There was a time when Volvo perceived itself as being not quite in the same prestige league as the big three German manufacturers, but that time is now passed. Today Volvo sees the V90 as a very direct competitor to the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6, even though it doesn’t offer a six-cylinder diesel. Does that matter? We’ll see.
But what that means is that Volvo is not afraid to charge more than £40,000 for a D5 V90. The D4 (187bhp) starts at £34,500, but a top-spec D5 (like, unsurprisingly, the one they said we could test) is £44,000 before options. Call it more than £50k by the time you’ve got 20in alloys, electrically adjustable, massaging leather seats, a long sunroof and a kick-arse sound system. Fifty grand on a 2.0-litre diesel estate, remember.
Other details of note before we get into the V90, then? It’s a 4.93m-long car offering five seats and a competitive boot of 560 litres, which could have been bigger but, well, look at the raked rear window. Style is in, boxyness is out.
What's it like?
Style remains ‘in’ inside, too, no question. Some Volvo people will tell you that Volvo hasn’t had a true premium competitor “for some decades”. The company boss, Håkan Samuelsson, goes further than that, saying that the new V90 is “the very first time we have a true premium competitor”.
The cabin duly follows the theme set by the XC90 last year, with materials to at least the same grade and easily as stylishly designed. The big touchscreen in the centre console responds quickly – to smartphone-style touches, swipes and zooms – and the driving position is bang on and as good as any German rival.
What’s less so, you might argue, is the noise that the engine makes. It’s not a nasty noise, or even a loud one, by 2.0 standards. It’s just that at fifty grand, the rivals give you more cylinders. The eight-speed automatic gearbox’s shifts are clumsier than in some rivals, too. Volvo is unrepentant. Those big diesels are “gas guzzlers which we are never going to see in our cars again”, says Peter Mertens, senior vice president of research and development.
To keep the performance up, then, the D5 gets a novel trick: it keeps a small tank of compressed air, some of which it empties into the air intake as soon as you hit the accelerator (it charges the tank again quickly, too). That way the cylinders receive compressed air – which gives more power – and the air helps the turbo to spool before exhaust gases would have reached it. It’s a neat way to reduce turbo lag – and without adopting the 48V electric compressor used by the new Audi SQ7.
It’s reasonably effective. Volvo claims a 7.2sec 0-62mph time for the D5, but don’t fret about the time too much. The nice thing is that some response is there at low revs.
The engine is more responsive – and more rewarding – if you put the drive select mode into Dynamic rather than Comfort. Do so and the steering and brake weights are increased, too, some engine noise cancellation is reduced (although at a cruise the diesel’s sound is indeterminable either way) and the adaptive dampers become firmer.
Which brings us neatly to suspension response. The V90, whether in Comfort or Dynamic, and even on 20in alloys, rides better than we’ve come to expect from recent Volvos, including the XC90.
In Comfort mode there’s some real float over crests and dips, which combines with a compliant secondary ride over surface imperfections. Stick it in Dynamic and body control is more impressive – although comfort, inevitably, is less so. There’s a happy medium somewhere, probably in Dynamic on smaller alloys.