2013 Volvo XC90 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 2, 2012

The 2013 Volvo XC90 isn't cutting-edge in any way, but it's a smart, upscale pick for families who want to be comfortable and safe.

The 2013 Volvo XC90 is the most dated design in the current Volvo lineup. But you'd probably never know it in seeing this model from the outside; in looking at its equipment list; or in driving it versus recently updated competitors. In fact, the XC90 is more feature-packed than ever and is a great family pick, seating up to seven.

While Volvo has updated the exterior look of the XC90 yet again for 2013--with a new body-color bumper-and-trim look, new bumper brightwork, and LED running lamps and taillamps, all of which make this model look more carlike once again--the XC90 does show its age inside, where it still shows the design direction of Volvo before it went to more minimalist layouts and thin-panel controls (as you'll find in the S60 and XC60, among others).

The XC90 performs as well as you might expect from a family-oriented crossover, but there's no reward here for driving enthusiasts. You'll find plenty of power from the 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic (the V-8 was discontinued last year and is a fading memory), and it's an exceptionally smooth combination with the six-speed automatic. Yet the XC90 just isn't much fun to drive; it's mostly a matter of the detached feel of the steering, even though quick maneuvers are safe and sound. For 2013, synthetic motor oil is standard on all XC90 models; it extends oil-change intervals to 10,000 miles.

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Thanks to three rows of seating, the 2013 XC90 can accommodate up to seven and is a good alternative to either the more trucklike SUVs or a well-optioned minivan. This model still lives up to Volvo's reputation for excellent seats--especially in the first two rows--and they're worthy of all-day drives. The third row can be hard to get to for all but the smallest kids, but the second row feels comfortable and shaped for adults. The interior is as reconfigurable as any large family might hope for; keep the third row down and you'll generally have lots of space for larger grocery runs. Additionally, the ride quality is smooth and stable, with less pitchiness and side-to-side motion than in many other crossovers. For 2013, Volvo has made the softer Sovereign leather standard equipment on Premier Plus and Platinum models.

Safety is of course a top priority in the XC90, and this model hasn't let us down in any way. It's been a repeat IIHS Top Safety Pick, and in addition to the usual roster of features, there's rear park assist, and an available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) to warn you of nearby vehicles.

This year the XC90 gets standard LED running lamps and taillights, rain-sensor wipers, headlight washers, and new trims and finishes added to the standard-equipment list. Even in its standard trim the 2013 XC90 includes a Bluetooth hands-free interface, Sirius Satellite Radio, and new watch-dial instrumentation. Other standard goodies include leather upholstery, keyless entry, cruise control, and dual-zone climate control. The Premier Plus gets active dual xenon headlights, a garage-door opener, and other upgrades, while the Platinum adds rear park assist and premium sound. Other major options include a Climate Package, walnut-wood trim, and a rear entertainment system, and the available nav system has real-time traffic. There's also a sporty R-Design package that nets you a number of cool items such as sports seats, brushed aluminum trim, and a fresh "Ixion" wheel design. 

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2013 Volvo XC90

Styling

The XC90 is still a good-looking vehicle, but a few new trims and touches do little to disguise that this is an aging design—especially inside.

The Volvo XC90 has seen no overarching changes to its design since 2003, when the model was first introduced (it now remains one of the oldest crossover designs), yet it manages to look reasonably fresh. That comes thanks to a number of minor refreshes over the years, and for 2013, the XC90 gets another mild makeover.

This year's tweaks actually make a pretty significant difference from a few paces back. On the outside, new body-color details like front and rear bumpers, sill moldings, and wheel-arch trim give the XC90 a smooth, more color-coordinated look compared to the previous dark plastic/rubber look. There's also a bright chrome bar for the front bumper—which somehow coordinates up above with the roof rack—as well as new silk-matte exterior mirrors plus standard LED daytime running lamps and taillights.

Volvo has also introduced some new trims and materials—new white instrument panel lighting, plus silver-aluminum (or red wood) inlays—to spice up the cabin for 2013, but the fact is that the XC90 looks at its most dated from the inside, where it now stands out as having a different (older-style) design compared to anything else in the Volvo lineup. There's no 'floating' center stack—a thin panel that houses audio and climate controls, with an open area and storage just behind—and the XC90 makes do with a two-tone look for the instrument panel and a rather wide center console.

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2013 Volvo XC90

Performance

Driving enthusiasts won't find a lot of satisfaction here, but busy parents will find secure, competent performance.

Understand the XC90's very family-minded purpose, and you can make an educated (and correct) guess about how the 2013 model performs. While the 2013 Volvo XC90 is by no means exciting to drive, you can expect confident all-weather performance—though nothing scorching. 

With the V-8 that used to be available on this model now a fading memory, the XC90 continues into 2013 with only one powertrain combination: a 3.2-liter straight-six engine rated at 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. And as before, the XC90 can be ordered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive and is matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. With that, a Haldex 'Instant Traction' all-wheel-drive system is optional.

