Premium midsize SUV; Built in Sweden
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear- or all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,000 – $36,400*

2003 Volvo XC90

2003 Volvo XC90

2003 Volvo XC90

2003 Volvo XC90

  • Build quality
  • Cargo room
  • Interior materials
  • Fuel economy
  • Instruments/controls

Volvo fans got an SUV to call their own, but most any buyer would approve of the XC90’s carlike road manners, rock-solid feel, solid workmanship, and numerous safety features. Relatively weak acceleration of non-V8 models is a drawback, and the five-cylinder engine’s level of refinement disappoints. Handling-conscious buyers may wish for firmer steering. Prices might tempt MDX or RX intenders, and even some six-cylinder BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class shoppers.


Sized and priced to compete with the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 300, Volvo’s first sport-utility vehicle was based on the company’s S80 sedan platform. Built in Sweden, the XC90 was a four-door unibodied wagon with turbocharged power and a choice of five-passenger seating or space for seven with an available third-row bench. A combination rear liftgate with smaller, drop-down tailgate panel was standard.

The entry-level 2.5T came with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, a 208-horsepower five-cylinder engine, and five-speed automatic transmission. The T6 AWD had a 268-horsepower six-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic. Both transmissions incorporated a manual shift gate. XC90’s AWD lacked low-range gearing and wasn’t intended for severe off-road use.

All models included antilock four-wheel disc brakes, traction/antiskid control, and Volvo’s new Roll Stability Control, which was designed to activate the antiskid system to reduce the chance of a rollover if sensors detected unusually rapid or severe body lean. Also standard were front torso side airbags and curtain side airbags, covering front- and second-row seats. The third-row seat was part of the optional Versatility Package, which also included curtain-airbag coverage for the third row, a load-leveling rear suspension, and third-row air conditioning and audio controls.

XC90’s second-row bench was split 40/20/40 and offered an optional integrated child booster seat for its middle section. All three sections slid fore and aft. Every XC90 had wood interior trim. Leather upholstery was optional on the 2.5T and standard for the T6. The T6 also added a sunroof, in-dash CD changer to replace a single-disc player, power passenger seat, and 17-inch wheels substituting for 16s. Those items also were available for 2.5Ts. Other options included rear-obstacle detection, navigation system, heated front seats, and for the T6, 18-inch wheels. Rivals included the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 330, and later, the Cadillac SRX.

Yearly Updates

2004 XC90
Restyled 17-inch wheels, an optional leather-wrapped gearshift knob, and a keyfob with integrated remote locking were among the few revisions for 2004.
2005 XC90
Volvo’s first-ever V8 engine became available for the XC90, and would soon replace the T6’s six-cylinder. The V8’s six-speed automatic transmission had a manual shift gate. Every V8 model had all-wheel drive.
2006 XC90
Volvo offered 2.5T and V8 models in 2006; the six-cylinder T6 was gone. Standard with the V8, a third-row seat was otherwise part of a Versatility option package. Seven-passenger versions had a rear load-leveling suspension, plus third-row climate and audio controls.
2007 XC90
A revamped base version, new options, cosmetic tweaks, and a new model highlighted this car-type SUV for 2007. XC90 seats up to seven and came in three models. For 2007, the base version was called the 3.2. It had a 235-hp inline 6-cyl engine and replaced the 2.5T model, which had a 208-hp turbocharged 5-cyl. The V8 model returned with 311 hp. New for ’07, the Sport model added unique trim, sport suspension and 19-inch wheels to the V8.
2008 XC90
The 2008 Volvo XC90 got minor trim changes. The Sport model added unique interior and exterior trim, sport suspension, and 19-inch wheels in place of 18s. Newly standard for all models was an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
2009 XC90
The 2009 Volvo XC90 shuffled its model lineup. The 3.2 and new-for-2009 3.2 R-Design had a 235-hp 3.2-liter 6-cylinder engine. The V8 and new-for-2009 V8 R-Design had a 311-hp 4.4-liter V8. The Sport model was dropped. V8 models were available with a new Executive Package, which included upgraded upholstery, heated and cooled front seats with massage, and specific trim.
2010 XC90
The 2010 Volvo XC90 has a revised model roster and some new standard features. The V8 R-Design has been discontinued. Newly standard on the 2010 XC90 3.2 are a 3rd-row seat, integrated 2nd-row child booster seats, rear-obstacle detection, and leather upholstery.
2011 XC90
The 2011 Volvo XC90’s base 3.2-liter six gained five horsepower to 240.
2012 XC90
The V8 model was discontinued, but there were no other changes of note to the 2012 Volvo SC90.
2013 XC90
For 2013, Volvo subtly tweaked the XC90’s interior and exterior styling.
2014 XC90
Changes for the 2014 XC90 were minor and included a folding front passenger seat on some trim levels.


