Volvo is synonymous with estate cars, but none quite like this.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, the V90 is no classic box on wheels. This ain’t your Pop’s Volvo. This is a low, lean wagon with road presence to kill for and a sizeable responsibility resting on its broad and muscular shoulders.
Volvo, owned by Chinese brand Geely, is a car-maker on a mission, having spent $11 billion US on vehicle development over the past five years. The V90 is a status leader, and a statement on what the brand can achieve.
While the imminent 60 Series cars (the next S60/V60/XC60) will create the volume opportunities, it’s the 90 Series models that must work if the company’s giant ambitions are going to come to fruition.
We travelled to Spain this week for the European first-drive program of the V90, ahead of the Australian launch in the first half of 2017 — six-months behind the S90, a first review of which you can read here.
Right off the bat, the V90 wagon has a solid foundation, based on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) as the seven-seater XC90, using the same chassis, engines and core technologies, and premiering a few others of its own.
There are also reminiscent design cues. As we said of the S90, the V90 couldn’t be more proudly Swedish if it delivered you a tray of lingonberries from the back of an elk — it even has little blue and yellow flags on its seats.
It shares the sedan’s clean lines, P1800-style concave grille and Thor’s Hammer headlights. But the tail treatment for mine is more resolved than the sedan, and the low, wide proportions, offset by the small front overhang, lend themselves to the estate body.
The cabin sports Volvo’s familiar 12.3-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen with generally intuitive sub-menus, and the TFT instruments that can mirror functions such as the satellite navigation in the instrument binnacle.
The chunky steering wheel, leather-lined door trims, sumptuous seats (with an optional massaging function so good you want to leave it a tip), deep-pile carpets and classical walnut trims are a point of difference. The black leather wins, though.
A big criticism of the S90 is the fact that in Australia, DAB+ digital radio, a 360-degree camera, head-up display and Apple CarPlay are all options as part of the $3000 Technology Pack. Ditto the higher-end Bowers and Wilkins sound system. Hmm.
The back seats are a real V90 highlight, with larger windows and greater ambience than the S90. The wagon is actually only 14mm shorter than a XC90, but has no need to fit the third row of seats.
There’s room for my two-metre frame to stretch out, and the seats are nicely trimmed and relatively supportive, though lacking adjustment. There’s also good headroom due to the low-placement of the seats, even with a sunroof fitted, belying the chopped design.
The boot expands on the sedan, growing from 500 litres in the S90 to 560L with the rear seats in use. If you fold the back row flat, via little buttons located in the cargo area proper, you get 1526L. So it’s smaller than our long-term Skoda Superb, but still commodious, thanks to a two-metre loading floor length and 1.1m available between the arches.
The boot area is full of nice little design touches, such as the hidden storage space in the floor and covered by a carpeted lid with a hydraulic shock, lots of hooks, a 12V point and (for Australia) a space-saving temporary spare wheel. You can also buy all manner of rails and cargo dividers to complement the standard sliding cargo blind.
Tellingly, the finish in the back of the V90 felt superior to the somewhat naff carpeting in the S90. It feels worth whatever premium Volvo commands. Which it almost certainly will, in some small form.
We drove two engines this week, the flagship AWD T6 petrol in the sedan and flagship AWD D5 diesel in the V90 wagon. Given the scarce weight difference, we’ll report on both powertrains here.
As we know, Volvo’s Drive-E powertrain family will have no more than four cylinders and no greater displacements than 2.0-litres, with lots of forced induction. Times are changing, but can Volvo convince Australians that they don’t need a six-cylinder or V8?
The D5’s twin-turbo diesel engine makes 173kW/480Nm (the latter from just 1750rpm). It’s a little clattery from inside and out, but in typical fashion offers effortless torque delivery. At this price level, it’s sufficient but not spectacular.
