The 2007 Volvo XC90 doesn't look rugged or tough, like GM's Yukon or Ford's Explorer. Instead, it goes for a more refined look, similar to the Volkswagen Touareg we reviewed recently. Although our XC90 came with the optional all-wheel drive (standard on the V-8 version), this SUV doesn't have the Touareg's off-road chops. Rather, it's more suited to typical SUV tasks, such as transporting family and friends, shopping, and the occasional skiing trip.
Overall, the XC90 came off as a very practical car, with a good amount of interior space and seating for seven with its optional third-row seats. The engine is surprisingly capable for a six-cylinder pushing 4,400 pounds of car; the six-cylinder version of the Touareg we reviewed didn't feel nearly as fast.
Our XC90 wasn't particularly high-tech. Even though its stereo wasn't the Dynaudio system we had in the Volvo C70, it still sounded very good. Our XC90 didn't come with the navigation system, but we tested Volvo's satellite navigation in the C70 and the screen placement and interface are similar. It didn't come with Bluetooth cell phone integration, either, but that option is available.
Three rows and practical space
Our test XC90 included the Premium Package, with leather seats and a power-adjustable passenger seat, in addition to the standard 8-way power driver's seat. As we noticed in the Volvo C70, the seats have a surprisingly long range of movement, especially in height adjustment, making the car a fine choice for shorter people. Our test car also included Volvo's Versatility Package, which adds third-row seats that fold neatly into the floor of the cargo area. The mid-row seats slide forward, allowing reasonable access to and leg room in the third row.
Unlike the C70, the center stack of the XC90 doesn't have a particularly futuristic look. Instead, it emphasizes the car's practicality, with everything in easy reach. We like the styling of the air-flow controls, which uses the silhouette of a person to show the function of each button. The stereo controls are very usable, with two large knobs, each surrounded by buttons, plus a keypad. The keypad is a little bit of a waste without Bluetooth, since it would be perfect for dialing phone numbers, but it does allow for a lot of radio presets. The car also has a shortcut button labeled My Key that can be programmed for any stereo function. It works well as the Random function for CDs, because accessing Random requires getting into the stereo's menu structure.
The Menu button allows access to this stereo's higher functions, which are many and impressive. First of all, audiophiles will be able to use the front and rear five-band equalizer to customize the audio quality to a degree not usually seen in cars. Other menu items include turning the subwoofer on or off and setting the volume level of the auxiliary input. The Random function can be set for single or multiple CDs, or a single folder on a disc.
Beyond the radio's AM/FM tuner, audio sources include an in-dash six-disc changer that plays MP3 CDs, and an auxiliary jack in the center console, between the cup holders. We like the rotary display for selecting an audio source on the stereo, a nice stylistic touch from Volvo. The display also shows ID3 tags from MP3s, but only the song title, and only when the song starts playing. We couldn't find any function that would keep the text on the screen or make it show up after it had scrolled across.
We were really surprised by the audio quality of this system. It falls short of the Dynaudio system we heard in the Volvo C70, but not by much. It uses eight speakers, including a subwoofer and a center fill, and does an amazing job of filling the large interior. Although it wasn't a surround-sound system, it offered great clarity throughout its range. Initially we found the mid-range a little muddy, but tweaking the equalizer settings fixed that.