Volvo estates have always been popular, thanks to their reputation as safe, practical and reliable family holdalls, but the company itself has never been in the same prestige league as Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Something that CEO Håkan Samuelsson hopes to put right with a new range of vehicles based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA).
Key highlights are a steel and aluminium monocoque, double wishbone front suspension and an integral link set-up at the rear. Engines are the same as you get in the S90: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder D4 diesel with 187bhp and a more powerful 2.0-litre D5 with 237bhp and all-wheel drive as standard.
The V90 line-up is completed with the more rugged Cross Country model which puts it in the same ballpark as the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and the Skoda Octavia Scout, which allows the big Volvo to do some green-lane driving which the lower standard V90 would struggle with.
There are three trim levels to choose from – Momentum, R-Design and Inscription, while the Cross Country model get its own equipment list. Entry-level Momentum models get adaptive cruise control, keyless start, LED headlights, automatic wipers and lights, powered tailgate and rear parking sensors as standard on the outside.
Inside there is dual-zone climate control, electric windows, a leather upholstery, heated front seats, Volvo’s safety technology and the manufacturer’s signature 9.0in portrait infotainment system complete with DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and sat nav.
Upgrade to R-Design and the V90 is adorned with sports seats, LED foglights, a sportier suspension and chassis set-up, 18in alloy wheels and a 12.3in configurable instrument cluster.
Topping the range is the Inscription trim, which includes a Nappa leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, thick pile carpets and chrome detailing. The Cross Country models get an additional 65mm ground clearance, skid plates, rugged exterior bodykit and bespoke 18in alloy wheels.
Climbing aboard the Volvo V90
There's a sense that real thought has gone into the design of the cabin as soon as you climb behind the wheel. The materials used throughout the dash feel top-notch, the 9.0in portrait touchscreen is one of the finest touchscreen infotainment systems currently available and the driving position is near enough perfect.
Turn the twist-and-go starter mounted between the front seats and the diesel motor fires up somewhat lazily, settling into a gruff idle. Pulling away, the V90 instantly feels like it has less low-down torque compared with the D5, requiring significantly more throttle input to get up to speed. However, the linear power delivery of the D5 has been retained and the eight-speed automatic gearbox gives the engine sufficient flexibility, despite being rather hesitant in its operation.
Disappointingly, the D4 doesn’t receive the D5’s impressive PowerPulse air compressor - a system that reduces turbo lag by forcing compressed air into the intake as soon as you hit the accelerator. As expected, there is a slight hesitation before boost builds, but it’s not as noticeable as we first anticipated, with the D4 V90 displaying impressive roll-on performance.
Dynamically, the V90 is less performance-orientated than a BMW 520d or maybe even an Audi A6 2.0 TDI. The standard composite leaf spring rear suspension - as opposed to the optional £950 adaptive air set-up – gives the big Volvo an impressively refined and comfortable ride. But this compliance comes at the cost of body control, with the V90 feeling somewhat wallowy on undulating roads. Push on further, though, and it quickly becomes apparent that the suspension is still adept at coping with multiple inputs.
The V90 is best enjoyed when driven at a relaxed pace; leave it in Comfort mode and you can enjoy the well-judged steering and neutral chassis instead. The soft set-up doesn't lend itself to particularly incisive handling, but the V90 feels stable and composed, particularly at high speeds on the motorway. The ‘Pilot Assist', which is, in effect, a semi-autonomous driving system, is also impressively capable, helping to make long stints behind the wheel that little bit more relaxing.
Ergonomically, the V90 is superb at accommodating four adults. Those in the front are treated to acres of head and leg room, and the driver’s seat and steering wheel offer plenty of adjustment. In the rear, two tall adults could travel in complete comfort. The V90's load space suffers due to the wagon's rakish roofline, though, with its 560-litre bay with the seats up matching that of a BMW 5 Series Touring but falling short of the Audi A6 Avant’s. With the rear seatbacks folded down, the load
German estate beater or still left-field choice?
Finally, Volvo has produced a well-rounded premium estate that can take the fight to the German competition. It’s beautifully designed and packed with innovative technology and offers impressive levels of practicality.
Granted, the D4 doesn’t offer the all-weather pace of the four-wheel-drive V90 D5, but the front-driver will be capable enough for most buyers. The less powerful model also makes more sense when you look at its competitive emissions and lower running costs.