longitudinal front-engine/rear- or all-wheel drive

Two turbocharged-engine powertrains have been available in XC90s: a 208-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission in the 2.5T, and a 268-horsepower 2.9-liter six-cylinder with a four-speed automatic in the T6 AWD model. A 311-horsepower V8 model arrived during the 2005 model year, and would soon replace the T6. For 2007, a six-speed automatic became standard, and the base model got a 235-hp 3.2-liter inline six to replace the 208-hp turbocharged five-cylinder; the six gained five horsepower for 2011 to 240. The V8 was dropped for 2012.

Turbocharged dohc I5
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/153
Engine HP 208
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 236
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic


dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/195
Engine HP 235-240
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 236
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed automatic


Turbocharged dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.9/178
Engine HP 268
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 280
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic


dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.4/269
Engine HP 311
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 325
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed automatic


Road Test

Initial tests of AWD models showed both the 2.5T and T6 short of midrange urge, with the 2.5T struggling to maintain speed up steep grades. A 2.5T accelerated to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, versus 8.8 seconds for the T6. That’s competitive with direct-rival SUVs. On the whole, though, XCs take on most any situation with sufficient power. Both XCs annoyed with unprogressive throttle action and some turbo-induced lag. Those flaws were especially evident when passing, where automatic transmission kickdown demands a hard right-foot shove. We also question how good acceleration would be when pulling the 5000-pound maximum trailer that all XC90s are rated to tow. Volvo’s V8 responds best to generous throttle application, but is strong from a stop and has fine midrange passing power. The six-speed automatic shifts seamlessly.

Expect class-average overall fuel economy at best. In mostly highway driving, AWD 2.5Ts averaged 15.3 to 17.1 mpg, while the T6 averaged 13.5-16.7 mpg. A V8 model averaged 15.6 mpg in mostly city driving, and 17.8 in a mix of city/highway travel. All engines require premium gasoline.

Early models tested had 17-inch tires and rode firmly, yet comfortably and composed. Little pitch or bounding was noticed over large humps and dips, and the XC90 showed arrow-true highway stability. Washboard surfaces cause minor wheel patter. The ride suffers a bit with 18-inch tires in the T6 Premium Package. Those tires react more abruptly to sharp ridges and pavement breaks, but don’t really affect ride quality.

As SUVs go, XC90 is quite stable on straightaways, well-planted, and forgiving on fast, twisty roads. Essentially, it feels like a tall, heavy station wagon. But steering is too light and numb for best control, and needs better on-center feedback. XC90s are a bit ponderous in quick, around-town maneuvers. Stability and precision increase with speed. Expect good grip and balance in fast turns, despite generous body lean. Wind gusts are felt at highway speeds, too. Stopping power is fine, but pedal feel on initially application has been overly sensitive–slightly spongy when pushed quickly.

As in Volvo cars, the smooth six-cylinder engine doesn’t intrude except near top rpm, but the five-cylinder is throbby and coarse as revs rise, with a slightly uncouth sound. Volvo’s polished V8 is nearly hushed at cruise, emitting precision hum during rapid acceleration. Wind rush builds with speed but does not annoy. Tire thrum is muted except on very coarse pavement.

Gauges and controls are modern-Volvo in style, placement, and function. The audio unit is slightly more intuitive than those in Volvo cars, but still not convenient to use. Likewise, the available navigation system, whose screen powers up from the dashtop and can wash out in bright light. But the handsome, well-assembled cabin, also typical Volvo, has attractive, quality-look materials throughout–except for low-grade plastic on door-pulls and the console.

Volvo’s usual wide, cushy front seats have chair-height positioning and are deficient only in lateral support during fast turns. Occupants get ample head room and adult-size leg space. The standard memory power seat and manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel help most any driver get comfortable. Visibility is good, though the elevated stance means objects near ground level can be hard to spot and rear headrests impede the aft view. Entry/exit is easier than on many rivals; step-in height is similar to that of the Acura MDX and Lexus RX.

Second-row entry/exit is impeded by narrowish doors that should open wider. Room and comfort in the second row are acceptable for two adults, but not three. Very tight passageways make third-row access a real squeeze except for two small kids.

The large rear liftgate doesn’t rise quite enough to clear a six-footer’s head, but a short lower tailgate eases loading and reach into the cargo bay. Cargo volume is only 11.1 cubic feet behind the third row, but both seats fold easily to create a flat load deck and class-competitive volume. No need to remove rear-seat headrests, either. Small-items storage includes molded bottle/can holders in roomy door map pockets, but many rivals have more space.


