Volvo V90 Estate (2016 - ) review
You might have thought that Volvo had given up on big estates, but not a bit of it. The V90 is aimed squarely at the kind of buyers who are looking at the likes of the BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class Estate.
Interested in buying a Volvo V90?
How good does it look?
The first thing that strikes you about the V90 is just how elegant it is; about as far removed as it’s possible to get from the boxy creations that the company was so renowned for in the past. With its bold grille and ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights grafted on to a sleek body that strikes just the right balance between elegance and excess, it’s a car that bears comparison with any executive car you care to think of.
Every model comes with alloy wheels, roof rails and LED headlights, and if you upgrade to the top-end Inscription trim, you get larger alloys, extra chrome trim and twin exhaust pipes. R-Design, meanwhile, gives the car a sporty makeover (as in our pictures), sitting on lowered sport suspension, and coming with black alloy wheels, silver door mirrors, twin exhaust pipes and the grille and lower front bumper finished in high-gloss black.
Finally, the Cross Country model gives you something of a halfway house between an estate and an SUV: not only does this model sit appreciably higher – to give it more ground clearance off-road – it also has extended wheelarches, extra mouldings along the side, and silver skid plates. There's also a more luxurious version of the Cross Country, called the V90 Volvo Ocean Race (named after a sailing competition), which is only available in metallic white paint and rides on big 20-inch wheels.
What's the interior like?
If anything, the interior is even better than the exterior, with a design that is wonderfully different from its rivals’. It’s almost identical to the XC90’s, but that’s no bad thing, with the dashboard dominated by a 9.0-inch touch-screen that – in combination with the wheel-mounted controls – takes care of pretty much all the car’s infotainment systems. Best of all, it’s really easy to use, with smartphone-style operation and simple menus. There’s plenty of space and adjustment in the superbly comfortable front seats, too, so pretty much anyone can get a perfect driving position, even with the optional panoramic sunroof fitted. The view out is good to the front and sides, but not so good to the rear, meaning that one of the optional camera systems (both a rear-view and around-view monitor are available) could be money well spent if you want to avoid denting your pride and joy while parking.
How practical is it?
As far as passengers are concerned, things are almost perfect in the V90. As well as there being loads of room in the front, it couldn’t be easier to get into the back seats thanks to the square rear doors. What’s more, there’s enough room in the rear for a couple of six-footers to sit in total comfort. The only thing that prevents perfection is the central transmission tunnel that eats into the footspace of the middle passenger. It’s perhaps a little surprising that the 560-litre boot (which grows to 1,526 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down) is competitive, rather than class-leading for sheer size. But, on top of nice details like bag hooks and power points in the boot, the tailgate (electrically operated on every model) opens nice and high, the opening is wide and the loading lip is nice and low. All of this guarantees a degree of everyday usability that we’ll gladly trade for a few extra litres of space here and there.
What's it like to drive?
If you just want to get from A to B with the minimum of fuss, and get out at the end relaxed and unflustered, there aren’t many cars that’ll do the job more effectively than the V90. However, we say that with the caveat that we have only driven the car fitted with the optional air suspension, so we’re yet to experience the standard set-up. When you drive the car hard, there’s nothing here to you, just plenty of grip and a sure-footed feel that gives you total confidence - and that's also the case in the higher-riding Cross Country models. That said, this is not a sporty, dynamic car in the way a BMW 5 Series is, even if you choose a V90 R-Design. Yes, that sporty trim does tighten everything up, with sharper steering and tauter body control, but it does lead to a less comfortable ride. Whatever the trim level, you never forget the V90 is a big, heavy car, and instead, it’s a softer and more cultured thing that prefers to be coaxed down the road rather blasted along it. But, then again, isn’t that just what you want in a family car?
How powerful is it?
