Volvo's V90 offers an appealingly different way to go for buyers looking for a large luxury estate that's a little different, thinks Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Volvo's V90 is a large luxury estate every bit as good as anything the German brands can bring you. It's the most sophisticated station wagon we've seen from the brand for a couple of decades, efficient, spacious and stylish. If you're shopping in this segment, you need to consider it. Especially in this lightly revised form.
There's nothing quite like a big, boxy Volvo estate car: it's the kind of product that defines this Swedish marque. Nor is it the kind of car this Scandinavian brand is going to leave behind as it redefines its product range under rejuvenated Chinese ownership. For proof of that, check out this car, the V90.
This is the station wagon version of the S90 saloon, a car based on the same sophisticated architecture as the company's award-winning XC90 luxury SUV. It's a size larger than the existing V70 model - and a good deal more sophisticated under the skin. Plus, as you'd want, it remains as Swedish as meatballs and as practical as ever. The prospects then, are promising. Let's check out this improved model.
Because this V90 uses the same 'Scalable Product Architecture' as its XC90 SUV stablemate, it also uses many of the same engines too, which are virtually all now based around the brand's mild hybrid technology. There's a choice of B4, B5 and B6 petrol units respectively developing 190, 250 and 310hp. And B4 and B5 diesels, respectively developing either 197 or 235hp, the latter unit featuring the security of AWD. With both diesel engines, there's also the option of 'Cross Country'-spec models that have AWD, a 65mm higher ride height and a wider track. At the top of the range sits the T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model. This delivers a 303hp output plus an 87hp electric boost, the combined total offering a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatched in under 6s. All the engines, as usual with the brand, are 2.0-litres and four cylinders in size. As before, all V90s will be ordered with smooth 8-speed auto transmission.
On the move, you aren't served up anything that encourages much driving involvement - blame the rather vague steering for that - but in compensation, there's unruffled poise and exemplary refinement. You get supple standards of ride comfort from the soft suspension too and there's the option of rear air suspension if you want it. A standard 'Drive Mode Settings' driving dynamics system allows you to tailor throttle response, steering feel and auto gearshift timings to suit the way you want to drive. And if you do push on a bit, grip and traction are actually quite impressive and cornering bodyroll decently well controlled.
Design and Build
This is certainly a more credible full-sized executive estate than anything Volvo has brought us to date. The V90 has a proud yet non-aggressive face, characterised by a concave grille - apparently a homage to the Volvo P1800 - that's home to the brand's distinctive 'Iron Mark' logo. The T-shaped 'Thor's Hammer' lights are recognisable from the XC90 and deliver a powerful sense of direction that makes this car unmistakable on the road. Visual updates with this revised model are minor - new fog lights, a fresh spoiler design and a new lower front bumper. At the back, there's a brand-new rear light design, including full LED-powered signature lighting and a sequential turn indicator.
Inside, you'll find basically the same interior as the S90, with beautiful finishing and plenty of leather, classy wood and glass. As with the XC90 luxury SUV, the dash features a massive tablet-like touch screen that plays a key role in creating an interior that is modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this V90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. Changes made to this updated model are minor. You can now specify seats with an exclusive tailored wool blend, there's an improved version of the premium Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system and there are now double USB-C charging points in the rear. At the rear, there's up 1526-litres of bootspace (including underfloor storage). That's a useful figure, though is a little bit less than you'd get with rival BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class estate competitors. That's probably down to the stylish sloping rear glass.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £40,000 for the entry-level B4 diesel and B4 petrol models. That represents a premium of £2,000 over the S90 saloon variant. Figures elsewhere in the range swell up towards and just over the £50,000 mark, as you'd expect from a car in this class aiming to go up alongside full-sized executive segment rivals like BMW's 5 Series Touring, Audi's A6 Avant and Mercedes latest E-Class Estate. There's also the option of 'Cross Country'-spec models that have AWD, a 65mm higher ride height and a wider track.
You'll need around £60,000 for the plug-in hybrid T8 variants.
There's a choice of 'Momentum Plus', 'R-Design Plus', 'Inscription Plus' and 'Cross Country Plus' trim levels. Across the range, top models can be ordered with features like 21-inch alloy wheels and powered, heated and ventilated seats trimmed in Nappa leather. Inside, the tablet-like touch screen in the centre console drives the minor controls and a whole host of Internet-based products and services. Audio services in the plushest variants come courtesy of a monster Bowers & Wilkins stereo. The electronically controlled air suspension has a choice of five modes, including one where the driver is free to tailor the settings to his or her personal taste.
V90 safety gear includes a run off-road protection package which tightens seatbelts and activates energy-absorbing technology in the seats when the car detects challenging terrain ahead. Another system is the auto-braking feature, which cuts in if a driver pulls out in front of on coming traffic. Plus the V90 also introduces a world-first - large animal detection - a system capable of detecting large animals such as elk, horses or moose, night or day. All these safety systems aim to bring Volvo closer to its vision of nobody being seriously injured or killed in any of its vehicles by 2020.
Cost of Ownership
With the B5 diesel most V90 buyers will choose, expect around 45mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and well under 150g/km of CO2. Inevitably, these figures take a tumble in the more powerful B5 petrol variant; there, you're looking at around 35mpg and around 155g/km. If you want to do significantly better in a petrol V90, you'll need to look at the top T8 Twin Engine petrol plug-in hybrid model, which delivers around 50g/km of CO2 and up to 26 miles of pure electric driving range.
What else? Residual values? They're key in this segment of course and you'd expect those of a big, relatively expensive Volvo luxury large estate to lag severely behind the kind of figures you could realise in a rival BMW or Mercedes. You'd be wrong though. The V90 has turned around Volvo's performance in the Executive sector when it comes to depreciation. To the point where independent experts reckon that after owning a typical B4 model for the usual three year/60,000 mile ownership period, you'd get between 39 and 41% of your original purchase price back, depending in the trim level chosen. That's pretty close to the kind of return you'd get from a rival Mercedes E-Class Estate.
So, how to sum up? Well this is certainly a different kind of large Volvo estate, even if some of its attributes are reassuringly familiar. Things like class-leading safety, solid build quality and the feeling that, were you to buy it, this model would probably out-last you. All are classic Volvo virtues. What's different this time round though, is the level of sophistication that's been brought to bear in terms of engineering and connectivity. For this V90, it's all been enough to create a seismic step forward over its V70 predecessor.
Does it matter that this car doesn't provide the one thing you might expect from a large Volvo estate: class-leading carriage capacity? We don't think so. For one thing, it's been a long time since any of the brand's big station wagons actually offered that, despite boxy looks that suggested otherwise. What's important is that this car is big enough for those who want a luxurious conveyance for antiques and grandfather clocks. But is now also smart enough to interest those who previously wouldn't have seen themselves as 'Volvo people', folk who simply want a more stylish way to travel to Chamonix or transport the family Labrador.