When choosing a new vehicle for your daily deliveries, the very first thing that will impress you is how different this brand-new machine is from your old wheels.
If your current steed is more than a couple of years old, you'll probably notice a dramatic difference in style, comfort and technology in the new model. If you've been driving a much older (say 10-plus years) vehicle, the difference will be nothing short of astounding.
Why do you think new car sales people are so anxious to give you the keys to a test drive? Because they know that once you get behind the wheel and start comparing the new model to your old one, you'll be hooked. By the time your test drive is over, you'll be deciding on what color suits you best and what features and options you just can't live without.
After three weeks of driving my son's trusty rusty 1980s pickup truck, used mainly for firewood and handyman hauling, I was treated to a huge dose of perspective when I slipped behind the wheel of the 2007 Volvo XC90 3.2 liter.
What I experienced can best be described as pure, unadulterated joy. We're talking the difference between hamburger and a fine filet mignon, or flying first class after years of being cramped in coach. Or perhaps it's like winning the Mega Bucks lottery after years of working multiple jobs just to pay the monthly bills.
The 2007 Volvo XC90 is appropriately named, because the X stands for ecstasy.
But just as in any burgeoning relationship, eventually the newness wears off and you start to see the other party through less-than-rose colored glasses. The honeymoon phase gives way to a less exciting, yet still comfortable, phase of acceptance and appreciation for the other party. That's not to say that the Volvo XC90 isn't a great vehicle in my book it's one of the best sport utility vehicles on the road. It's just that once you get over the Wow factor, you start to see tiny little things that might irritate you a bit. The XC90, for example, has little rubber-lined card or cell phone niches in the front console that collect all kinds of crumbs and dust.
In fact, the "X" doesn't really mean ecstasy, it stands for "cross" as in "cross country," which is acceptable because the 7-passenger Volvo features all-wheel drive with "Instant Traction" control. That's a computer that keeps checking your wheels and one starts to slip -- such as on ice or even wet pavement -- it automatically adjusts the speed of the other wheels to compensate, thus reducing your risk of a spin-out.
You may not feel comfortable taking this beauty for some serious off-roading, but it can certainly hold its own moderately rough terrain.
In fact, the new traction control system helped earn the '07 XC90 the top safety rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That's the award that recognizes vehicles that do the best job protecting passengers in front, side and rear crashes.
Electronic stability control (ESC) is a new requirement by the IIHS for 2007 because it significantly reduces crash risk and fatalities by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers. The XC90 also comes with side impact protection and side airbags and inflatable curtains for all three rows. Another safety feature that's new this year in the XC90 is a tire pressure monitoring system that sends a message to the digital dash display when a tire needs air.
From a styling standpoint, the '07 version features a new grille, bumpers and taillights, along with color-coordinated wheel arch moldings. The new mirrors come with integrated turn signals that flash three times with just the touch of the turn signal stalk.
The engine of the 3.2-liter version is larger than the previous model, adding 27 horsepower to achieve a total of 235 in '07. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with what Volvo calls a "Geartronic" shifting system. In case you want more power, the V8 version of the XC90 develops 311 horsepower.
The headlights sport an interesting feature, active bi-xenon headlamp beams that swivel up to 15 degrees to the right or left to enhance your nighttime turning visibility. This feature takes some getting used to, and can be turned off with the flick of a switch if so desired.
The interior of the XC90 is pure joy for families, with soft leather everywhere, including the gearshift knob and leather-covered storage compartments everywhere. For your drink-holding convenience, the XC90 features 12 beverage holders throughout its spacious cabin.
With three rows of seating, there's ample space for young bodies. The middle and third row seats fold flat into the floor, as does the front passenger seat, providing plenty of cargo room for toys, tools and tackle boxes. Even with all seats in use, there remains decent cargo space for groceries behind the third row.
Rain-sensing windshield wipers are part of that Volvo calls the "Climate package," and a convenience package adds auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass.
Priced at $36,135 to start, the well-appointed test model I became smitten with listed for $45,200, and is rated to get 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway.
So enjoy your current vehicle for as long as you wish. But when you are ready to make a change, beware that the XC90 will give you a perspective like no other.