The Volvo XC90 got fresh styling and a revised interior for the 2013 model year, the most significant updates since the seven-passenger SUV was launched as a 2003 model. The XC90's appearance was previously freshened for 2007, and sporty R-Design models joined the lineup for 2009. Because it's been in the Swedish automaker's lineup for so many years without a full redesign, Volvo's largest sport-utility is dated, compared to rival premium-level SUVs.
For 2014, Executive C-pillar emblems and floor mats are added to the XC90 3.2, and 19-inch Galateia alloy wheels are newly optional. A folding front passenger seat is added to the Premium Plus model, which loses its Sovereign Hide soft leather seating surfaces (now an option). Premium Plus trim equipment now is standard on the XC90 R-Design, which features a folding front passenger seat, digital compass, Homelink remote garage door opening, and grocery bag holder.
Each XC90 comes standard with leather upholstery, a power glass sunroof, rear park assist and third-row climate control. An integrated center booster cushion adds versatility to the second-row seat and eliminates the challenges associated with installing a separate child seat.
2014 XC90 Premier Plus and Platinum trim levels are swathed in Sovereign hide soft leather seating surfaces and red wood inlays. A red wood steering wheel is available for XC90 Premier Plus and Platinum trim levels.
The 2014 XC90 R-Design features a fully color-coordinated exterior plus LED daytime running lights and taillights. Ixion alloy 19-inch wheels amplify its sporting appeal. The R-Design features a sport-tuned suspension and steering for an enhanced driving character, plus a unique R-Design grille, leather seating surfaces with embossed R-Design logo on the front seats, an R-Design steering wheel, watch dial instruments and floor mats.
The Volvo XC90 is available only with a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Developing 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, the 2014 Volvo XC90's six-cylinder engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2014 Volvo XC90 are 16/22 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined for front-wheel drive models; and 18 mpg Combined for all-wheel drive.
We've found that the XC90 rides comfortably, handles well and is easy to park. It boasts more cargo space than many competitors. Its tow rating of 3,970 pounds is enough to haul light boat trailers, personal watercraft and snowmobiles, but not cars and horses.
The optional all-wheel drive works smoothly, without penalty in fuel economy, and it's truly welcome when the weather gets foul. Buyers who don't need all-wheel drive can choose an XC90 with front-wheel drive.
Competitors to the Volvo XC90 include the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX 350 and the Volkswagen Touareg. Good value alternatives include the Buick Enclave, Ford Flex and Hyundai Santa Fe. Volvo buyers might also consider the XC70, which features a more contemporary design in a slightly smaller, sportier package.
XC90 3.2 ($39,700) includes dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats with driver-seat memory settings and lumbar adjustment, 40/20/40-split second-row seats with built-in center child booster seat, a 50/50-split third-row seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, a trip computer, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The eight-speaker audio system includes a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, and an iPod/USB port. Each XC90 also comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, a sunroof, roof rails, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors and keyless entry.
Premier Plus trim ($41,200) adds adaptive xenon headlights, a red wood-trimmed gearshift knob and inlays, a folding front passenger seat, and a rearview mirror with built-in compass. The Platinum model ($43,900) adds a rearview camera, navigation with real-time traffic info and a premium 12-speaker, 650-watt Dolby Pro-Logic II surround-sound audio system.
XC90 3.2 R-Design ($42,700) includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, a sport-tuned suspension and steering, a self-leveling rear suspension, unique exterior and interior styling cues, distinctive leather upholstery, unique gauges and a sport steering wheel. Also includes are a folding front passenger seat, digital compass, and Homelink remote garage door opener. Premier Plus is now the standard trim level. The R-Design also is available in Platinum trim ($45,400), featuring a navigation system with real-time traffic and a 650-watt, 12-speaker Dolby Pro-Logic II surround-sound audio system.
Options for the XC90 include a Climate Package ($700) with heated front seats and an Interior Air Quality System; a rear-seat DVD system with two headrest-mounted eight-inch color screens ($1,800); and a Blind spot monitoring system ($700).
Safety features on all models include dual-stage frontal and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-type head-protection airbags for all outboard seats. A rollover protection system senses an impending vehicle rollover, tightens the seatbelts and deploys the curtain airbags. The seats feature Volvo's Whiplash Protection System, which moves them back and downward if the vehicle is hit from behind, reducing neck snap. Rear park assist is standard on all models. Active safety features include advanced four-channel antilock brakes, an electronic stability program, and Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic sensor to reduce the possibility of a rollover by applying brakes and modulating engine power. The 2014 Volvo XC90 earned Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a lobbying organization for the insurance industry.
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The Volvo XC90 is pleasant to drive, but it won't throw you back in your seat when pushing the throttle hard. The 3.2-liter inline-6 lacks the immediate rush of acceleration generated by some higher-performing power plants, although it has enough power to haul kids and groceries around town. The torque flows evenly, meaning there is more even acceleration at any engine speed; and typically for an inline-6, it feels smooth in nearly all circumstances, from idle to full-throttle acceleration.
The 6-speed automatic transmission that comes standard on all XC90s includes a Geartronic manual shift feature that lets the driver shuttle up and down through the gears, if he or she is feeling racy. Furthermore, it can be useful for efficient shifting in hilly terrain.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg City/Highway for all XC90 models. We averaged 20 miles per gallon in a mix of city and freeway driving.
The all-wheel drive operates seamlessly and is a good option for drivers who live in snowy and rainy climates. In normal, good-traction conditions, 95 percent of the engine's power goes to the front wheels. If those wheels lose traction, a multi-plate clutch begins routing power to the rear, to a maximum split of 65 percent to the back tires.
The XC90 handles bumpy roads with dips and gullies well, without crashing loudly or bottoming when driven hard. It doesn't offer the sporty handling of a BMW X5 or INFINITI FX35, but some of us prefer it. The Volvo's power rack-and-pinion steering is on the heavy side, and not particularly quick in sharp curves, yet the XC90 doesn't wallow or sway excessively under hard cornering. The electronic stability system stepped in a few times when we were thrashing down a particularly ornery road, and applied the brakes at one wheel without cutting engine power. It worked as intended, and helped keep the XC90 going where we intended, even while driving at a rate few owners would care to undertake.
Ride quality in the standard XC90 is very good: stiff at the wheels but not in the cabin. It doesn't exactly absorb the ridges and bumps, because you feel the suspension working over them, but it doesn't transfer any harshness to the arms or seat of the pants, either. Speed bumps in particular are interesting: It's as if the suspension challenges them and hammers back, protecting us from jouncing even when we hit them at excessive speed.
The R-Design model comes with stiffer shocks, springs, and sway bars, and 19-inch wheels. This setup delivers a sharper response to steering inputs and tighter control of body motions, at the expense of some ride quality relative to the standard 3.2.
The brake pedal in the XC90 can feel a little soft until the driver gets familiar. Once that occurs, the XC90 stops smoothly and progressively, and very quickly if necessary, with no drama. All XC90s halt with substantial 13.2-inch discs up front and 12.1-inch discs in back.
The Volvo XC90 packs a lot of space into a manageably-sized vehicle that's quiet and comfortable. Performance comes across as smooth, though less than vigorous. Fuel economy is so-so; but then, this is a relatively heavy seven-seater. XC90 is overdue for a complete redesign.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Sam Moses, Larry Edsall, Mitch McCullough, J.P. Vettraino and Laura Burstein contributed to this report.