Reviews

2013 Volvo XC90 Driving Impressions


The Volvo XC90 is pleasant to drive, but it won't throw you back in your seat. 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 nearly in all circumstances, from idle to full-throttle acceleration.

The standard 6-speed automatic transmission that comes standard on all XC90s. It includes a Geartronic manual shift feature that lets the driver shuttle up and down through the gears if he or she is feeling racy, plus it's sometimes useful to reduce 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 while driving at rate few owners will care to undertake.

Ride quality in the standard XC90 is very good, and 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 15 mph.

The R-Design model comes with stiffer shocks, springs, and sway bars, and 19-inch wheels, which 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 stop with substantial 13.2-inch discs up front and 12.1-inch discs in back.

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