Car reviews - Volvo - XC90 - 5-dr wagon range
Refined V8, serene highway cruising, safety, quality
Room for improvement
Poor turning circle, V8 steering a little nervous at speed
19 Sep 2006
By LUC BRITTEN
AS the first V8 ever to be seen in a Volvo, the new, Yamaha-built 4.4-litre says a lot about the direction in which the Swedish arm of Ford’s global empire is headed.
The choice to develop an all-new engine destined just for Volvo cars in itself is a bold, and expensive move. The company is not saying what the development costs for the all-new engine were, but you can bet it wasn’t done for the price of a bag of peanuts.
The engine obviously came because there was no other in the Ford parts bin that would have fitted the transverse engine bay of Volvo’s big SUV.
And, while some of the expense will be justified by also using it in the same configuration in the new S80 sedan, there’s no doubt it would never have existed were it not for the US market.
But exist it does, and a neat new V8 it is.
Said to be cleaner than any other petrol V8, smaller dimensionally than any other V8 and also lighter than any other V8, the new all-alloy engine with its staggered bores and an extensively-ticked technology list is a nice fit in the weighty XC90.
With 232kW at 5850rpm and 440Nm of torque at 3900rpm the suggestion is it’s a revvy V8, even if Volvo tells us 370Nm is available from as low as 2000rpm.
The power is enough, according to Volvo, to lift the 2.1-tonne XC90 V8 from zero to 100km/h in a quick 7.3 seconds that places it right in the middle of some respected company including the Porsche Cayenne S, VW Touareg V8 and Audi’s new Q7.
With its Aisin six-speed auto and an upgraded AWD system that directs power to the back wheels with barely a pause, the XC90 V8 changes the image somewhat of the successful – and vital – Volvo SUV.
Volvo has never said the XC90 is a rough-and-tumble AWD. It’s more suited to occasional off-road use and scores points over much of its competition with the seven-seat configuration that has been standard from the beginning.
Now, it adds a respectable towing capability to its list of activities where the added torque of the V8 aims at making lighter work of the 2250kg maximum braked trailer weight.
As well, changes to the springing and damping rates of the independently-sprung XC90 mean it is a more capable performer on and off the bitumen than the now-defunct XC90 T6.
This was the first impression when driving the new XC90 into the southern coast of NSW via a mix of winding sealed and unsealed roads as well as a decent stint of freeway cruising.
Volvo says it has ensured the Yamaha-bred engine was given a refined exhaust note in keeping with its European heritage, and that is certainly noticeable on its first firing-up.
Rather than a deep bass rumble, there’s a smooth but distinctive, almost-BMW beat.
Moving off the line shows there’s also some handy urge here too.
But, while the V8 feels quite linear in its power delivery, it quickly becomes apparent that the figures don’t lie.
The 4.4-litre engine doesn’t really start to deliver until well on its way to 3000rpm and approaching its 3900rpm torque maximum. To get the XC90 V8 moving quickly, some determined use of the rpm band is necessary – and rewarding.
The six-speed auto blurs through the shifts efficiently and so unobtrusively that, even when using the manual override accessed via the console-mounted lever, there’s barely anything to be heard or felt unless the V8 is being given a big serve.
On the freeway the torque converter locks in all gears, although the box will shuttle between fifth and sixth on relatively long gradients.
The V8 XC90 comes with a speed-sensitive steering system that is optional on the other two models (T5 and D5) in the revised range and, after trying both it and the regular system on the new turbo-diesel D5 version, the preference was for the latter.
The V8’s steering feels a little more nervous, even if it adds more weight as speed builds. In tight situations, a quick wheel-twirl will make the most of a relatively poor turning circle, but the downside is a little less weight at the rim than we’d normally prefer. The D5’s weightier steering, on the other hand, felt particularly stable at speed.
But the XC90 V8 points very well considering its bulk. It feels quite car-like, even though the driver and passengers are sitting up in a commanding position.
The big SUV can be happily flung at tight corners after a dab at the powerful, all ventilated disc brakes (with ABS, EBD and brake assist). It then carves through with security and precision, all the while looked after by Volvo’s electronic stability and traction control systems.
The suspension is supple enough to absorb all but sharp-edged bumps that occasionally send a chattering through the chassis. Similarly, the XC90 V8 and D5 seem able to cope adequately with spring-compressing humps that would have upset the original version.
Volvo doesn’t have a lot to say about what’s been done to the suspension apart from the fact it was tuned for the V8 in terms of spring and damper, as well as bushing rates. The result is a ride quality that doesn’t draw any real criticisms. The D5, with smaller 17-inch wheels and more absorbent tyres, feels even less hard-edged.
The refined all-wheel drive system is essentially the same Haldex on-demand arrangement as before, except that the hydraulics remain pumped-up at all times to instantly deliver power to the back wheels when necessary.
In practice the "Instant Traction" system remains unobtrusive and effective. The main restrictions are to do with the very road-oriented tyres and the lack of a dual-range transmission.
The XC90, in both V8 and D5 form, is very quiet and smooth on the freeway. It really feels like a luxury car in this context with its ample front seats, very good driving position and clear visibility. The power driver’s seat and two-way adjustable steering wheel allow no excuse for failing to achieve an ergonomically correct driving position.
The control layout is really much the same as before apart from a few minor changes and is not difficult to come to terms with. Only the hidden satellite navigation buttons behind the right-side steering wheel spoke created an initial dilemma.
Otherwise it’s the usual, well thought out Volvo wagon interior with adequate passenger space in a three-row array of seats stepping up in "stadium" style to minimise the claustrophobic effect towards the back of the cabin.
You’d hardly expect a couple of new engines to alter an existing car that hasn’t been changed significantly in any other way, but the XC90 V8 – and D5 – look like really competitive contenders in a market where quality competition is rife.
Neatly, Volvo now covers both ends of the SUV spectrum.
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