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2004 Volvo XC90 Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Car Review of the 2004 Volvo XC90 Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Base MSRP Range: $33,350 to $39,975

Base Invoice Range: $31,349 to 37,576

MSRP As Tested: Not Available

Versions: 2.5T, 2.5T AWD, T6 AWD

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size Luxury SUV

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive Optional All Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: Standard 2.9-liter, Twin Turbocharged, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, Inline-6 cylinder, 268-horsepower at 5,100rpm and 280 lb-ft torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm.

Standard Engine: 2.5-liter, Turbocharged, Dual Overhead Cam, 20-valves, Inline-5 cylinder, 208-horsepower at 5,000rpm and 235 lb-ft torque from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: Standard 5-Speed Automatic on 2.5T and 2.5T AWD, 4-speed Automatic T6 AWD.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 2.5T and 2.5T AWD – 18/24. T6 AWD – 15/20.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front airbags, ventilated, power-assisted, front disc brakes with rear drum brakes, Traction Control (optional in i), In-Trunk Emergency Trunk Release, Remote Keyless Entry.

Competition: BMW X5, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Lexus RX330, Volkswagen Touraeg, Infiniti FX3.5/4.5, Mercedes-Benz M Class

Vehicle History

Introduced in 2003, the XC90 is the Volvo's' first entry in the SUV market. The XC90 is a mid-size luxury SUV built on the same P2 large-car platform as the S80 luxury sedan. The Crossover SUV segment – in this case the cross is between a passenger car and an SUV -- is crowded with competitors like the Lexus RX 330, Acura MDX, Mercedes M Class and the BMW X5.

The XC90 has been a massive hit for the Swedish company and has one many awards from the automotive press. There are two versions of the XC90, the basic version and the XC90 AWD T6.

Changes Over the Previous Model

Very little has been changed on the XC90 for 2004. There is a new optional leather gearshift and the flip-and-fold key-integrated remote which combines remote locking and unlocking, and the ignition key in one convenient package. Two new alloy wheel styles are also available, as is one new exterior color, Ice White.

Vehicle Exterior

Volvo's styling improves with every car they introduce. With the XC90 the relationship to the S80 and the XC70 Cross Country wagon is very clear. The front is similar to S80 with fenders, rounded at the top, creating a shoulder-line that continues all the way to the rear of the car. There is a rise in the hood-line that is contoured off the grill similar to the S80. The fascia around the grill and headlights is body colored, not black as on the Cross Country.

In our opinion the XC90, S80 and XC70 are the best looking vehicles in the Volvo lineup. They all are stylish vehicles. The XC90 is much larger-looking, more truck-like than its siblings despite that, underneath the skin, all three are built on the same P2 car platform.

Along the side of the XC 90 is a thick black door guard protecting both the front and rear doors, from door dings caused by cars parked next to you. Otherwise the car's skin is smooth and reflects light off the body shaping, nicely.

The rear is more like that of the XC70 Cross Country. The dark red tail lights start at the bottom of the split-rear tailgate, follow the contour of the fenders and then curve up the rear pillar to the top of the roof. The backup lights look like little thrusters at fender height.

The XC90 has elegant and refined styling. All useless cladding, and the unnecessary and gaudy design features popular with people who want to look tough and as if they take their SUV off-road has been omitted. This is a sleek and elegant luxury SUV, meant to handle well in inclement weather and haul all your passengers and cargo safely.

Vehicle Interior

The interior has the same understated styling as the exterior. It is comfortable but not ostentatious. Every possible feature you might want is available. Interior design themes link the XC90 to the rest of the Volvo lineup.

The cowl containing the instrument cluster is three-sided. It is the only interruption in a very open dashboard. There are four chrome-rimmed gauges in the cluster. Next to the cowl are a speaker for the stereo and the navigation system, if you buy it. The Navigation System screen is hidden when not in use but rises out of the dash when needed. We like this approach; it diminishes the impact that the large, and often poorly integrated, monitors have on interior design.

The center stack contains the controls for the entertainment system at the top. The climate control functions are below it. Most surfaces are 'soft touch' with the exception of the top of the center stack and console and some accents on the dash and doors.

Volvo seats for the driver and front passenger are great: very comfortable, and very strong. These seats contain Volvo's Whiplash Protection Seating System (WHIPS).

Another great feature is the fold-flat, front passenger seat. This is great for carrying long items, like pipes from Home Depot or a kayak for the beach.

The second row has a 40-20-40 split configuration. A 50-50 split, forward-facing, rear seat is optional providing seating for seven. There is an optional integrated child-booster cushion for the middle seat in the second row. In an XC90 configured with the optional seven-seat layout, the child seat slides forward and is positioned just behind the two front seats. This improves contact between the child and the front seat occupants. If the safety seat is properly installed, this is an attractive feature, especially for people with 3 children; the sliding center seat with a car seat provides an excellent barrier between the other two children.

Engine Performance

There are two engines available in the 2004 XC90. The front-wheel drive XC90 2.5 T comes with a 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder light-pressure turbocharged engine with an Intercooler. It develops 208-horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm. The XC90 T6 All Wheel Drive (AWD) is equipped with a 2.9-liter, 6-cylinder twin turbocharged engine with an Intercooler. It has 268-horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 280 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,800 – 5,000 rpm.

We drove the T6 AWD version of the XC 90. The engine is very smooth, quiet and delivers power with little lag from the turbochargers. Passing on freeways or even on two lane roads ,was easy for this larger vehicle. Acceleration is quick.