Model Tested: 2005 Volvo XC90 2.5T w/navigation

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 5
Fuel Economy - 3
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 6
Quietness - 5


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
Cargo Room - 8


Value - 5

Total: 55


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
112.6 188.9 74.7 70.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
93.2 19.0 7
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
40.1 39.5 41.0 36.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2004 XC90 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: Too much airflow from the floor vent onto the driver’s foot is corrected by installing a piece of foam to create a restriction. (2003-04)
Climate control
Description: The climate control may go from full hot to full cold and back because the damper motor module is trying to recalibrate itself requiring flashing of the climate control module. (2005-06)
Exhaust system
Description: A squealing or rubbing noise on AWD models that occurs after going through a puddle is caused by the exhaust pipe temporarily warping and touching the driveshaft. (2003-06
Fuel pump
Description: The engine may not start if the fuel level is low and the vehicle is parked facing downhill due to design of fuel pump which has been redesigned with an anti-siphon valve. (2003-07)
Fuel pump
Description: The engine may not start if the fuel level is low and the vehicle is parked facing downhill due to design of fuel pump which has been redesigned with an anti-siphon valve. (2003-07)
Power seat
Description: The power seats may rock to and fro. New gas shocks/struts are available to correct it. (2003-04)
Audio system
Description: Various noises may come from the speakers is an auxiliary music player (e.g. iPod) is used and the volume is above half-way on some early-production vehicles for which there is a revised cable for the wiring harness. (2007)
Audio system
Description: Noises in the audio system when an accessory media player (e.g. MP3 player) requires replacement of a cable between the jack and the audio module. (2007)
Steering problems
Description: Power steering assist may be poor on vehicles with speed sensitive steering, but after cycling ignition key, the steering assistance may then be normal requiring a new power steering control module. (2003-09)
Vehicle noise
Description: Noise from the rear end on rough roads is due to the springs rubbing on the spring seat. (2003-04)
Description: The wiper arms’ splines can be damaged if the wipers are turned on while the blades are frozen to the windshield and improved arms were released and installed under a campaign. (2003-06)
Description: The battery may go dead overnight if the “infotainment” system won’t allow the central control module go to sleep mode. (2006)
Description: The upper tailgate may not open because the release cable comes loose from its retaining clip. (2003-04)

Recall History

2003-05 XC90
Description: For vehicles sold in or registered in the states of: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and the U.S. territories. When exposed to certain environmental conditions (hot climate and temperature cycling) over time and in combination with varying fuel quality, the fuel pump can develop cracks in the fuel pump flange. If the condition occurs vehicle owners may notice fuel smell and/or fuel leak which, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Dealers will inspect the fuel pump installed in the vehicle, and if necessary replace the fuel pump with a part of a modified design. This service will be performed free of charge.
2003-06 XC90
Description: If windshield wiper arm is activated in extreme winter conditions without lifting arm and cleaning windshield, wipers might not move from parked position.
2003-06 XC90
Description: Outer tie rod ball joint could deform at high load and nut may loosen, eventually leading to fatigue fracture and difficulty in maneuvering vehicle.
2005 XC90
Description: Battery’s B+ terminal may conflict with starter motor solenoid, which could develop into short circuit of battery cable to ground.
2005 XC90
Description: While doing battery maintenance, the jack’s crank handle can be misplaced under a bracket which retains the battery. Misplacement of the jack’s crank handle can pose a safety risk as it can result in a short circuit of the battery. Dealers will inspect and ensure proper placement of the jack crank handle and affix a warning label to the bracket.
2007-08 XC90
Description: The climate control module may receive a ‘shut-down’ signal from the engine control module (ECM), rendering the climate control functions unavailable, including the defroster. Dealers will upgrade the ECM software.
2008 XC90 with 4.4-liter V8 engine
Description: Incorrect engine-mount bolts may cause the aluminum bracket for the engine mount to break, resulting in reduced engine torque or stalling. Dealers will inspect the engine-mount bolts, and the bracket and bolts will be replaced if necessary.
2010 XC90
Description: A leak may develop in the fuel line between the line and a connector. Fuel odor may be detected. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source can lead to a fire at the right front wheel. Dealers will inspect the date code printed on the fuel line and replace the fuel pressure line if it falls within the recalled range free of charge.
2010-2011 XC90
Description: For Vehicles manufactured from January 29, 2010, through August 16, 2010. The power steering fluid may leak from the oil pipe connection at the steering gear valve housing. This condition could lead to a sudden loss of power steering, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will replace the oil pipes on the power steering rack free of charge.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


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