In general, the XC90's powertrain feels lively and smooth, with strong pulling power and an engine that's happy to sing up the rev range. Unfortunately the handling doesn't feel the same way; it's responsive enough, but never engaging, and you'll be aware of the XC's heft. But it's a safe handler and never feels unstable or tipsy, even with riders in the third row.

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2013 Volvo XC90

Comfort & Quality

The Volvo XC90 offers great passenger comfort and remains an excellent alternative to larger SUVs.

The 2013 Volvo XC90 is one of the more compact vehicles capable of carrying up to seven, thanks to its car-based design, which clearly puts the priority on passengers. So it makes an ideal alternative to those who otherwise might spring for a larger truck-based SUV, or a minivan, to have enough seats.

Provided you're in one of the front two rows, the XC90 has plush seats that live up to the standards of those in Volvo sedans, like the S80, providing enough comfort and support so that you won't be achy after a long day of driving. We've found ingress and egress easy, too, thanks to the vehicle’s height and wide door openings.

The third row, while it's doable for adults—and it definitely works for those occasions when you need another position to get another couple of children home from practice—isn't all that spacious. Entry and exit to the third row is more the issue than the space itself, as the second-row seats can be adjusted forward to help. Fold the third row forward, and cargo space can be expanded to a flat 85 cubic feet.

Comfort itself is great, thanks to good ride quality, with less pitchiness and side-to-side motion than in many other crossovers, and cabin materials are impressive, providing plenty of pleasing soft-touch materials, even though they're a little stark at first glance. For 2013, XC90 Premier Plus and Platinum models get softer Sovereign hide seating surfaces as standard equipment.

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2013 Volvo XC90

Safety

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the Volvo XC90 is not only one of the safest vehicles in its class but perhaps even in the new car market.

Safety has become one of the top priorities for shoppers in recent years, while better crash testing and federally mandated features have helped make vehicles safer than ever. Yet Volvo was carrying the safety torch decades ago, long before it was common.

So what separates Volvo models like the XC90 today? You can be sure that the XC90's structure and features as as protective as its rivals, if not better, and even though this is hardly a fresh design Volvo has made sure that there's an impressive set of safety features—including front side and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control, roll-stability control, rollover mitigation, and finally, rear park assist. The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns of vehicles in the blind spot by flashing indicator lights within the cabin, is available.

While neither of the major crash-testing agencies have extended 2012 results officially to the 2013 model at the time of posting, it's likely that this model's IIHS Top Safety Pick status will be extended. And although the federal government still hasn't tested the XC90 under its revised test method, the XC90 had received top five-star results previously.

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2013 Volvo XC90

Features

The 2013 XC90 offers as many tech and convenience items as some luxury-brand models costing thousands more.

Volvo has been ramping up features and equipment in the XC90 over the past several years; and seemingly in recognition that this model has a dated design, it keeps making the value portion of its appeal even stronger.

The 2013 model year is no exception. This year the XC90 gets standard LED running lamps and taillights, rain-sensor wipers, headlight washers, and new trims and finishes added to the standard-equipment list. Even in its standard trim the 2013 XC90 includes a Bluetooth hands-free interface, Sirius Satellite Radio, and new watch-dial instrumentation. Other standard goodies include leather upholstery, keyless entry, cruise control, and dual-zone climate control.

There's also a sporty R-Design package that nets you a number of cool items such as sports seats, brushed aluminum trim, and a fresh "Ixion" wheel design. Above that, Premier Plus and Platinum editions add more equipment, and a Climate Package brings heated front seats and an upgraded climate system. The Premier Plus gets active dual xenon headlights, a garage-door opener, and other upgrades, while the Platinum adds rear park assist and premium sound. A dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system remains available, while the optional navigation system comes with real-time traffic and a rear park-assist camera. Heated front and rear seats, massage and ventilated front seats, and other appearance upgrades can be had with Premier Plus and Platinum models.

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2013 Volvo XC90

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Volvo XC90 is more efficient than larger truck-based luxury SUVs, but it's no greener than other carlike crossovers.

The 2013 Volvo XC90 is neither particularly fuel-efficient nor a gas-guzzler. Based on 2012 figures, the XC90’s fuel economy is listed at 16/23 mpg city/highway, and 19 mpg combined, though we've noticed those figures can easily deteriorate with even a little hard driving.

Opting for the all-wheel-drive model sees no drop in the EPA figures, and we recommend it for this system's excellent snowy-weather ability.

But if one of your top priorities is excellent mileage, you might want to steer over to the likes of the Lexus RX 450h or Mercedes-Benz ML 350 BlueTEC; both of those models go significantly further per gallon while offering a comparable amount of space (though neither has three-row seating).

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April 29, 2015
2013 Volvo XC90 FWD 4-Door Premier Plus

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Very comfortable SUV. Good size no to big not to small 7 passenger. Best model was the V8 I have the 3.2 6 cylinder. Could use more power at freeway speeds. AWD works really good. I tow with this truck and it... + More »
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