In nature some organisms can pass through the eons relatively unchanged, their designs essentially perfected at the start. The Volvo XC90, the Swedish automaker’s three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV, might seem to possess a similar strength: Volvo has left it largely untouched since its debut for the 2003 model year. But alas, the 2014 Volvo XC90 is no dragonfly or shark.
While there’s nothing outlandishly wrong with Volvo’s flagship SUV, the seven-passenger luxury crossover segment has been flooded with newer models that offer more powerful and fuel-efficient engines, roomier interiors and the latest cutting-edge comfort, convenience and safety features. Although the Volvo XC90 still feels luxurious on the inside, it comes up short in both passenger room and tech features. Even worse, it does without some of the advanced safety systems offered in other Volvo models — most notably the automaker’s collision mitigation system with pedestrian and cyclist detection.
With that perspective in mind, it should come as no surprise that we strongly suggest buyers in the market for a seven-passenger premium-brand crossover take a good look at some of the category’s leading contenders. Topping that list is the new 2014 Acura MDX. It’s a close match in size, but offers a stronger engine, sharper handling and more of the latest features that buyers expect in a new luxury vehicle. Another fine option is the similarly roomy 2014 Infiniti QX60. It’s not as sporty as the Acura, but its quiet ride, plentiful safety features and available hybrid version should make it appealing for families. Other solid choices include the 2014 Buick Enclave and 2014 Ford Flex, both of which boast exceptionally spacious interiors with adult-friendly third-row seats.
Behind the wheel, the 2014 Volvo XC90 offers a level of performance that can best be described as adequate. Almost any competing luxury crossover SUV offers faster acceleration, oftentimes with better fuel economy to boot. The base XC90’s suspension is tuned to favor a cozy drive over sharp handling, while the firmer sport-tuned suspension that comes standard on R-Design models makes a noticeable improvement in the XC90’s demeanor when driving briskly around turns.
The 2014 Volvo XC90 is a seven-passenger luxury crossover SUV that comes in two trim levels: the 3.2 and the sportier R-Design.
Standard equipment on the 3.2 includes 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, a sunroof, roof rails, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, driver memory settings, 40/20/40-split second-row seats with a built-in center child booster seat, a 50/50-split third-row seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary sound input jack and an iPod/USB sound interface.
Stepping up to the 3.2 R-Design adds 19-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, a self-leveling rear suspension, adaptive xenon headlights, distinctive exterior and interior styling details, upgraded leather upholstery, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a universal garage door opener, unique gauges and a sport steering wheel.
Springing for the Premier Plus option package (3.2 models only) gets you most of the R-Design’s standard features. The Platinum package includes all of the above plus a navigation system, a rearview camera and a 12-speaker premium surround-sound sound system. The Climate package contains heated front seats and an interior air quality sensor. Stand-alone options include a blind spot warning system, upgraded leather upholstery and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual displays.
The 2014 Volvo XC90 boasts a stylish interior that looks especially sharp done up in the available upgraded leather upholstery and genuine wood trim. While most gauges and controls are well-placed and user-friendly, the optional navigation system has an outdated design that is further hampered by unintuitive controls located on the back of the steering wheel or on a separate remote control. This setup is all the more disappointing compared to the more advanced infotainment systems offered in other Volvo models.
Up front, the driver and passenger accommodations are roomy and comfortable. Second- and third-row passengers will find things a bit more cramped, however, especially compared to the more spacious digs offered by a number of competitors. The standard child booster seat built into the center section of the 40/20/40-split second-row bench (which can be scooted forward to put its occupant within easy reach of parents) is a nice touch, but families with more than one little one should note that Volvo’s XC60 and XC70 models offer two of these integrated booster seats.
The XC90 also offers a decent amount of cargo capacity, though here, too, it lags behind a number of competing models. Fold down both rear seats and you get a flat load floor with 85.1 cubic feet of cargo space; the available fold-flat front passenger seat even makes it possible to carry extra-long items with the rear liftgate closed. However, there are just 8.8 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seat, a reality that will make it difficult to carry seven passengers and their luggage without using a rooftop cargo carrier.
The 2014 Volvo XC90’s standard safety features include antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front seats and a handy child booster seat built into the center position of the second row. A rearview camera is available via an option package. A blind-spot warning system is also optional, but the multitude of advanced accident-prevention technologies available on other Volvo models are not offered on the XC90.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the XC90 earned the organization’s top “Good” rating in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact, roof strength and head restraints/seats crash tests.
Under the hood of all 2014 Volvo XC90 models is a 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that puts out 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission offered. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available as an option. Properly equipped, the XC90 can haul up to 3,970 pounds.
According to Volvo, the XC90 will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 8.7 seconds, which is slow for this class. EPA fuel economy estimates are just average for the category at 19 miles per gallon combined (16 miles per gallon city/25 miles per gallon highway) for front-wheel-drive models, and 18/16/23 for all-wheel-drive models.
Upscale and stylish interior; supportive front seats.
The 2014 Volvo XC90 remains a likable seven-passenger luxury crossover SUV, but it’s one of the oldest models in its class and feels dated in key areas. We’d steer most consumers toward its more modern rivals, which offer fresher designs, newer features, better performance and higher fuel economy.