2012 Volvo XC90

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Viknesh Vijayenthiran Viknesh Vijayenthiran Editor
December 19, 2011

Buying tip

If you're looking at the R-Design and its flashier 20-inch wheels, take both versions for a drive; the larger wheels, from our experience, do make ride quality somewhat worse.

features & specs

AWD 4-Door
AWD 4-Door Platinum
AWD 4-Door Premier Plus
16 city / 23 hwy
16 city / 23 hwy
16 city / 23 hwy

With seating for up to seven and safe, secure performance, the 2012 Volvo XC90 remains a smart pick for those who want an upscale yet family-oriented vehicle.

The 2012 Volvo XC90 is a luxury crossover that puts the priority on passenger space, safety, and comfort, over off-road ability. The XC90 is feature-packed and can seat up to seven, but with lackluster fuel economy and a dated interior look, it's not class-leading in all respects.

Volvo's XC90 was one of the first carlike luxury crossover when it arrived for 2003, but its appearance hasn't changed all that much since then. With the exception of one minor refresh, the XC90 carries through with its smooth, broad-shouldered exterior design, which still looks good from a distance. However, inside, the XC90 is now looking quite dated, as it represents 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; there's plenty of power from the 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic (the V-8 has been discontinued), and both passing response and power off the line are impressive. 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.

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With three rows of seating, the 2012 XC90 can carry up to seven and is a good alternative to either the more trucklike SUVs or a well-optioned minivan. Volvo has a reputation for excellent seats, and the XC90 is no exception; they're supportive, comfortable, and 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. For everyone, the seating position feels a little more relaxed and carlike compared to that of other crossovers. Keep the third row down and you'll generally have lots of space for larger grocery runs. Ride quality is excellent, with less pitchiness and side-to-side motion than in many other crossovers. Cabin materials are hit-and-miss, a mix of some very pleasant soft-touch surfaces, paired with trim pieces that are starting to look dated.

Keeping the family safe and sound--as well as comfortable--is one of the XC90's top priorities, and it shows; it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick again for 2012, and in addition to the expected roster of airbags and stability control, there's rear park assist, and an available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns of vehicles in the blind spot vie indicator lights.

Volvo vehicle have, it seems, been becoming stronger values in recent years, with the automaker adding more standard features and combining options into more affordable packages. For 2012, the XC90's sound system supports Pandora playlists and gets Bluetooth audio streaming, adding to its existing Bluetooth hands-free interface, and there are new Premier Plus and Platinum trims that add a few more features. 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. The R-Design model adds big 20-inch Cratus wheels. Other major options include a Climate Package, walnut-wood trim, and a rear entertainment system, and the available nav system has real-time traffic.


2012 Volvo XC90


There’s no ignoring the dated look and feel of the Volvo XC90’s interior, but the same can’t be said for the exterior which still looks tough thanks to some subtle refinements.

Having first been launched in 2003, the Volvo XC90 is now one of the oldest models currently in production and it’s certainly starting to show its age. The changes to the 2012 XC90 include subtle refinements to exterior and interior, though you’d have to look twice to notice them.

The silver mud-guards provide a tough stance, as do the matching roof rails. And we especially like the unique six-spoke 18-inch wheel design with a silver matte finish that is available.

If you thought the exterior was dated, the interior is even a bit more aged. While the rest of the Volvo model line features a 'floating' center stack--a thin panel that houses audio and climate controls, with an open area and storage just behind--the XC90 makes do with Volvo's former-generation instrument panel, with a wider center console and solid center stack.

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2012 Volvo XC90


The 2012 Volvo XC90 does its family-hauling duties with aplomb but drivers who yearn for something a little sporty best look elsewhere.

The 2012 Volvo XC90 is targeted at families and not the sports car crowd so as you may suspect it performs more or less like what any busy mom or dad might expect. That means it’s fast enough to do the school and grocery store run but not quite enough to excite you.

