To me, the classic Volvo is a boxy wagon; not very pretty, but reliable and safe. These cars have been treading America's roads for decades. The Volvo XC90 is like the traditional wagon, except bigger in every respect. It's as if Volvo's engineers had the design of the latest wagon up in their CAD program, and simply scaled it up 150 percent, then hit Save As, and named it XC90.
The XC90 we just got in for review, though a bit big for a crowded urban environment such as San Francisco, feels very practical. The cabin isn't flashy, but the seats are comfortable and there's a large cargo area in back. That cargo area can be made smaller with a third row of seats that fold up from the floor. To compensate for the weight of a couple of people in that third row, or a heavy cargo load, the XC90 includes a self-leveling suspension, which will pump up the rear height so the bumper isn't dragging the ground.
Our test car didn't come with too much cabin tech, unlike the Volvo C70 we tested recently. The XC90's most notable feature is the stereo system, which has an in-dash six CD changer that can handle MP3 discs. Adding to the audio sources, there is also an auxiliary input jack on the center console between the cupholders. This placement means your iPod will be fighting for space with your Big Gulp. Even though the XC90 has only a monochrome LCD display, Volvo is pretty clever about programming it. It shows a cool radial selection menu for audio sources and can even be used to set front and rear equalizers. That's right, the stereo has simple, but real, equalizers for the front and rear seats.
Volvo also does a good job of making small engines feel powerful, mostly by getting the maximum torque to kick in at low RPMs. The XC90 uses a 3.2-liter six cylinder powering all four wheels in our review car. This engine feels as if it moves the XC90 a lot faster than the six cylinder VW Touareg we tested recently. The EPA gives the XC90 16mpg in the city and 22mpg on the highway, which isn't bad for an SUV. We'll have our observed fuel economy in our final review.
Look for the full review on CNET Car Tech next week.