic feet.
A special new feature is an optional entertainment center with dual screens behind the front seats that can be operated as separate systems.
Base price of the V-8-powered XC90 will be ,080, including a 5 delivery charge. That puts it about ,000 more than the six-cylinder models, but the V-8 model seven-passenger seating and other premium features are standard on the new vehicle.
Volvo will sell V-8 models in North American market first, then gradually introduce them throughout its global markets. It projects total annual sales of 15,000 V-8 models, with 75 percent coming to the United States.
With the XC90s success so far, those figures appear conservative.