For the Volvo Enthusiast

Project XC90: Introduction

Short of a minivan, the Volvo XC90 might just be the perfect family car. With flexible seating for seven and plenty of space to haul the usual gear needed for a family excursion, Volvo’s SUV has established itself as a serious player. Based on Volvo’s P2 chassis architecture, the XC90 is car-based, helping keep fuel mileage respectable. Its SUV look and feel are decidedly more stylish than even the best-looking of minivans. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, or tailoring to one’s own tastes.

Moving along in life, most find themselves in the need of just such a vehicle at some point or another. Rather than giving up and labeling yourself as overly domesticated by throwing in the towel and choosing a minivan out of convenience, it’s our contention that the XC90, an already attractive package, can be made into something enthusiasts could not only live with. Even better, we think it might even be something an enthusiast would enjoy.

Buying an XC90

With just such period-of-life positioning and a baby on the way, adding the XC90 to the Swedespeed Project Car stable made a lot of sense. A budget range was targeted at anywhere from $30,000 to $35,000, with as many options as we could afford.

Of course, the XC90 V8 is the king of the XC90 range, though even on the Certified Pre-Owned lot the V8 fell outside of our budget range. The V8 was ruled out, but a quick visit to the Volvo Cars North America website had us building our own XC90 to see just what options we wanted in our car. Seeing the price climb well above $35,000, even with the 2.5T engine, we quickly decided to consider a purchase out of Volvo’s Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program.

Buying a car through CPO makes a lot of sense. If you don’t mind having a used car, this program bumps the warranty up to 6 years from the car’s in-service date when it was sold to its first owner, or 100,000 miles � whichever comes first. Better, you save thousands, living on the good side of the depreciation curve.

Any Volvo dealership can sell you a CPO Volvo, though knowing we wanted a specific color (white) and specific interior (charcoal), as well as certain options, we decided to call Annapolis Volvo in Annapolis, MD. Annapolis Volvo is one of the top CPO dealers on the East Coast. Patrick Wergin from Annapolis Volvo shared with us that he buys cars from auctions all over the east coast, having a standing order with his buyers to pick up anything with a higher degree of options, Volvo’s navigation system being one litmus test he uses. Navigation is an expensive option new, but a real bargain in a used Volvo.

Calls around to other dealers told us white with graphite interior was a pretty rare color combination for the XC90. Pat concurred, but sounded confident in his ability to find a car. We were surprised just one week later when he said he’d just bought the car we were looking for in New Jersey. It had every option save a leather shift knob � something we could easily live without. The only surprise was that the car was a T6 model.

Volvo’s T6 twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder is a great motor, though packaging restraints mean that the only transmission that can be used is a 4-speed GM-sourced gearbox. The lack of cogs makes the transmission a bit less efficient � actually with worse gas mileage than the V8 that replaced it. Additionally, torque limitations on the transmission mean that chipping the XC90, an easy way to net big power gains on a turbocharged automobile, is not especially effective because most chip tuners dial back their T6 programs due to torque limitations on the engines and specifically the XC90’s propensity to be used in towing situations. We’d have preferred the more fuel-efficient XC90 2.5T with more gears, but the likelihood of finding a fully loaded example with our color combination was slim.

We picked the car up one week later from Annapolis Volvo. Taking inventory, our XC90 is loaded with great options such as navigation, bi-Xenon headlamps, HomeLink, a wooden steering wheel, third row seating and more. Additionally, this particular car also had rubber floor mats and was delivered with two keyless entry keys � not always the case on a used car. In as much, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the experience at Annapolis. Our XC90 came in very close to our top target, with more options and equipment than we’d hoped, the CPO warranty and only 24,000 miles.

What To Do with Our New Project

So where do we go from here? How might we modify and/or tailor the car? What will the project build entail?

Well, as we’ve alluded, high performance acceleration numbers won’t be our top priority. With the intention to use the XC90 for towing, we likely won’t chip the XC90 at all � or we’ll go with a switchable program that can be put back to stock should we find a need to tow.

As such, one of Volvo’s tow packages is planned from the Volvo accessories catalog. And, we think we’ll be hitting that catalog rather heavily. There are plenty of baby-proofing products that will help raise the functionality of this family hauler. We’ll also consider our options in video entertainment. Making the interior more visually stimulating is also a priority � whether ordered out of the accessories catalog, the corporate partsbin, or the aftermarket. Comfort and enjoyment of the interior for the whole family is very important on this particular project.

From a performance standpoint, we’d like to make the car a more dynamic driver. Wheels and tires, suspension and brake upgrades are all being considered. Though we’re not planning on overly-improved straight-line performance, how well the XC90 does on the twistys is something we’d like to tackle.

Visually, the intention for now is to keep the car fairly subdued so that it isn’t over-the-top, yet make it so a Volvo enthusiast will recognize it and appreciate it from all the other XC90s on the road. The aforementioned wheels will make a big difference. Upgrades from the XC90 V8 and XC90 Sport model partsbins look attractive, and there’s a decent aftermarket out there for the XC90. All of these will be considered as we tailor the car into something a bit more sporting.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project, keep an eye on Swedespeed over the coming months. We fully intend for our XC90 to evolve into something to be appreciated by the enthusiast, baby and parent alike.

If you have any suggestions for Project XC90 upgrades, please feel free to make a suggestion in the discussion forum linked below. The plan for the XC90 has begun, though is certainly subject to addition or change.

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