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 Inscription trim, you get larger alloys, extra chrome trim and twin exhaust pipes.
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.
It’s perhaps a little surprising that the boot capacity is competitive, rather than class-leading
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 1526 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.
Ride and handling
If you just want to get from A to B with the minimum of fuss, not many cars do the job more effectively than the V90
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. True, we have only driven the car in Spain, where the roads are rather less challenging than your average British High Street, but there at least, the ride proved impressively comfortable; especially given that all the cars we drove had optional 20-inch wheels, rather than the standard 18-inchers. Mind you, the cars also had 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 alarm you, just plenty of grip and a sure-footed feel that gives you total confidence. That said, this is not a sporty, dynamic car in the way a BMW 5 Series is. 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?
Eventually, the V90 will come with three engines, but so far we’ve only driven the most powerful of the two diesels, the D5. And, to cut a long story short, it’s excellent: strong, refined and responsive. The latter is due to a neat piece of technology called PowerPulse, that uses compressed air to spin the turbocharger up to speed before the exhaust gases can do so, meaning the engine doesn’t suffer from the ‘turbo lag’ that so many engines of this type can do. Instead, 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.
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 129g/km and 57.6mpg are perhaps even more impressive. It’s too early yet to know how strong the car’s resale values will be, but if the V90 follows the example of the XC90, it should match its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals.
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, and we feel sure that more modern models like the V90 will perform much better.
When it comes to safety, this is a Volvo through and through, with class-leading safety features
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 class- (if not industry-) leading safety features. Naturally, every model comes with ISOFOIX 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. All that’s missing is a crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, but we would expect the V90 to be every bit as effective as the XC90, which scored the full five stars when it was tested.
There are two – 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. There are plenty of options on top of that, and many are bundled into packs, such as the Winter pack (including heated windscreen and heated steering wheel) and Xenium, which brings you a panoramic sunroof and the 360-degree around view parking aid.
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.