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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
The 2009 Volvo XC90 crossover SUV offers above-average safety, performance, and quality.The Bad
The ’09 XC90 suffers from an aging design, questionable fuel efficiency, and a lack of imaginative interior appointments.
The CarGurus View
Volvo maintains its reputation for safety and reliability with the 2009 XC90. This well-built crossover SUV should satisfy those looking for a family-oriented, all-weather traveler. There are, however, fresher offerings from Acura and Mercedes-Benz that ought to be considered.
At a Glance
When Volvo purposely and famously rolled the introductory XC90 over several times before a throng of media, they wanted to prove that the XC90 was the safest SUV on the market. They succeeded brilliantly, as Volvo’s first-ever SUV entry emerged with cabin and roof intact. The 2009 Volvo XC90 continues and adds to this spectacularly demonstrated commitment to safety.
A winner of the 2003 “Sport-Ute Of The Year” award from Motor Trend magazine, Volvo experienced a drop in sales of the XC90 last year, and decided to eliminate the V8 Sport trim and to add the much ballyhooed R-Design. Thus, the ’09 XC90 is available in four trim levels, the base 3.2, 3.2 R-Design, V8 AWD, and V8 AWD R-Design. The R-Design trims are offered with sport-tuned suspensions and steering, as well as unique chrome accents, upgraded leather and aluminum interior trim, and distinctive R-Design badging. Other notable changes from ’08 include new exterior colors and wheel designs and re-shuffled option packages.
Still considered by owners and reviewers alike not only one of the safest crossover SUVs on the market, but one of the safest vehicles on the road, the XC90 is also a plush and well-mannered crossover SUV, with more than a bit of Swedish panache. Most professional reviewers stress, however, that an aging design may make some more recently introduced models, such as the Acura MDX, the Lexus RX, and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class a better choice for a crossover.
The 2009 Volvo XC90 features a pair of engine offerings. The base 3.2 and 3.2 R-Design trims, each available only with front-wheel drive (FWD), come equipped with a standard DOHC, variable-valve-timed 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder (I6) engine and a six-speed manual-auto transmission with overdrive. This pairing puts out 235 hp at 6,200 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. The EPA estimates the 3.2 and 3.2 R-Design trims will get 14/20 mpg.
Opinion is about evenly divided as to acceleration and performance capabilities of the 3.2-liter I6, with some professional reviewers claiming that the I6 is simply too weak to handle the XC90’s 4,460-plus pounds adequately – and quietly - and others professing the 3.2-liter is more than adequate in passing and merging on the highway.
For 2009, the Volvo XC90 all-wheel-drive V8 AWD, and V8 AWD R-Design trims each pack, as their designations imply, a 4.4-liter DOHC V8 powerplant, matched up with the six-speed auto-manual transmission. This combination powers out 311 hp at 5,850 rpm, and 325 lb-ft of torque at 3,900 rpm. EPA estimates for the 4.4-liter V8 are a mediocre 13/19. When equipped properly, the V8 AWD and V8 AWD R-Design will tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Virtually all professional reviewers agree that the 4.4-liter V8 has enough throaty power and verve to satisfy the most hurried driver. One tester claims the V8 can speed from 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds, which is about the class average.
Nearly all reviewers also agree that the six-speed auto-manual is a smoothly functioning transmission that complements both engines admirably. One reviewer does note, however, that, in his experience, the six-speed automatic is a little slow to downshift when paired with the 3.2-liter I6.
Ride & Handling
Ride and handling characteristics for the 2009 Volvo XC90 are determined by its four-wheel independent suspension, with a MacPherson strut front suspension system, front and rear stabilizers, and a multi-link rear suspension. All trims offer four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, and both R-Design trims offer sport-tuned suspensions and steering.
The base 3.2 and V8 XC90 trims each offer standard 18-inch alloy wheels, the 3.2 R-Design comes with standard 19-inch wheels, and the V8 R-Design rolls on standard 20-inch alloys. Both AWD XC90 trims are equipped with a center limited-slip differential.
Most professional reviewers note the ride of the ’09 XC90 to be a bit stiff, but no more so than many vehicles in its class. Some reviewers find in the XC90, however, an annoying tendency to lean a bit much in brisk cornering, and the base 3.2 and V8 AWD trim’s 18-inch wheels are somewhat jarring on uneven pavement. Steering is described by a few reviewers as a bit tardy, and braking as “touchy,” with some mushiness in the pedal.
Cabin & Comfort
Standard comfort and convenience features certainly aren’t lacking in the 2009 Volvo XC90. The five-passenger base 3.2 trim offers, for instance, cloth bucket front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, power windows, remote power door locks, heated outside power mirrors, cruise control, tilt-wheel steering, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, a front storage console, a universal garage door opener, dual-zone climate control, wood alloy and leather trim, floormats, memorized seat and mirror settings, and a 160-watt single-CD/MP3 player with eight speakers.
The ’09 3.2 R-Design adds such standard features as leather upholstery, an eight-way power passenger seat, third-row seating, 6-CD changer with MP3 capability, power sunroof, and aluminum roof rails. The XC90 V8 AWD and V8 AWD R-Design trims each offer, in addition, all-wheel-drive configurations and the well-regarded 4.4-liter V8 engine.
Options for the 2009 XC90 include Volvo's blind-spot information system (BLIS), upgraded climate control including third row air-conditioning, power retractable mirrors, a rear parking assist system, the Technology Package featuring a Dynaudio premium stereo, 650 watts of power, 12 speakers, Xenon headlights, and Sirius satellite radio. Further options include enhanced climate control, leather upholstery, and third-row seating for the base XC90 3.2 trim.
Always a leader in safety innovation and enhancement, Volvo chose the XC90 in its now-famous rollover demonstration to emphasize just how safe this and all Volvo vehicles truly are. The 2009 XC90’s unibody construction and rugged safety-cage-enclosed cabin have been tried and tested – publicly – and have passed with flying colors.
In addition, an impressively comprehensive list of safety and security features are standard with the ’09 XC90, including four-wheel disc ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency braking assist, stability control, traction control, dual front side-mounted airbags, front rear and third-row head-protection airbags, passenger airbag occupant sensing deactivation, a remote anti-theft alarm system, an engine immobilizer, fog/driving lights, child seat anchors, and rear door child-safety locks.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2009 XC90 its highest rating of Good in front and side impact testing, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the XC90 five stars for driver front impact protection, four stars for passenger front impact protection, and five stars across the board for side impact protection.
What Owners Think
Though generally well-regarded, the 2009 Volvo XC90 is not without owner issues. A limited availability of after-market parts, difficulties opening the hood, and inconvenient operation of the power seats are a few complaints that owners have with this crossover SUV. Gas mileage, especially with the V8 engines, and the necessity of using premium fuel, are each mentioned as problematic by several owners, along with transmission issues, cramped second- and third-row seating, and a lack of perceived interior elegance.
All these annoyances with the ’09 XC90 aside, however, virtually all owners are well-satisfied with the distinctive styling, seating comfort, V8 power, ride and handling, and, above all, the sense of safety and security that they have experienced with this vehicle. “Sexy” has been used in describing the XC90’s looks for ‘09, and the word “great” is repeatedly used to describe the XC90’s sound system, and cruising stability. Acceleration and braking are high on the satisfaction list of most owners, as is the ease of rear-seat configuration, and the quality of interior materials and workmanship.
by Eric Tallberg
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Volvo XC90 Questions
Replacing The Headrest?
I have a 2009 XC90. I would like to replace the drivers side headrest and the pricing from the dealer was crazy based on "the labor involved". The dealership says the headerest can no longer simply ...