Incidentally, the D5 has a new Volvo proprietary system called PowerPulse, in which a compressor pushes extra pressure into the exhaust side of the turbo fan to spin up the turbocharger more quickly, minimising lag. It works, feeling a little more responsive off the line than the admittedly heavier D5 XC90 derivative (which will get PowerPulse soon).
Meanwhile, the T6 is powered by a turbocharged and supercharged engine, with the latter operating at lower engine speeds. Outputs of 235kW at 5700rpm and 400Nm between 2200 and 5400rpm are good, as is the 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.1 seconds.
The engine has sufficient punch to hustle the almost two-tonne sedan along effortlessly enough, and acceleration is more than brisk. It also has a slightly raspy hot-hatch-like exhaust note, though it lacks the guttural presence of a six or eight.
Incidentally, entry-grade front-wheel drive T5 Momentum and D4 Momentum models get, respectively, 187kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol and 140kW/400Nm twin-turbocharged diesel engines.
The eight-speed automatic linked to all versions is generally unflappable, though in its sports mode when fitted to the T6 holds onto gears for a little too long, even for an aggressive setup. That’s the downside of not fitting paddle-shifters.
Unfortunately, Volvo Cars Australia is unlikely to import the V90 T8, a 304kW/640Nm petrol-electric PHEV with about 50km of pure EV range, though it will offer this unit in the S90, priced around $120k.
Dynamically, Volvo wants the V90 to embody “relaxed confidence”. Translation: comfort over BMW-style dynamism.
It fits the bill with its direct though feel-free steering and decent handling that has a little body roll — the trade-off for soft suspension wth optional rear-only air ‘springs’ as driven — but no evident pitch.
The front suspension comprises double wishbones, but the rear suspension has a Corvette-style (or Volvo 960-style) integral axle with a carbon-fibre transverse leaf spring, hydraulic shocks and stabiliser bar, that assists packaging. Despite the naff name, road contact and compliance is good.
Basically, just the like the S90, point the V90 at a sequence of corners, and you’ll find it composed, competent and comfortable. Which feels about right. Our test roads would not have called upon the (Haldex-style) AWD system to send any torque rearwards, but on low-traction surfaces it can direct up to 50 per cent to the rear axle.
Road noise and general NVH (bar the slight diesel clatter) levels are generally low, particularly with the optional double window glazing fitted to our V90 tester. 130km/h-plus speeds were dispatched in quietude. There was also little roar from the Pirelli tyres on 19-inch wheels.
Being a Volvo, there’s a lot of standard safety equipment, led by autonomous low-speed braking that also recognises pedestrians, cyclists and now large animals (not kangaroos yet), blind-spot monitoring, park assist and the company’s Pilot Assist program.
This latter system combines the excellent and proactive latest-gen adaptive cruise control that can re-start the car moving in traffic, with steering and lane assist systems, at up to 130km/h, giving you partial vehicle autonomy a bit like a Tesla. It works, though requires you to rest a hand on the wheel, which is more tiring than just driving.
You suspect Volvo is making this technology at the moment more for image than application, given most markets mandate that it be a supplementary system only. We’d also note that the new E-Class is loaded with very advanced partial vehicle autonomy too.
All told, then, it’s clear that Volvo is onto a winner with the V90. But there’s a problem. The price.
We know that the S90 will kick off at $80K plus on-road costs, climbing to just shy of $100K for the T6 AWD. The V90 wagon will add a few thousand dollars to this, you’d suspect, though in our estimations it feels worth it.
Nevertheless, this will put it close to the bigger and more practical XC90, and right in the thick of it against the Germans with their superior badge cache. And in the luxury market, perception is not always interchangeable with reality.
That said, the V90 has a certain something that the S90 lacks. The latter is good, the former is borderline great. The idea of a Volvo estate just works, especially when it’s as slick as this.
Of course, until we drive one on regular (non-air) suspension on Australian roads, and know the full pricing and specifications, this is all just first-impression stuff. But the V90 has sure nailed its audition.