The V90 comes with a choice of five engines, of which we've tried four. The diesel options are labelled D4 and D5. Even the less powerful D4 is more than up to the job, and it gives fine performance, although it can be a little hesitant to pull the car away from rest. That's certainly not the case with the D5, which is strong, refined and very responsive. It responds really quickly at low revs, meaning there are no heart-stopping moments pulling into fast-moving traffic or just keeping up with the general ebb and flow on the motorway. On top of that, what’s most remarkable is just how refined the car is, eating up mile after mile at the legal limit on the motorway with very little sound.
If you would prefer a petrol engine, there's a T4 or a T5. The T4 has a very healthy 190 horsepower, which makes for brisk progress and has enough low-down oomph to propel you along nicely without the need to rev the engine hard. If you do want more power though, the T5 comes with 250 horsepower. All engines are attached to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that, while not being the fastest in the world to react, is nice and smooth with its changes.
If you're interested in a hybrid, then check out the T8 Twin Engine. This combines a petrol engine with an electric motor to send a very muscular 407 horsepower to all four wheels. It has a claimed electric-only range of 28 miles. It's certainly powerful, and if you get the two power units working together it'll sprint to 62mph in less than five seconds. But it's more of a fast cruiser than a sports car, as the V90 is built more for comfort than thrills.
How much will it cost me?
Given how big the car is, the fact that both diesel engines average around 60mpg is pretty impressive. You won’t find many executive estates that better the D4’s CO2 emissions of 119g/km, either. That said, given the D5 comes with four-wheel drive, its 57mpg is perhaps even more impressive. Like other cars in the Volvo range, the V90 should match its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals when it comes to resale value.
How reliable is it?
There’s so much that's new about the V90 that it’s impossible to be sure just how reliable it will be. However, it shares much of its platform and technology with the XC90, and although there’s only limited information about that (also very new) car, what little feedback there is has been generally very positive. As a company, Volvo sits just below average in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, but that score reflects the performance of much older models. Unfortunately, JD Power's 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study also gives Volvo a score below the industry average, which raises at least mild concerns. Should anything go wrong, Volvo offers a pretty standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
How safe is it?
In some ways, the V90 is like no other previous Volvo estate, but when it comes to safety, this is a Volvo through and through, with almost all of the modern safety features available on the market. Naturally, every model comes with Isofix child-seat mounts on the outer rear setas, airbags all over the place (including full-length curtain airbags and one to protect the driver’s knees) and umpteen electronic aids, but there’s plenty more on top. This includes the City Safety system (with fully autonomous braking), Driver Alert Control, Adaptive Cruise Control and Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous driving system that takes care of the steering, accelerator and brakes at up to 80 mph on the motorway. And, should the car leave the road, the safety systems automatically tighten the front seatbelts, while front seat frames have a collapsible section that helps to prevent spinal injuries. For a while, all that was missing was a crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, but when the V90 was tested in early 2017, not only did it score the full five stars, it earned one of the highest ever scores from the organisation.
How much equipment do I get?
There are five very well equipped trim levels, and even the ‘basic’ Momentum comes with the touch-screen infotainment system (which includes voice control, sat-nav and a feature that allows the car to book itself in for a service), as well as DAB, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and leather-faced upholstery. Upgrade to Inscription, and you also get full leather upholstery, electrically operated front seats, keyless entry and walnut inlays in the cabin, while R-Design gives the car a sporty look, with almost all of the extra kit being style-related.
The extra kit on Cross Country models, likewise, mainly affects the way the car looks, but whichever model you consider, there are also plenty of options to choose from, and many are bundled into packs. These include the Winter pack (with a heated windscreen and heated steering wheel) and Xenium, which brings you a panoramic sunroof and the 360-degree around view parking aid. Opt for the the Volvo Ocean Race model and you'll get swanky nappa leather upholstery and a digital dashboard.
Because you want a big executive estate that majors on comfort, smoothness and refinement rather than a sporty drive. True, this isn’t the biggest estate in the class, but what it loses in sheer space, it more than makes up for in everyday usability.