Large estate arrives in its most potent diesel form and with all-wheel drive
The V90 marks the return of the classic big Volvo estate, albeit remodelled for modern tastes. Together with the S90 saloon, the V90 follows the XC90 in continuing the Chinese-owned car makers reinvention.
Volvo UK’s policy is to keep its model range simple. A 2.0-1itre diesel powerplant mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox is available in two forms: with front-wheel drive and 188bhp in the D4, or a all-wheel drive and 232bhp in the D5, tested here for the first time in the UK. The T8 Twin Engine, due later, is the sole petrol derivative and mates its 2.0-litre engine with an electric motor.
The Swedish firm may have embarked on a new chapter, but the V90 feels as unmistakably Volvo as ever, which is to say it’s comfortable, cosseting and secure.
It’s handsome, too, although the sleek profile sacrifices a little of the square-jawed practicality upon which the manufacturer’s reputation was built. Judge from the all-important load space: the Mercedes E-Class Estate trumps it for seats-up volume at 600 litres versus 560, but the V90 is comparable with the Audi A6 Avant (565 litres) and equal with the BMW 5 Series Touring.
There’s a power-operated tailgate as standard, split-folding backrests on the rear seats that make it possible to accom modate loads almost two metres long and a wide, low boot lip.
Up front, our test car’s powered panoramic sunroof (part of a £2000 option package) bestowed a light, airy ambience, enhanced by the wood and other plush-feeling materials of top Inscription trim. The seats are comfortable and the driving position is good, with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
Centre stage is a portrait-orientated 9.0in touchscreen, said to be an evolution of the one showcased in the XC90. There’s a pleasing logic to the ordering of menus and it’s easy to use once you’re familiar with its system of pinches and swipes.
On the move, the D5’s extra pace and traction compared with the D4 are immediately evident, not least because the higher-powered 2.0-litre engine has a little party piece to get things moving. PowerPulse uses an electrically driven compressor to blast pressurised air into the exhaust manifold under acceleration. It helps to spool up the first turbo, counteracting turbo lag and resulting in an impressively rapid and linear response.
Driver engagement isn’t exactly this estate’s raison d’etre, but it’s not entirely lacking, thanks to that surfeit of power. All V90s get three driving modes: Dynamic, Comfort and Eco. Engaging Dynamic spices up the responses of the suspension, steering and throttle, but as with some similar set-ups, it isn’t completely successful; as well as quickening the steering, it incorporates some additional resistance that feels artificial. Comfort mode is perfectly adequate for this V90 in most situations.
Our test car was fitted with the standard suspension rather than the optional (£950) self-levelling air springs at the rear. A back-to-back comparison suggested that the standard set-up creates more patter and noise over rough surfaces and invokes a touch more body roll during cornering, but not to the extent that it detracts from the V90’s capability as a comfortable cruiser.
We weren’t convinced by the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system on the car we tried. It has merit, but it tends to track close to the nearside white line rather than being centred in the lane. On a motorway, it can feel like you’re being guided unnervingly close to vehicles on the left.
The majority of V90 buyers will find the D4 equal to their needs as well as cheaper to buy and run, but the D5 could hold appeal for those who prefer the reserved subtlety of a powerful all-wheel-drive estate to a more imposing SUV. Cars such as the 5 Series Touring claim victory in terms of dynamic prowess, but the Volvo has a distinct charm of its own.
Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription
A handsome, refined and spacious load-lugger with charm to burn, but cheaper D4 makes more sense
Engine: 4cyls, 1969cc, diesel
Power: 232bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 354lb ft at 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed manual
Kerb weight: 2000kg (est)
Top speed: 145mph
Economy: 57.6mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 129g/km, 25%
Rivals: Audi A6 3.0TDI Avant, BMW 530d Touring