Volvo used to make great station wagons but then the SUV surge came along. So Volvo now makes SPVs – Special Purpose Vehicles – and SPVs are great station wagons.
The same things that made Volvo wagons notable can be found in the XC90 3.2. It's commodious, it rides and handles like a car, and is comfortable loaded for school or the blue highway.
And like many cars, the XC90 is front-wheel drive although all-wheel drive is available – that pretty much limits the XC90 to pebble punishing and not boulder bashing. But that's ok, too. You don't want to get a $43,475 (as tested) vehicle all dirty.
However, the XC90 with the 3.2L in-line six is no slouch. There's 235 horses driving through a six-speed automatic, which gets the good-sized vehicle to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. That's respectable. It's all done slickly and smoothly, too.
•Engines: 3.6L V-6
•Dimensions: 112.6" wheelbase; 189.3" length
•Base price: $36,210; As tested $43,475
•Fuel economy: 14/20 mpg
The mechanicals are geared to on-road behavior with dynamic stability control, roll stability control, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, and self-leveling rear suspension. There are turn signals in the heated outside mirrors and the driver's seat powers eight ways. The tilt and telescope steering wheel has leather and cruise/radio controls. Trim is what Volvo calls "genuine wood inlays."
There are three rows of seats with the far one mainly for decoration that folds flat.
There are also some fine optional packages that include power moonroof and backseat air conditioning. The Xenon headlights (with washers) turn for curves.
Basically, the XC90 is a raised station wagon. The interior is pleasant and there's distinctive Volvo exterior styling. The extra height provides a more commanding view of the road.
The ride is firm and the XC goes where it is pointed. Curves are handled competently but without enthusiasm. Cross country (hence the XC), the vehicle stretches out in fine fashion, but in the city the XC, which feels larger than it is, felt a little clumsy.
The tested XC90 didn't come with the BLIS blind sport alarm, either. BLIS turns on little lights in the windshield pillar if a vehicle creeps up in your blind spot. In any wagon/SUV that's always a problem.
With a number of fine station wagons, Volvo provides virtually the same room as the XC with nicer handling and ride. Only the demands of the marketplace for SUVs or vehicles that look like SUVs can justify the XC90s.
The Volvo S80 V-8 with all-wheel drive was tested earlier and is in the archives here. It's a bit more in price but delivers a lot more in performance. Unless, of course, you absolutely, positively, have to have something called an SUV/SPV.