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  • Writer's pictureMitchell Weitzman

Tested: Volvo XC90 AWD R-Design

Road Beat Archive, February 10, 2020

Volvo XC90 T6 WD R-Design

Words and pictures by Larry Weitzman

Volvo brought us the XC90 in model year 2003 and it won the Motor Trend SUV of the year. It was a trick vehicle and one of my favorites, especially when equipped with the spectacular 4.4L, 311 hp Yamaha V-8 engine. It was about the perfect SUV with great styling from Volvo designer, Doug Frasher, a man responsible for many great Volvo designs including the S80.

Three years ago, Volvo brought us a new and improved XC90, a designed that bears strong resemblance to the original Frasher design externally, but is effectively a whole new ride, with new technologies and new engines. The sweet inline sixes are gone as well as that incredible Yamaha created V-8. This new ride was designed Thomas Ingenlath with the inside being done by Robin Page. It is the epitome of beauty.

Volvo now makes some of the most beautiful cars in the business as this XC90 doesn’t have a bad line in sight. All proportions are perfect, with an upright strong look that is not too muscular but yet still bold while incorporating the refined Volvo design clues like its signature grille. It has grown about five inches in wheelbase and length now at 118 and 195 inches respectively. Width is up by about an inch at 76.  Co-efficient of drag is a low 0.33.

But powering almost all Volvos is a 2.0L inline DOHC, 16 valve four-cylinder engine in several forms. This XC 90 tester had the ultimate version with both supercharging and turbocharging that at peak power of 5,700 rpm produces 310 hp and 295 pounds of twist at an extremely low 2,200 rpm. It is, of course, direct injected.

Factory performance numbers show a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds.  My last XC90 with the same powerplant turned in a 6.75 seconds 0-60 mph time. I found that this XC90 was more responsive, turning in a quicker 6.45 second run, beating factory testing. It was also significantly quicker in passing performance with runs of 2.98 and 4.37 seconds in 50-70 mph acceleration on a level highway and up a 6-7 percent grade. My prior test numbers were 3.62 and 5.08 respectively. It is responsive with that low peak torque and because of the supercharging there is absolutely no turbo lag, but this is a big, heavy rig topping the scales fully decked out as my tester was at 5,365 pounds. 

But all is not good.

As I wrote, it is very responsive with excellent passing times from 50-70 mph on a level highway and up a steep grade (6-7 percent) of 2.98 and 4.37 seconds respectively. Under light or normal loads, the engine is smooth, but pouring the coal to it and at low and high rpms it can become somewhat coarse and hoarse sounding. Not a good vibe in a $71,000 ride. A 3.0 liter “V” or straight six would do much better. In addition, the throttle was anything but linear. Only under light loads was there a smooth flow of power, but when the engine room is asked for more like “all ahead half,” it sometimes acts reluctant and then all of a sudden you feel like you’re at flank speed. Perhaps Volvo should contact BMW and do what Toyota did for their new spectacular Supra, buy the BMW 3.0L turbo inline six with 335 hp. It would be perfect in this Volvo. The eight-speed automatic worked perfectly and was extremely smooth in its operation.

Interestingly, this Volvo is rated at 18/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined in fuel economy. My testing showed at a steady 70 mph on a level highway produced slightly better at 27.3 mpg. In all around suburban, rural driving showed 20-21 mpg, about what the EPA numbers show. Engine turns a slow 1,825 rpm at 70 mph.

Now we get to the drive, handling if you will. And there is a lot to talk about. This Volvo has all the creds to be a great handling, State of the art, all independent suspension, quick steering at 2.9 turns lock to lock and 275/35X22 inch series rubber mounted on 22X9 inch wheels (an $1,100 option over the standard 20-inch wheels). It has plenty of cornering power, but driving this Volvo gives you an artificial feel with too much intervention by the electronic systems. The steering is too easy with almost no feel and feedback. The ride is smooth and mostly quiet except for some engine noise intrusion. There is no wind and tire noise.

The lane keep assist wasn’t as particularly annoying (as in my prior XC90 test). I used to think Volvo bought the rights to the Hal 9000 computer from Stanley Kubrick from his 2001 Space Odyssey film. But it feels like someone else has their hands on the steering wheel. If this is autonomous or semi-autonomous driving, you can count me out. Even the braking system which used to go off with its panic warning in the heads-up display when not warranted appears to have been subdued. But Big brother still has too much control for my liking. It’s like the difference in Boeing jets and Airbus jets flight control systems. The Airbus systems are too computer controlled. Boeing still prefers the pilot to be in command (At least before the MAX and its MCAS system). Airbus computer systems have actually caused accidents as the pilot didn’t know how to override it as may have happened in the new MAX, but those MAX accidents had a much easier intervention system.

Safety is perhaps Volvo’s tag line. The way it drives leads me to think it’s overdone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a super safe vehicle, but I find it too intrusive for drivers who like to drive. Volvo’s huge brakes are super strong. It’s loaded with airbags. Its structure is strong and designed to protect occupants. It has great headlights and now there is an auto high beam system. It also had adaptive lighting that turned with the steering angle, another plus.

Inside is another area where Volvos really shine, with some of the finest and thickest Nappa leathers you will find and comfort galore. It is large with three rows of seats. Instrumentation is excellent with a big tach, speedo and heads-up display. The trip computer is there but it is a bit lacking because although it has many lines of information, it seems to default to just one line of continuously displayed info. Not the best.

And then there is the center stack topped by a big touch screen that about half the time doesn’t seem to react to my touch. That is very distracting. Touch screens may work well on a computer but when you are driving a car, fuhgeddaboudit. Buttons and knobs still work best. Volvo’s system, while full of wazoo, is wanting.

Price of admission is also not for mortals with my R-Design topping out at $74,725 with the $995 boat ride from Gothenburg, Sweden and all the goodies which were many. That Gothenburg is important in that you can make the $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins sound system sound just like the Gothenburg concert hall. I couldn’t find any bass and treble controls however; Volvo and Bowers and Wilkins won’t let you do that. There was also the $5,700 R-Design package, $2,400 Advanced Package and a bunch of other items bringing the base price of $56,300 to that near $74K price tag. I have said enough.


Price $56,300 to about $75,000


2.0L inline four-cylinder DOHC, 16 valve, direct injected turbo and supercharged 310 hp @ 5,700 rpm

295 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2,200 rpm

RPM @ 70 mph 1,825 rpm


Eight-speed torque convertor automatic


Transverse front engine/FWD/AWD


Wheelbase 117.5 inches

Length 195.0 inches

Width 76 inches

Height 69.9 inches

Ground clearance 8.9-10.5 inches

Trach (f/r) 66.0/66.1 inches

Weight 5,365 pounds

GVWR 6,832 pounds

Trailer weight 5,951 pounds

Steering lock to lock 2.9 turns

Turning circle 38.7 feet

Wheels 22X9 inch alloys

Tires 275/35X22

Fuel capacity 18.8 gallons

Cargo volume (behind first row/second row/third row) 85.7/41.8/15.8 cubic feet


0-60 mph 6.45 seconds

50-70mph 2.98 seconds

50-70 mph (uphill) 4.37 seconds

Top speed 143 mph governor limited

Fuel economy

EPA rated at 18/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Expect 20-21 mpg in rural country driving. Expect 27 mpg on a level highway at 70 mph.



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