Review: Volvo V90 estate is classy alternative to big-selling German tourers
Want a premium business estate, but don't want to be predictable and buy an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz? Darren Cassey finds out if the Volvo V90 is the answer.
What is it?
The V90 is Volvo's alternative to the likes of the BMW 5 Series Touring and Audi A6 Avant. It's a premium, business estate that tries to add a touch of character to a typically quite dull segment.
It achieves this by offering a classy-looking exterior backed up by a high-quality interior that's very Scandinavian in its minimalist appearance.
There's substance behind the styling though, with a range of economical engines and excellent safety technology.
This is the first V90 to wear Volvo's new family face, with the now-familiar Thor's Hammer headlights transforming the front end.
It also comes with Volvo's extensive suite of safety technologies known as Intellisafe. The City Safety Technology package is standard on all of Volvo's cars, but can now detect large animals in the road and helps with braking or swerving to avoid them.
What's under the bonnet?
There are various petrol and diesel engine options, each offering varying power outputs and economy statistics from a 2.0-litre engine. There's also a petrol plug-in hybrid version called the T8 Twin Engine.
Our test car was a front-wheel-drive model fitted with the D4 diesel engine. It has 188bhp with an official fuel economy of 62.8mpg on the combined cycle - though low 50s was more achievable in our time with the car.
What's it like to drive?
While the V90 as an overall package is a mighty appealing prospect, the driving experience is definitely the weak link. Over long distances it's a comfortable cruiser, but when driving around town it's largely let down by the gearbox and power delivery as it all comes in big surges making smooth progress difficult.
Meanwhile, the steering is too light and takes some getting used to - even after a week with the V90 we found it rather twitchy on the motorway.
On the plus side, though, is Pilot Assist, which is one of the better adaptive cruise control systems on the market. It's particularly useful in slow-moving traffic as you can take both feet off the pedals and keep up with the cars in front.
How does it look?
The V90 has a simple elegance to its design. Volvo is well-known for building boxy estate models throughout its history, but the latest version adds a more modern, stylish take to the practicality these Swedish load luggers have become known for.
Out front, those Thor's Hammer headlights give the V90 a distinctive face, while the chunky bumpers give it a hint of ruggedness that shows it isn't ready to shake its reputation for building cars for all occasions despite the brand's move upmarket.
What's it like inside?
If you buy a premium saloon or estate from the likes of BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz, you know what you're getting. Soft-touch plastics and dials to navigate offer a simple if rather unexciting taste of premium motoring.
The Volvo on the other hand feels just as expensive as its rivals, but adds a touch of Scandinavian style to the mix. Volvo interiors work best with lighter colours, while the elegant buttons and dials give a sense of well-thought-out ergonomics.
Boot space is somewhat impinged on by the sloping roofline, but it's not often you'll be cursing the lack of a few extra litres as there's nearly 2,000 available with the rear seats down.
What's the spec like?
Our car had the luxury-focused Inscription trim, which feels like the best fit for a V90. The seats are upholstered in soft Nappa leather and are great companions on long drives, while 18-inch alloy wheels on the outside fill the arches nicely.
Other Inscription features include adaptive cruise control, three-spoke leather steering wheel and LED headlights. The Inscription is available from £43,115 but our car came in at £46,690 thanks to extras including improved safety kit at £600, a winter pack for £525 and smartphone integration for £300.
The Volvo V90 is priced in line with the big German three, but that means that it really has to deliver as a viable estate in its own right and not just a quirky alternative to the established players in this segment.
Fortunately, it delivers for the most part. Where it really falls behind is the driving experience, which isn't quite as refined as its rivals. However, for those who want something a bit different, the Volvo is a classy, practical option.