Making matters worse for performance fans, the previous V-8 option has been dropped for the 2012 model year. That leaves the XC90 with just one powertrain option, a 3.2-liter straight-six engine rated at 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

This engine can be ordered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive and is matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth operator whose strong pulling power belies its relatively small size, though it never feels sporty. The same can be said for the handling, which is responsive but not engaging. The body stays in check, however, even in quick maneuvers.

 Ride quality is another high point. Overall ride quality is excellent, with less pitchiness and side-to-side motion than in many other crossovers.

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2012 Volvo XC90

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Volvo XC90 provides generous space for occupants in the first two rows of seats and premium touches all around make journeys even more enjoyable.

The 2012 Volvo XC90 is capable of carry up to seven thanks to its three rows of seating, making it ideal for buyers who like the load carrying capability of a truck-like SUV but prefer something a little more car-like. It also serves as a good alternative to buying a dull minivan.

Like most Volvo’s the XC90 has plush seats that are supportive and comfortable and won’t make you feel tired even after a long day of driving. Ingress and egress is also made easy thanks to the vehicle’s height and wide door openings.

Most adults will find the second-row seats comfortable though the third row, which is standard on all models, is only suitable for small children. Note, most of the seats can be adjusted to maximize cargo space or passenger room. With the third row folded, cargo space can be expanded to 85 cubic feet, and the cargo floor is flat.

Cabin materials feel impressive, and though in appearance they're quite stark there are plenty of pleasing soft-touch surfaces.

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2012 Volvo XC90


The 2012 Volvo XC90 is one of the safest vehicles in its class so should rank high on the list of anyone that considers safety paramount.

Volvo has built its reputation on the safety of its vehicles, though in recent years the quality has been become less relevant thanks to stringent legislation and independent crash testing forcing most rival automakers to catch up. Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the 2012 Volvo XC90 is not only one of the safest vehicles in its class but perhaps even in the new car market.

The XC90 benefits not only from Volvo’s advanced structural protection and protective features, but it also gets a host of passive and active safety technologies. These include 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. But in addition to that, there's the available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns of vehicles in the blind spot by flashing indicator lights within the cabin.

The multitude of safety technology in the XC90 has seen it score top ratings in all of the crash tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in previous years, garnering it Top Safety Pick status. The same can be said for the government-run National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests, which also saw previous model year XC90s score top five-star ratings.


2012 Volvo XC90


The 2012 Volvo XC90 comes with enough standard features to keep your family safe and happy on those long journeys but we recommend adding some options.

Over the years Volvo’s fleet have been getting more and more features, many of them coming as standard. Not only does this improve the value equation but it means that even in standard trim vehicles like the 2012 XC90 are loads of fun.

Some things we like include 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 custom wheel designs.

Yes, the XC90 is much better value compared to other models in its class, especially some of its German rivals, but of course, you can always add more. We recommend the Multimedia Package, which brings a premium audio system, DVD-driven navigation with real-time traffic, and a rear park-assist camera. An available Luxury Package also adds heated front and rear seats, massage and ventilated front seats, and other appearance upgrades.

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2012 Volvo XC90

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Volvo XC90 is hardly green, with its city mileage numbers coming in the mid teens, but it’s comparable with most of its non-hybrid rivals.

Volvo dropped its thirsty V-8 option on the XC90 last year but the remaining six-cylinder engine is hardly what you’d call a mileage superstar.

The EPA rates the 2012 XC90’s fuel economy at 16/23 mpg city/highway and 19 mpg combined, though those figures can easily deteriorate with even a little hard driving. Opting for the all-wheel-drive model sees the combined figure drop just 1 mpg so we strongly recommend ticking this option for its added safety.

If stellar mileage is a priority, there are plenty of new fuel-efficient models coming onto the market including both hybrids and clean-diesels. Some worthy rivals worth a look at include the Lexus RX 450h and Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC.

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