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Driven: Volvo V90 D5 AWD. Image by Volvo.

Driven: Volvo V90 D5 AWD
Volvo’s SPA/Drive-E revolution gathers pace with the mesmerising V90 wagon.


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Volvo XC90 T6

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: As luxurious estate cars go, V90 does everything you could want of it

Not so good: Is a £51k four-cylinder diesel Volvo wagon a step too far?

Key Facts

Model tested: Volvo V90 D5 Power Pulse AWD Momentum
Price: V90 range from £34,350; D5 Power Pulse AWD Momentum from £41,055, car as tested £50,650
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 129g/km (£470 first 12 months, £450 per annum next four years, then £140 per annum annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 57.6mpg
Top speed: 145mph
0-62mph: 7.2 seconds
Power: 235hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 480Nm at 1,750- to 2,250rpm

Our view:

Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) and Drive-E: the twin pillars upon which Volvo is basing its new range of cars, designed to finally eclipse those pesky German motors, as well as Jaguar and Lexus. The premium battlefield has never been more congested than it is now and, as a result, manufacturers need really outstanding products in order to, stand out.

Volvo's decision to go with nothing bigger than 2.0-litre engines with a maximum of four cylinders - that's the Drive-E part of the deal - seems like a risky strategy, but it's worked pretty well in the awesome XC90 SUV so far. Which makes the pairing of the S90 saloon and this V90 estate the second family of models to be built on SPA, Volvo's other key tenet, which basically means one chassis for all. The company can shorten or lengthen SPA to suit the vehicle it intends to build, and it says by 2019 all of its cars - from the V40 upwards - will sit on SPA underpinnings.

What we have here with the V90 is a long (it's 4,936mm from end to end) Volvo estate in the finest tradition, although take one look at its stylish, sloping rear end and you'll realise it's no wardrobe-lugger like an old 960. Indeed, the Mercedes E-Class Estate has the best load capacity in the segment and the V90 is even five litres down on the outgoing Audi A6 with all seats in place. It does compensate by having electrically folding rear-seat backrests and headrests as standard across the range, so you can access its 1,526 litres of maximum carrying capability with the seats down, and the boot is a fantastic shape and easily accessible, too.

Talking of the range, it seems quite narrow. There's just the 2.0-litre Drive-E turbodiesel, which comes with either 190hp and front-wheel drive in the D4, or 235hp and all-wheel drive in the D5 we've driven here; all V90s, by the way, are eight-speed automatics. You can get the D4 with AWD in the range-topping Cross Country soft-roader, which also comes with the D5 unit as well, but for the regular estate V90s there are three trims - Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. It's £2,500 to go from Momentum to R-Design, and Inscription is £3,000 more than the entry-level grade, although it is considered to sit alongside R-Design in a 'wine glass' range structure; the R-Design is the sporty version, the Inscription the luxury motor.

Having said that, Momentum cars come with plenty of kit as standard: Sensus Connect and Navigation, controlled by and displayed on a nine-inch centre console portrait touchscreen; voice control; the City Safety pack, including pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, and front collision warning with fully automatic emergency braking; Pilot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control; Volvo's run-off road protection; LED headlights with active high beam and the 'Thor hammer' DRLs; split-zone climate control; a powered tailgate; an eight-inch active TFT crystal driver's information display; leather-faced upholstery; heated front seats; and 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded to 18s on the D5 Power Pulse models.

That's a decent specification for base models, although you can add a few toys and still keep the price reasonable. The Winter Plus Pack is worth having, which equips the brilliantly named Active Bending Headlights with Adaptive Shadow Technology (a hand-puppet show, perhaps?), plus front LED foglights with a cornering function, a heated steering wheel and washer nozzles, and a headlight cleaning system, all for £1,100. Further items like Apple CarPlay (£300), Volvo On Call (£450), a retractable towbar (£995, useful as the V90 AWD can haul up to 2.2 tonnes), blind spot information with selected other driving aids (£600), a powered memory driver's seat (£600) and a powered passenger seat (£400), and metallic paint (Bright Silver, £700) all up the quality levels - while full Nappa soft leather seats (£1,050) and a £400 upgrade of the TFT instrument cluster to the 12.3-inch version are both well worth having. Net cost for this wagon: £50,650.

So, right now you're probably thinking, 'a fifty grand-plus non-German estate with a four-cylinder diesel engine - and that's reasonable money?!' It's a fair argument, but we'd stand by our assertion, purely because the V90, like the XC90 before it, feels like a quantum leap over the V70 in terms of all-round brilliance and desirability. In fact, even with such heavyweights as the new E-Class Estate on the scene, the V90 is our favourite wagon of all.