We can't tell you about the 5 cylinder XC 90s performance, but it is our opinion that buyers should go for the larger engine. This is a good size vehicle weighing close to 5,000 pounds. You want enough power to climb hills, pass other cars, get on the freeway and accelerate out of danger should the need arise.

Ride And Handling

The XC 90 is a really nice riding SUV. Because it is based on the proven P2 car platform, the ride is much more car like. The XC 90 is a relaxed commuter, quiet on the freeways with very little noise form wind or the road. There is good road feel through the steering wheel and pedals and it isn't a lot of work to control the car. Sweden is a hilly country so the XC 90 is equally good on twisty roads with very little body roll a big problem with SUVS, especially those that are set up for more comfort than work.

We have not been enabled to drive the lower horsepower version. We have found though that most Volvo models with higher horsepower engines are better to drive than their lower-horsepower siblings. When a company packs as many safety features and accessories into their cars, as Volvo does, weight increases dramatically. More horsepower is necessary to get these vehicles moving.

We didn't get the opportunity to drive the XC90 off-road. But its little sister, the XC70, was surprisingly good for limited off-road use. With good ground clearance and all wheel drive it is possible to climb small riverbeds, travel highways covered in snow and reach all but the most remote mountain cabins in the XC70. As the XC90 is built on the same platform, we can assume similar performance – though we can't guarantee it.

A word of caution for you when climbing steep hills; the Volvo transmission allows the vehicle to roll backward slightly when the brake is released. When climbing steep trails with rocks or snow this can be problematic, or at least unnerving. So be a careful driver. But the XC90 is not a vehicle for the serious, and regular, off-roader. There are more rugged, less attractive, and cheaper products on the market catering to that hobby.


The name Volvo is synonymous with the words 'automotive safety.' After all this IS the company that first brought seatbelts to the market. Volvo has, over the years had a team of investigators who visit the scene of crashes involving their cars. This enables them to see the affects of the collision in the field. The company's safety research center in Gothenburg, Sweden is first class in the industry. In it Volovo is capable of recreating any accident that is investigated in the field. Unlike the crash test labs in the US where two tracks intersect each other at right angles, Volvo's facility has a moveable track -- similar to a train round house. Every angle of a collision between moving vehicles can be recreated.

Besides being built to take a hit, the XC90 is loaded with features to keep the occupants alive. All the airbags one could want are peppered around the interior. There are driver and front passenger airbags as well as side-impact airbags for both the first and second rows.

To prevent whiplash there is the Whiplash Protection Seating System or WHIPS. In an accident, when the occupant's back pushes against the seat, the head rest moves forward to prevent head from over extension. This is the cause the most common injuries occurring in collisions.

Every type of car or truck has its particular safety issue. For Sport Utility Vehicles it is rollover. In any type of extreme avoidance maneuver the chance of a rollover occurring with an SUV is much higher than with a passenger car because of their higher center of gravity. To counter this Volvo developed Roll Stability Control (RSC), a Volvo XC90 exclusive designed to assist in maintaining control of the car accident and prevent rollover form occurring. RSC is an active stability enhancement system using sensors to determine roll speed and vehicle angle. When the system determines the Terminal Angle (when in a rollover is immanent) the system activates the XC90's standard Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC) system reducing power and, or adjusting the level of braking on the necessary wheels. This induces under-steer until driver control is regained.

In the event that a roll over does occur, the XC90's roof structure is reinforced with Boron steel, a metal that is four or five times stronger than normal steel.

Also to protect in the case of a rollover, and the more common side impact, there is an Inflatable Head Curtain for all three rows of seats. The curtain is designed to stay fully inflated for a longer period of time extending protection in a rollover.

In Conclusion

The Volvo XC90 is a very nice crossover SUV. The ride on the highway and curving roads is quiet, smooth and as comfortable as can be. The XC90 looks great inside and out and is loaded with features. Just be careful when you're driving off-road because, like most crossovers, you're driving a car, no a truck. Don't get yourself into someplace you can't get out of.

If you are considering the Acura MDX, Lexus RX 330, BMW X5, or even the Infiniti FX 35 or 45 (sports car and SUV crossovers), make sure the Volvo XC 90 is on your test drive short list. It has beautiful lines, unique features important to both individuals and families, and is completely devoid of all the ridiculous hype and gaudy body shaping of some competitors.

And the price is right when compared to other options.

Editors' Ratings

Pros: Great looks inside and out, great ride and Volvos reputation for safety

Cons: Watch out for the little bit of roll back on hills or rocks.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 6
  • Performance: 7
  • Price: 7
  • Handling: 8
  • Ride: 8
  • Comfort: 9
  • Quality: 7
  • Overall: 7.43

More Data

Where Built: Gothenburg, Sweden

Major Options: Bi-Xenon Headlamps (GDL) with Automatic Level Control (requires Climate Package), Integrated Center Booster Cushion, Second Row (slides forward only when ordered in the Versatility Package), Volvo Navigational System with DVD Map Data and Remote Control (requires Premium Package for 2.5T), Premium Sound System, AM/FM In-Dash 6-CD Changer, Dolby Pro-Logic II® Surround Sound, 305W, 12 Premium Speakers (requires Premium Package for 2.5T), Rear Audio Headphone Outlets and Controls (requires Premium Package for 2.5T) Subwoofer (not available with Versatility Package and requires Premium Package for 2.5T.

Seating: 7

Number of Rows: 3

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Not Yet Tested

Length in Inches: 175.3

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 4 years/unlimited miles free Roadside Assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 4,450.

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: Not Available

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: Not Available

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 5,000

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 19

Destination Charge: $660