2003 Volvo XC90 Road Test

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Category:$35,000 to $45,000 Compact Sports Sedan
Who should buy this car:A person looking for a solid, safe and comfortable SUV with room and style
Comparable cars in this class:Acura MDX , Audi allroad quattro, BMW X5, Infiniti QX4 , Lexus RX300, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz M-Class,

Well, it finally happened. Volvo now has a sport utility vehicle. The next thing you know Porsche will be coming out with one.
Actually, we’ve known about the Volvo SUV for quite a while now. What I found surprising about the XC90 was that it was an all-new vehicle, not a modification of one of the Swedish manufacturer’s fine station wagons, like their AWD wagons. Nor is it a variation of the Ford Explorer, which might have been expected since Volvo is now a part of the Ford Premium Group (with Jaguar and Land Rover).

No, the XC90 is its own vehicle, and it’s a darned good one at that. The XC90 is all Volvo, from the luxury leather interior to the side impact protection airbags in the rear.

Built on the P2 large car platform that is also used by the S80 luxury sedan, the XC90 has little “sedan” about it. It’s a vehicle you climb up into, just like any other self-respecting SUV, and it has cargo area to spare, although you may remember I was thrilled with the amount of cargo area available in the S80. And although it has an excellent ride for a sport utility, it’s still a little truck-like.

The XC90 also looks like a sport utility. It has the class-typical robustness and ruggedness, with a little of the luxury as well. It’s a Volvo, of course, from its family grille to the shoulders over the taillights.

Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine that delivers 268 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 280 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. Power reached all four wheels through constant all-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode that Volvo calls Geartronic. This was a nice combination.

We drove the XC90 intentionally one day as soon as we could get it out of the driveway. You see, I had some serious shoveling to do. But I wanted to try the all-wheel drive capabilities and a fresh snowstorm is the ideal way. We hit deep snow and freshly-plowed streets and had no difficulty negotiating all conditions. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to give the AWD capabilities a more rugged test because the road crews did such a good job. But on slippery hills and in tough road conditions, the XC90 did a great job.

At all times we were in comfort. We had heated leather seats and an excellent HVAC system that kept us cozy.

Our tester was the seven-passenger version of the XC90. There were three rows of seats; two buckets up front, a three-passenger bench in the second row and two buckets for the third row. We tried the third row seats and legroom was tight. It was fairly easy to get back there, but the middle seats would have to be pushed forward for a full-sized adult to be comfortable. There was plenty of room for a couple of children, though.

The XC90 has a healthy cargo area. With the second and third row seats folded Volvo claims 85.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Even with all the seats up, there’s plenty of room behind the third seat. But unless you have children you want to put back there often, I’d opt for the five-passenger version.

One problem with putting older children back there is that there are sound system controls. So they can change the entertainment to suit them, which has the potential of driving the parents crazy in the front seats.

The EPA rates the XC90 as 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway. We only averaged 13.6 mpg in a mix of driving conditions that admittedly had no long drives. We only tried the manual shift mode a few times and while it worked well, I didn’t feel it was necessary in a sport utility. It might have a function if you’re going to use the XC90 in serious off-road conditions, but the vehicle doesn’t have a low-low setting that would take maximum advantage of that, so its value is questionable.

The bottom line on our XC90 T6 tester was a healthy $45,555. This comes from a base price of $39,975, plus $450 for metallic paint; $595 for a Climate Package that includes heated front seats and headlamp washers; $1,675 for a Versatility Package that includes the third-row seats; $1,300 for a Premium Package that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, premium sound system, power retractable rearview mirrors and a wood steering wheel; $500 for bi-xenon headlamps; $400 for a reverse warning system that never seemed to beep at the right time; and a $660 destination charge. The XC90 is also available with a 5 cylinder engine and a starting price of just under $34,000. That model, called the 2.5T, is available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

All in all the XC90 is an excellent competitor for the Mercedes-Benz ML320 or the small Lexus. It has a lot of great features, and some that aren’t really necessary that can have a big impact on the bottom line.

2003 The Auto Page Syndicate


How does the XC90 fit your driving style?

Conservative drivers Volvo has a reputation for safety and the XC90 is no exception. Everything about this vehicle feels smooth and solid, from its steering feel to its powerful brakes. All in all, an ideal choice for this type of driver in the market for an SUV.

Sporty drivers will like the steering feel and the powerful brakes, but the engine could use more low end grunt.

Fast drivers Seems like blasphemy to driver a Volvo fast. Oh, it can handle most anything that you throw at it, but you have to worry about what people will think. If they see a Volvo being driven fast, they will assume that you must have stolen it because a true Volvo owner would never drive like that.

2003 Volvo XC90 T6 SUV


Engine Type2.9L Double Overhead Cam (DOHC)  Inline 6 Cylinder w. 24 Valves and Variable Valve Timing
Horsepower268 @ 5,200 RPM
Torque280 @ 1800 RPM
TransmissionFour Speed Automatic with Manual Mode
Tires (Std.)
Tires (Opt.)
P235 / 60R18
Overall Length188.9″
Curb Weight4,450 Lbs.
Turning Diameter41 ft Curb to Curb
Fuel Tank19 Gals.
Fuel RecommendedPremium Unleaded.
Miles Per GallonEPA city 15, hwy 20
Base Sticker Price$39,975 Plus $660 Destination Charge

Standard Equipment (Partial List)

Major Available Options

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John A. Heilig Jr.

Automotive Expert

John has been an automotive journalist and historian for more than 20 years. Since 1982 he has written "The Auto Page," a self-syndicated weekly new automotive review column that appears in a dozen papers and two Internet sites. Mr. Heilig has recently begun a car care column that is to be distributed to papers nationally through the Associated Press.

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