Volvo built its reputation building estate cars. Safe, solid and stolid estate cars that were, perhaps, just a little bit dull.
Now, you and I are intelligent, rational people and are above the whims and vagaries of fashion. We understand that functional design sometimes has to be brutal, practical and devoid of the sort of unnecessary fripperies that weigh down other, perhaps lesser, brands.
But, if Volvo could build an estate car that was as functional as ever but just a tiny bit prettier and just a little bit nicer to drive then it could better capture a slice of the middle class buyer for whom looks and dynamic ability are a given; after all, the new XC90 proves that Volvo can flourish a draughtsman’s pen with the best of them and engineer a chassis that is as safe as it is engaging.
Car review: Volvo V40
A great looking estate car
The new V90 (‘V’ for ‘versatile’) and S90 (‘S’ for ‘Saloon’) are both based on the snappily named Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, a remarkably flexible piece of engineering that forms the backbone of the new 90-series cars (including the XC90) and will also underpin the new 60-series when they come to market.
It’s a clever solution that brings economies of scale and frees up money that can be utilised in other areas. Like the styling department. Which was money well-spent because the V90 is an absolute cracker.
The question that dominated the lunchtime conversation on its launch was: is there a better-looking estate car on sale today? Probably not, we agreed.
A simple and elegant interior
And the interior is just as lovely as the exterior. It’s simple and elegant and a million miles away from the traditional wood ‘n’ leather that used to denote a luxury car, back before Audi and Volvo showed us that there was a better way.
Two engines to choose from
Two engines are currently available: the D4 turbo-diesel produces 190bhp and 295 lb/ft of torque, power enough to thrust the V90 from rest to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and return fuel economy figures (in theory, at least) of up to 62.8mpg; and the D5 turbo-diesel with 235bhp, 354 lb/ft, 7.2 seconds and 57.6mpg respectively.
I drove both and found that while the D4 was powerful enough, the D5 felt so wonderfully relaxed that I’d be prepared to forgo a couple of optional extras in order to be able to buy one over its lower-powered sibling.
The trouble is that those optional extras are an essential part of the V90’s appeal. The list price might start at £34,555 for the poverty spec D4 Momentum but by the time you’ve added a few choice extras you’re looking at a bill that starts with a 4…
Five optional extras that will add value when you come to sell your car
A few niggles
While I’m whinging I have to point out that the four cylinder diesel engines might deliver the goods in terms of power and economy but they don’t sound that great; anything below city speeds generates an unattractive diesel bass-note grumble that is far more intrusive that it needs to be.
The low-speed ride isn’t as supple as it could be, either. The Volvo crashed and lurched over sleeping policemen, forcing me to slow to half the speed I’d previously negotiated them in the Renault Megane I was driving that week. Apples and oranges maybe, but I wasn’t the only one to comment on it.
The ride is excellent at higher speeds however, balancing handling and ride very well indeed; while the ‘Dynamic’ setting might be a bit firm for some, few will find cause for complaint in ‘Comfort’ as long as you avoid the optional low-profile tyres and larger diameter wheels.
A very accomplished car
Overall, the Volvo V90 is a very accomplished car.
The precision and astonishing aplomb I’d enjoyed in the XC90 was present and correct in the new models too. The engines are torquey and strong and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is as good as seamless (no manual gearbox will be offered).
Volvo might explicitly state that it is “not going after the Germans” but it is being needlessly modest; the V90 handles as well as any of its competitors, Germanic or otherwise, and looks a whole lot better.
Possibly safer, too. The XC90 is an astonishingly safe vehicle that moves the Swedish company ever closer to its aim of not having a single fatality or serious injury in any of its cars by 2020 - and the V90 and S90 are unlikely to offer any less protection.
Technological highlights that are standard across the range include City Safety (including Large Animal Detection) with automatic braking to help prevent a collision, Pilot Assist (one step down from a fully autonomous car but not really worth the bother as it’s not terribly effective yet), run-off road mitigation that steers the car back into the road if it is in danger of going off because of an inattentive driver, Lane Keeping, automatic headlights and wipers, and some interesting passive safety systems that are designed to minimise driver and passenger injuries in the event of a collision.
There won’t be a petrol-engined V90 or S90 in the UK (my review of the V90 estate version apply equally to the S90 saloon, except that it isn’t half as lovely to look at but then saloons rarely are, are they?) but 2017 will see the introduction of a T8 petrol/electric hybrid version that promises the same scalded cat performance as that of the XC90 T8.
Volvo expects 70 per cent of its UK customers to buy the front-wheel-drive D4 with another 20 per cent going for the D5 with all-wheel-drive. The remaining 10 per cent are expected to splash out on the top-of-the-range T8 hybrid when it arrives.
The two trim levels that are offered at launch – Momentum and Inscription - will be joined by a lower, stiffer, sportier R-Design version later this year too, presumably to snare drivers who would otherwise buy a firm-riding German car…
Car review: Volvo XC90
Power – 190bhp
Torque – 295 lb ft
0-62mph – 8.5 seconds
Top speed – 140mph
Kerb weight – 1,696kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 62.8mpg
CO2 emissions – 119g/km
VED class – Band C
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,800kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £34,500
Price as tested - £40,200
The Volvo V90 is so breathtakingly beautiful inside and out and so accomplished on the road that it storms to the top of the class. If you liked the V70 - the car it replaces - then you are going to love the V90.
The best of the rest
The Audi A6’s accomplishments are as broad as they are long. Gets even pricier even more quickly than the Volvo though.
The Ford Mondeo estate is much cheaper, drives even better but isn’t half as beautiful.