Ivalo, Finland - According to Volvo thirty percent of SUVs sold in America are V-8s. Volvo sold 90,000 XC90s in 2003 with 6 cylinders. After 77 years of being safe and wearing reflective gear, the Sweds are putting the fun in functional. They're going after the ultra luxury mega-horsepower SUV; after all they want to keep the title of North America's best-selling European SUV. To show us the new engine and Volvo's abilities on ice they took us to Ivalo, Finland, lapland, where there really are reindeer farmers.
Volvo is using a Yamaha V-8 instead of the V-8 engine adorning the Jaguar and Land Rover engine belly. Volvo needed a more compact engine to fit the P2 platform that the XC90 is built on. The Jag/Land Rover engine is a 90 degree longitudinally mounted V-8, Volvo uses a 60 degree transversely mounted V-8 with a two-stage cam timing chain. According to Volvo Cars of North America spokesman Stephen Bohannon, "Volvo could have changed the design of their car, but they went fo a different engine instead. The new engine is all aluminum and weighs only 30 pounds more than the 6 cylinder so we didn't have to change any suspension settings."
Another bragging right for Volvo is that the V-8 4.4-liter, 311 horsepower at 5,850rpm and 325 lb.-ft of torque is the only gasoline V-8 engine to meet Ultra-low emissions Vehicle (ULEV) II. Environmentally upping the ante, Volvo is taking off its Birkenstocks and putting on its ice shoes. The six-speed automatic, electric Haldex all-wheel drive was tested in below 40 degree celsius temperature. Volvo has added TRACS which works best on high revs, while the anti-spin Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC) helps keep steering in the direction intended. At times we were utilizing the brakes and the DSTC, in the middle of nowhere, with no cars in sight. The reindeer like the compacted roads, instead of the eight feet high snowbanks just as much as we did. At one point there were eight reindeer running along in front of us as we slowly plodded along till they went to the side of the road.
New for Volvo is the six-speed manu-matic gearbox, eighteen-inch wheels, twin-tailpipes, a new grille mesh, color-key door handles, side moldings, more chrome and 2.1-gallons more premium fuel capacity.
Volvo has gained some self-esteem with its new V-8. When a girl is hefting around almost 5,000 pounds she needs a little extra engine power and low-end torque. Volvo has provided this and all its safety gear as well. In fact, my little XC90 V-8 and I were feeling so good on the ice and snow we were thinking of trying out for the Olympic ice skating event. We just couldn't find a tutu that would fit.
Volvo is not just adding a V-8 engine, it's an engine outside of the Ford company. A new engine is a major investment, one that Ford will want to capitalize on. Expect to see this V-8 engine in the small bellied vehicles Ford Corporation is bringing to market. No need to buy them for the big-bellied cars, Ford has the Jaguar V-8 for them.
The bad news: Volvo is only building 15,000 with about 75 percent coming to the United States.
Part of the reason I avoid, at almost any cost, driving in the snow is because it terrifies me. I have never had any training and skidding into snow banks and getting stuck isn't my idea of fun.
The simplest thing one can do to keep your bearings is done before you even start your car. Make sure your tires are straight. Tape a piece of white electrical tape on the top of the steering wheel. If you're on a straightaway your white piece of tape should be at the top of your steering wheel. This is especially important if you have just gone around a corner and you are trying to straighten your wheels. You will be surprised how often your wheels are not in the position you think they are.
My snow-rally instructor talked about "flat-light". This is when there is snow and it is overcast. Everything looks the same, there are no shadows to show depth or angles. They counter this by wearing amber lens sunglasses. There are sunglasses made by Carreras, called Iridium multi-interchangeable lens. It's the amber lens that will make the difference in flat-light.
As most of you already know, the more people drive on the snow, the more it turns to ice. Obviously, the best time to drive is when the snow first falls. We did a track and a circle. Both were done in second gear, not in drive. The track was where I used my Anti-lock braking system (ABS) the most. The best time to brake is when you are on a straightaway, before you turn. The grinding sound when I was braking gave me a scare at first, but I was assured that was normal. My biggest problem was giving the car too much gas. I also realized that I was worried about the guys in back of me. Not that they were necessarily going to run into me, but that they would be upset with me for going so slow. The instructors told me the people that go slower are more likely to stay out of accidents. I soon realized that is the reason people get in accidents. Brake on the straightaway, slowly apply gas on the turn and let your wheel go back up to the white tape. It worked every time.
The one thing people need to practice is detecting quickly, reacting slowly. That takes practice. I could try to tell you how to do it, but when you're in the middle of it, you won't remember. Only practice makes the difference. There are winter driving schools in many states and they are well worth the money if you live in a state where you will be driving in the snow and ice.