CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
2007 Volvo XC90
The 2007 Volvo XC90 doesn't look rugged or tough, like GM's Yukon or Ford's Explorer. Instead, it goes for a more refined look, similar to the Volkswagen Touareg we reviewed recently. Although our XC90 came with the optional all-wheel drive (standard on the V-8 version), this SUV doesn't have the Touareg's off-road chops. Rather, it's more suited to typical SUV tasks, such as transporting family and friends, shopping, and the occasional skiing trip.
Overall, the XC90 came off as a very practical car, with a good amount of interior space and seating for seven with its optional third-row seats. The engine is surprisingly capable for a six-cylinder pushing 4,400 pounds of car; the six-cylinder version of the Touareg we reviewed didn't feel nearly as fast.
Our XC90 wasn't particularly high-tech. Even though its stereo wasn't the Dynaudio system we had in the Volvo C70, it still sounded very good. Our XC90 didn't come with the navigation system, but we tested Volvo's satellite navigation in the C70 and the screen placement and interface are similar. It didn't come with Bluetooth cell phone integration, either, but that option is available.
Three rows and practical space
Our test XC90 included the Premium Package, with leather seats and a power-adjustable passenger seat, in addition to the standard 8-way power driver's seat. As we noticed in the Volvo C70, the seats have a surprisingly long range of movement, especially in height adjustment, making the car a fine choice for shorter people. Our test car also included Volvo's Versatility Package, which adds third-row seats that fold neatly into the floor of the cargo area. The mid-row seats slide forward, allowing reasonable access to and leg room in the third row.
Unlike the C70, the center stack of the XC90 doesn't have a particularly futuristic look. Instead, it emphasizes the car's practicality, with everything in easy reach. We like the styling of the air-flow controls, which uses the silhouette of a person to show the function of each button. The stereo controls are very usable, with two large knobs, each surrounded by buttons, plus a keypad. The keypad is a little bit of a waste without Bluetooth, since it would be perfect for dialing phone numbers, but it does allow for a lot of radio presets. The car also has a shortcut button labeled My Key that can be programmed for any stereo function. It works well as the Random function for CDs, because accessing Random requires getting into the stereo's menu structure.
The auxiliary audio input is mounted between the cup holders on the center console.
The Menu button allows access to this stereo's higher functions, which are many and impressive. First of all, audiophiles will be able to use the front and rear five-band equalizer to customize the audio quality to a degree not usually seen in cars. Other menu items include turning the subwoofer on or off and setting the volume level of the auxiliary input. The Random function can be set for single or multiple CDs, or a single folder on a disc.
Beyond the radio's AM/FM tuner, audio sources include an in-dash six-disc changer that plays MP3 CDs, and an auxiliary jack in the center console, between the cup holders. We like the rotary display for selecting an audio source on the stereo, a nice stylistic touch from Volvo. The display also shows ID3 tags from MP3s, but only the song title, and only when the song starts playing. We couldn't find any function that would keep the text on the screen or make it show up after it had scrolled across.
Five-band equalizer for the front and rear of the car allow fine-tuning of the audio quality.
We were really surprised by the audio quality of this system. It falls short of the Dynaudio system we heard in the Volvo C70, but not by much. It uses eight speakers, including a subwoofer and a center fill, and does an amazing job of filling the large interior. Although it wasn't a surround-sound system, it offered great clarity throughout its range. Initially we found the mid-range a little muddy, but tweaking the equalizer settings fixed that.
Our test car didn't come with the navigation system, but it's a similar system to what we tested on the C70. The route guidance for this system is very good, and the simple interface is surprisingly usable. But the screen placement, popping up from the dash, is terrible as it gets hit by lots of glare. Hands-free Bluetooth cell phone operability is listed as an accessory on Volvo's site and seems to be a dealer installation, which doesn't bode well for a really integrated package.
The little engine that can
At 4,464 pounds, the Volvo XC90 is about 700 pounds lighter than the Volkswagen Touareg, which, despite the fact that they both have six-cylinder engines, makes the XC90 feel more powerful. The Volvo's transversely mounted 3.2-liter, 235-horsepower, six-cylinder engine pushes the car forward nicely, delivering acceleration fast enough for urban driving. With the gas pedal held down, acceleration continues all the way up to freeway speeds without a problem.
The six-speed automatic transmission also did what we wanted it to during our test period. It uses Volvo's Adaptive Shift Logic system to set itself for the current driving style. We found it had no problem figuring out which gears to hold when we wanted acceleration. When passing on the freeway, the transmission quickly dropped down from sixth to fifth gear. The transmission also includes a winter mode, set by a button marked W next to the shifter.
All-wheel-drive is optional with the six-cylinder engine, but standard with the V-8. Our car came equipped with this option, which can push extra torque to the rear axles when needed. This system seemed to contribute to the car's acceleration from stop, and generally the car felt planted. But due to its size, this car feels ponderous going around corners. The steering wheel also feels a little light, making it easy to turn the 17-inch tires but without communicating much road feel. The XC90 is rated by the EPA at 16mpg city and 22mpg on the highway. In our mixed driving we averaged 15.6mpg on both city streets and freeways. Surprisingly, the fuel efficiency of the XC90's V-8 version is only 1mpg lower than the V-6's EPA-tested city and highway efficiency ratings. Both engines achieve ULEV II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle, stage II) emissions ratings, an admirable feat.
Volvo's reputation for safety is well-established. The XC90 carries on the tradition with the aforementioned all-wheel-drive, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, and stability control. Volvo also makes available a couple of innovative systems: adaptive headlights and a blind spot monitor. Our car came equipped with the former, a system which pivots the headlights a few degrees when the wheel is turned. Our car didn't come with the blind spot monitor, or Blind Spot Information System as Volvo calls it. This system works similar to the Side Assist feature in the Audi Q7, in this case using a camera to monitor the blind spots and turning on a lamp when a car is on either side.
An optional adaptive headlight system turns the headlights a few degree when the wheel is turned.
Other safety gear includes airbags for the front passenger and driver in the front and on the sides, plus curtain airbags down both sides of the cabin. Volvo's Rollover Protection System uses a reinforced roof to bear the weight of the car should it roll over. The NHTSA gives the XC90 five stars for front and side impacts, and four stars for rollovers.
The six-cylinder version of the 2007 Volvo XC90 has a base price of $36,135. Our test car came optioned with metallic paint (Shadow Blue, $475), adaptive bi-xenon headlights ($800), all-wheel-drive ($1,850), the Premium Package ($2,995), and the Versatility Package ($2,250). With the destination charge of $695, the total for our test car came out to $45,200.
We found a lot to like about the 2007 Volvo XC90 where we didn't expect it. The stereo sounded like a premium system and offered lots of clever settings. The six-cylinder engine didn't feel underpowered at all, even though this is a fairly large car. In many ways we like this SUV better than the Volkswagen Touareg, as long as we aren't going on any safaris.