For a start, it looks wonderful. The smoothed-off, sleek exterior design these new Volvos are wearing is superb and the V90 carries it better than its S90 sibling, mainly because the saloon has the more challenging rear styling. The V90, however, is just downright seductive to look at - especially those big, 'jagged L' rear lights - and while Volvo has scrimped on the boot space, it sure hasn't when it comes to interior room. It's gigantic in the cabin, with acres of distance between the rear seat squab and the front-seat backrests, while the V90 has typically plush Volvo seats that make long-distance drives a doddle. We adore the new Volvo dash design, too, which works as delightfully here as it does in the XC90. It all feels of the utmost quality, looks splendid and is as comfortable as can be.

Luckily, the driving experience matches up to the promise of the aesthetics and ergonomics. The V90 is not a sporty estate, in the manner BMW might claim of its 5 Series Touring or Jaguar of its XF Sportbrake, but even so, you'll be surprised how composed its handling is. The AWD system gives it lovely neutrality in the corners and masses of grip, although the chassis feels more nose- than tail-led. Someone at Volvo HQ has had a fiddle with the steering set-up, too, because the V90 has a much more talkative rack than the XC90. It's beautifully weighted and fantastically consistent in its responses, even in its more sedate settings, which allows you to press on in the big estate no matter if the roads are winding.

The V90 boasts great body control, too, and that's a major point to flag up, as this is the first time we've driven a non-air-sprung SPA Volvo yet. We've heard it said that the XC90 struggles if it's not on the £2,150 air suspension; maybe it's the case that the weightier SUV's body is harder to rein in when it's sitting on conventional springs and dampers. But this passively suspended, 1,783kg V90 had no such issues. It cornered flat and true, yet managed to soak up all the lumps and bumps of our cratered highways on its standard-fit 18-inch wheels in effortless fashion. As a one-size-fits-all fixed-rate suspension solution, the Volvo's set-up has to be one of the very finest examples you can find.

So, with magnificent ride comfort, those relaxing front chairs and that marvellous drivetrain - you really don't need more than 235hp or the giant 480Nm of the D5 for day-to-day duties - the Volvo absolutely aces the drudgery of mega-miles driving; and that's going to be the key attribute for buyers of executive estates like this. You could go a thousand miles in this thing in one hit and still clamber out at the far end of the trek feeling fresh. The V90 completely blankets all the major external noise contributors long before they get into the cabin and, with Pilot Assist and adaptive cruise, it's practically self-driving and therefore stress-free on fast dual carriageways and motorways.

Case in point: we landed at Farnborough airport late in the day and were faced with a 160-mile drive home, only to be informed that the M25 was playing merry hell as usual. In any other car, we'd have gritted our teeth and ploughed into the mayhem, given it was the direct route home and the night was already well set in. But, by this point, we'd already done hundreds of serene miles in the Volvo V90, so felt we had no problem heading in entirely the wrong direction to pick up an alternative 200-mile route. To avoid traffic, it's an extreme detour, but the Volvo's demeanour positively encouraged us to take it on.

And it was on this snaking alternative route that the realisation hit - the Volvo V90 is, like its XC90 stablemate, a clear five-star car. It does absolutely nothing wrong and everything very right. It's handsome, has a wondrous interior that's peerless in class, it can carry five adults and a massive amount of stuff in the back and it drives with a refinement and elegance that's easily as good as the E-Class - which really is some accolade. It handles sharply and goes quickly, thanks to its powerful twin-turbo diesel engine. yet it gave us back 38mpg overall at a fairly pacey 40mph average. For this sort of power and prestige, that's a wholly acceptable level of real-world economy. We genuinely can't think of anything we dislike about the V90.

It took 18 hours and 690 miles with the V90 for the Volvo to confirm what we expected it might be capable of - taking class honours. You simply won't find a better large estate car than the V90 D5 AWD, and it's proof that the SPA/Drive-E Swedish revolution is just hitting its stride. We can't wait to try out the rest of Volvo's cars once they're given this exceptional treatment, because we would finally be looking at a marque that is going to break the all-encompassing German stranglehold on this sector. If you're after this sort of load-lugger, buy a V90. Right now.


Audi A6 3.0 TDI 245: Mid-power V6 TDI is the direct competitor to the V90 D5 and that 3.0-litre Audi engine is a peach. A6 MkIV is about to be replaced though, so wait for its successor in 2018.

BMW 530d Touring: The latest generation 5 Series Touring builds on the saloon's fine dynamics, superb TwinPower Turbo engines and 7 Series levels of technology.

Mercedes E 220 d Estate: More of a rival for the D4 V90, rather than the D5 AWD, but the new 2.0-litre diesel and magnificent, tech-laden interior make this a fine alternative to the Volvo.

Matt Robinson - 29 Dec 2016    - Volvo road tests
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- V90 images

2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.

2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.2016 Volvo V90 Momentum drive. Image by Volvo.


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