Featured SUVs - Volvo XC90 V-8 SUV
Snow's the Show: Volvo's XC90 V-8 SUV and
V50 Wagon Perform Their Best in the Worst of Climates
Automotive Industries, March, 2005
During the long winter months in Northern Europe, car companies
eager to show off their new products usually take journalists
off in search of some sun--the South of France, southern Spain
or the Portuguese Algarve are favorites.
That's not the Volvo way.
The Swedes like to show what their cars can do in the most inhospitable
of climates--usually as close to the Arctic Circle as they can
Winter testing with Volvo has become legendary and this year
the destination was Ivalo in Northern Finland just a few kilometers
short of the Russian border.
Such jaunts are fraught with hazards but this does not deter
the Swedes. They usually have all the angles covered down to
supplying journalists with snow suits, boots, hats and gloves,
just in case they thought they were heading south with only
their bathing costumes packed.
There has been the odd mishap in the past, and it usually happens
to the Brits. One year, for example, the temperatures clipped
so low that the hydraulics on the aircraft due to fly them back
froze--even worse, so did the alcohol on-board.
A couple of years ago, the huge tepee-style tent pitched in
the middle of a snowfield in which the Brits were dining caught
fire sending them scattering in all directions--still it warmed
things up for a while.
this year was much kinder to the U.K. contingent and the temperatures
even soared to a balmy -2 degrees F (plus wind chill of course).
Even when the snowmobile guards, apparently lost, had us held
up at gunpoint by Russian border guards, it all turned out to
be a little Scandinavian jest.
So, apart from snowmobiles and toboggans, what was the point
of this exercise? It was to put the new Volvo V50 and XC90 V-8
SUV through their paces on demanding, ice-covered roads and
slaloming across frozen lakes.
A couple of XC90s got ditched on the off-road course (and had
to be towed out by a Mitsubishi), but at the cost of no damage
to vehicles or occupants.
With the new V-8 model, Volvo has the U.S. market firmly in
mind. Some 30 percent of all SUVs sold in the premium segment
in the U.S. have V-8 engines. This means that 5- and 6-cylinder
versions of the Volvo XC90 have thus far only exploited 70 percent
of the market potential.
That gap is now covered. About 75 percent of all V-8 models,
of which 15,000 a year will be built, will head across the Atlantic.
While most of the attraction behind the new Volvo XC90 V-8 lies
in the powertrain, that is to say the engine in combination
with a compact new 6-speed automatic transmission, what is notable
is the world's first system for all-wheel-drive with Instant
Traction, which gives enhanced grip on poor surfaces.
Meanwhile, the V50 plays an important role in Volvo Cars' strategy
to rejuvenate its brand image by appealing to parents in the
30 to 40 age range.
The aim is to sell more than 70,000 ears a year, mainly in Europe.
Germany is expected to be the largest market with an average
of more than 12,000 Volvo V50s a year.
The V50 has transverse in-line engines in both 5-cylinder and
four-cylinder guise. "Fitting a five-cylinder engine into
a compact body is an advanced science," says Peter Ewerstrand,
project manager for the V50. "We have succeeded thanks
to new methods of shrinking the engine's outer dimensions."
Five-cylinder in-line engines have a displacement of 2.4 or
2.5 engines, depending on model. The five cylinders and the
large displacement offer not only high torque but also pleasant
engine characteristics in the form of low vibration and smooth
The top model in the Volvo V50 range is the four-wheel-drive
turbocharged T5 AWD, which has a five-cylinder 2.5L gasoline
engine and a four-wheel-drive system similar to that found on
Volvo's larger AWD models, with a fast-responding, electrically
controlled hydraulic clutch (Haldex) that contributes to consistent
and reassuring road manners on all types of road surface.
The six-speed manual gearbox, that was originally developed
for Volvo's advanced R-models, is also available on the Volvo
V50 T5 AWD and adds still further to the sporty appeal.
V50 is also available with a choice of two diesels, one a 2.0L
and the other a 1.6L model, both with turbocharging.
The traction systems on both the SUV and the V50 are impressive.
Even on the slipperiest of surfaces, particularly the frozen
lake slalom courses, you rely had to work hard to get into trouble.
As soon as grip is lost, power is automatically reduced and
distributed to those wheels that can get a grip, reducing under-
and over-steer down to the levels that even the most inexperienced
of drivers can manage.
As much as we tried, it was impossible to catch the system out.
You could always, of course, turn the system off. Then things
get real interesting.
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