DETROIT - Sometimes you can stay gone so long, you forget an old friend. That's sort of how it was with Volvo's XC90. We first encountered the XC90 on its maiden launch program in the wine region of Northern California about six years ago. We thought pretty highly of then and nothing occurred during our week- long test drive to change our mind.
Northern California was rift with two lane roads and hills which showed off the XC90s climbing skills and its horsepower on the long curves and straight- aways. Around here, road construction and traffic all over the place showed off its handling and nimbleness.
Our test vehicle had a 3.2- liter V6 that made 235 horsepower and 236 pounds- feet of torque. It was mated to a six- speed manual transmission and it had full- time four- wheel drive.
This power train proved more than adequate to move the XC90, which weighs 4,400 lbs., smartly. Gear shifts were smooth, the engine was quiet and never once did we feel like we were behind the wheel of a truck.
The suspension had been tuned to give the XC90 a car- like ride and the vehicle responded to driver input quickly. We were particularly pleased with its handling capabilities. We opted to make a U- Turn once and were surprised that the XC90 completed the turn in one movement.
Many vehicles with all- wheel- drive have wide turning radius but not the XC90. We think the vehicle is relatively narrow to appeal to Europeans' taste and their narrower roads but we have no idea of any XC90s are sold there. But we can say that the XC90 got around the parking lot at Northland Mall really well.
That might sound funny but it's important that a sport- utility be able get in and out of parking spaces and then leaves enough room for you to get out. Squeezing in between vehicles or crowding them can get you hit.
And once you come out of the mall, it's nice to be able to get all the stuff you bought into the vehicle hassle free. The Volvo XC90 had a split liftgate. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, two thirds lifted up and one third flipped down creating a little lip.
Still, this set up could be a bit much for the shopper who forgoes a cart and comes out of the mall with arms loaded. Volvo should consider making the tailgate one piece with the next generation XC90.
Our test vehicle was equipped with an optional third row which made it a seven passenger vehicle. Like a lot of three- rowed SUVs the last row is really for kids, small ones at that. Still it was nicely done. The seats were full bodied and the arm rests were arm rests and not pocked by cupholders.
Our test vehicle was well equipped. It had a premium audio system with an auxiliary jack and MP3 capability, Xenon headlights, a center booster cushion and a self leveling rear suspension were among the standard features and options.
The options pushed the price tag of our Volvo XC90 from its base price of $36,135 to $45,200. Although the XC90 is a bit long in the tooth, it's still a Volvo and that makes it better and safer than many of its newer rivals.