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Luxurious Swedish estate is given a mild makeover and its petrol engine mild hybridisation

What is it?

As fans of the British Touring Car Championship in the mid1990s will attest, Volvo has a proud tradition of producing practical, spacious and surprisingly stylish estate cars.

But times have changed since the 850 used to battle for tin-top glory, and the firm’s current success is built on its range of SUVs. For the future, Volvo is firmly focused on electrification through its Recharge range of plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains.

All of which is to say that the firm’s Volvo V90 – a large estate for which sales have traditionally been dominated by diesel engines – might feel somewhat outdated, a reminder of past glories that doesn’t quite fit in 2020. But thankfully, Volvo still believes there’s plenty of life left in a classic loadlugger, which it has demonstrated by giving the V90 a mid-life refresh.

Given the current V90 – launched in 2016 using the same adaptable SPA architecture as the Volvo S90 saloon and Volvo XC90 SUV – was already a credible alternative to German rivals such as the BMW 5 Series Touring, Volvo has been understandably sparing with its makeover.

Visual tweaks include a lower front bumper and foglights, a revamped rear spoiler and a new LED tail-light design. They’re minor changes, but they add to the V90’s understated, classy style.

3 Volvo v90 b5 2020 uk fd hero rear

What's it like?

The V90’s interior was already comfortable and capacious, with plenty of Scandi style and a well-laid out dashboard built around Volvo’s Sensus infotainment, which uses a portrait-oriented 9.0in touchscreen. As a result, the updates here are also sparing, largely through the addition of new upholstery and trim options.

There are also USB-C ports, an upgraded Bowers & Wilkins stereo (including a setting that Volvo claims mimics the sound of your favourite jazz club) and – bang on trend for 2020 – a revamped Advanced Air Cleaner with particle filter.

Most importantly for many estate buyers, the V90’s boot remains unchanged, offering a substantial 560 litres capacity, rising to 1526 litres when the seats are folded down. That space is easily accessible, too.

The biggest change has been made to the powertrain line-up, with the petrol-engined T4, T5 and T6 models replaced by the mild-hybrid petrol B4, B5 and B6. The diesel engines are now also mild-hybrid and badged the B4 and B5, while the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid T6 Recharge remains. The updates will also be made to the rugged high-riding V90 Cross Country, which will get mild-hybrid petrol engines for the first time.

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We tried the mid-range B5 petrol. This offers 247bhp from its Drive-E-badged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is now aided by a 48V integrated starter-generator. Capturing energy under braking and coasting, this bumps the B5’s official economy up to a maximum of 40.4mpg – a figure that our test suggested isn’t overly optimistic.

Despite the V90’s considerable size, the petrol engine does a good job of propelling it along. The mild-hybrid technology makes it smooth and quiet at low speeds, and while that refinement can be briefly lost when you try to access the engine’s power urgently, it’s capable of pleasingly brisk progress once up to speed.

The ride quality is good, with the suspension and our range-topping Inscription model’s 19in wheels soaking up bumps and offering smooth travel both in town and on faster roads.

The steering can feel a touch heavy at low speeds, but not excessively so, given the size and weight of the V90, and it’s stable and confidence-inspiring on faster roads.

The V90 still isn’t dynamic or engaging as more performance-orientated estates and is happiest at a more relaxed pace. While that might disappoint Rickard Rydell, it suits the nature of the car well, particularly with the extra refinement offered by this new mild-hybrid petrol engine.

7 Volvo v90 b5 2020 uk fd dashboard

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Should I buy one?

While company car buyers or those concerned with outright fuel economy might want to look at the plug-in hybrid or diesel powertrains, the V90 remains a compelling alternative for those seeking a large executive car. And, happily, it proves that there’s still plenty of life in a stylish Swedish estate.

2 Volvo v90 b5 2020 uk fd hero side


James Attwood

James Attwood, digital editor
Title: Acting magazine editor

James is Autocar's acting magazine editor. Having served in that role since June 2023, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the world's oldest car magazine, and regularly interviews some of the biggest names in the industry to secure news and features, such as his world exclusive look into production of Volkswagen currywurst. Really.

Before first joining Autocar in 2017, James spent more than a decade in motorsport journalist, working on Autosport,, F1 Racing and Motorsport News, covering everything from club rallying to top-level international events. He also spent 18 months running Move Electric, Haymarket's e-mobility title, where he developed knowledge of the e-bike and e-scooter markets. 

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Add a comment…
Israel99 19 October 2020

Nice post.

Nice post.

NoPasaran 18 October 2020

T5, T6

that was once. Now it is all puny 4-bangers

Peter Cavellini 16 October 2020

Keeping up with the..?

 Mild hybridisation, there all at!