Volvo V90 Review
Volvo doesn’t like to follow the herd. It isn’t wilfully obtuse, like Citroen – it won’t look at what the others are doing and then do the exact opposite – but it likes to forge its own, very Scandinavian path. And that’s great, because the Scandinavians are generally much more sensible and logical than, say, the British or the Italians. But they still have a great sense of style.
And it’s that style that brought Volvo out of the mire. With the arrival of the current-generation Volvo XC90 in 2015, the Swedish firm changed its image at a stroke. No longer derided as the brand of choice for your geography teacher’s middle-aged, beardy husband, Volvo became cool. Even the estates.
The V90 is the range-topping estate car, and it was among the pioneers of Volvo’s newfound trendiness. An unquestionably pretty car, it backs that clean image up with a gorgeous interior, plenty of space and a soft, comfy ride. It isn’t much like the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6 with which it competes, but then why play the Germans at their own game. Why not try to be different? Why not try to be better?
Select's rating score* - 4.4 / 5
At a Glance
The V90 may be a big estate, but it doesn’t feel like a quintessential Volvo. At least not by the traditionalist’s book. This is a unique, unapologetic take on what the modern Volvo believes the executive estate car should be. It’s clean, both in the way it looks and the stuff that comes out of the back end, and it’s luxurious, spacious and comfortable.
It doesn’t try to compete with established German marques, instead offering customers something a little more homely and soft around the edges. It ticks all the down-to-earth boxes, including efficiency, equipment and boot space, but for those who ‘get’ the new Volvo shtick, it’s also charming in a quiet, well-mannered sort of way.
So the V90 may not be what you expect from a Volvo – or even from an executive estate car – but it has set the tone for the brand’s fresh identity. And it’s an identity with which we’re completely on board. Especially if the cars are all as good as this.
The V90 is more about its overall sense of calm than any one feature, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. The standard digital instrument cluster is a triumph, offering you all the information you need and nothing you don’t. It’s clear, logical and uncluttered, and that’s just the way it should be.
The touchscreen infotainment system is similarly well executed, albeit occasionally distracting when you’re on the move. Aside from that niggle – for which most touchscreens could legitimately be criticised – and the fact it takes on too many responsibilities, the system is brilliant, with intuitive controls and clear displays. It’s one of the best in the business.
But perhaps the most brilliant inclusion is the most simple. The parking ticket holder is a little see-through clip protruding from the A-pillar, allowing you to wedge a parking ticket in place. There’s no need to stick it to the window or faff about making sure it’s somewhere visible. Just clip it in and away you go. It sounds so mundane – and it is – but it’s one of those additions that makes life with the V90 a pleasure.
Performance & Drive
Volvo has given the V90 a relatively limited engine range, and although this is a car that makes no attempt at sportiness, none of its powertrains are short of, um, power…
Each and every engine is a 2.0-litre unit paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which makes it a little harder to differentiate between them. But Volvo has really made things difficult by giving them confusing names. Be careful to make sure you’re ordering the right thing.
Things kick off with the basic B4 petrol, which is a 2.0-litre engine with 197hp and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. That power goes to the front wheels, allowing the car to accelerate from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. It’s also a mild hybrid, meaning it can harvest energy when braking and redeploy it to help the engine out while accelerating. That doesn’t mean much for performance, but it does make the car a tad more efficient.
Just to make things really awkward, Volvo is also offering another B4 engine, which uses mild-hybrid assistance and offers 197hp. The only difference is it’s a diesel, and that makes it more efficient and slightly better on emissions, but it’s marginally slower. Getting from 0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds. Although that engine drives the front wheels as standard, you can have four-wheel drive if you so wish.
Then there’s the B6 petrol engine. Like the others, it’s a 2.0-litre engine with an eight-speed auto ‘box and mild-hybrid tech, but it comes with 300hp and four-wheel drive as standard. That means it’ll get from 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds.
But if you’d rather, you can have the Recharge T6 plug-in hybrid powertrain, which combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with electric power to give you 340hp and all-wheel drive. That will take the car from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, but if you drive more carefully, it’ll manage up to 35 miles on electric power alone. Then you can simply recharge the battery as you would with an electric car or carry on using the petrol engine.
To our minds, the B4 diesel engine is the one to go for. The long-range economy is well suited to the car’s comfy, relaxing character, turning it into a brilliant motorway cruiser. Whether you’re working or taking the family on holiday, it’ll waft you down the M6 in peace and in style.
That said, it isn’t going to raise your heart rate on a fast B-road. Its cornering abilities fall into the ‘fine’ category, rather than ‘impressive’, but the steering is too light and the suspension too soft to encourage any sort of sportiness. It’s far better to stick the cruise control on and watch the world pass by.
Running Costs & Emissions
Choosing your engine will come down to a simple decision between diesel and plug-in hybrid. If you’re driving long distance, it’s diesel all the way, while shorter trips interspersed with occasional longer drives will make the plug-in hybrid a better choice. Opt for the B4 mild-hybrid diesel and you’ll get around 50mpg on a long run, whereas the B4 petrol version will struggle to top 40mpg and the B6 petrol will only do about 34mpg.
If most of your journeys are short hops around town or into the office, going for the Recharge T6 will give you the chance to use electric power most of the time. If you can recharge regularly, you could find yourself using very little petrol, keeping your running costs down. However, you might need to do a little mathematics to work out whether it’ll be the car for you.
If you’re a company car driver, however, it’s plug-in hybrid all the way.
The T6 powertrain emits just 47g of carbon dioxide per kilometre on the official economy test, and while you might struggle to match its official 35-mile electric range or the 134.5mpg claimed economy, it slots into the 12% company car tax bracket for the 2021/22 financial year.
Interior & Technology
If you thought Volvo had done a good job of the V90’s exterior, wait until you see the cabin. A vision of Scandinavian wood and leather, almost completely devoid of pesky, fiddly buttons, it’s a stylistic triumph. Okay, like an Ikea bookcase it isn’t quite as solid as you were hoping, but it’ll stand the test of time right enough. And although the Ikea comparison is an easy gag, the build quality is still up there with the likes of Jaguar and Lexus. It just isn’t quite as good as an Audi.
It isn’t quite as easy to use, either. Yes, the digital instrument cluster is brilliantly clear and its laid out really sensibly, but the lack of buttons on the dashboard is annoying. Even the climate control knobs have been hidden away inside the touchscreen, and that kind of approach is always going to make simple tasks more complicated.
The touchscreen itself is very good, with clear and intuitive controls; it just has too much to do. And looking down at that massive portrait screen to change the radio station isn’t quite in keeping with the brand’s obsessive attitude to safety. That said, you do get plenty of goodies crammed in there. It’s powered by Google, so you get similar functionality to an Android phone, complete with Google Maps and other apps, such as Spotify. You also get the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration technology.
Practicality & Boot Space
Volvo estates are renowned for their space and utility, and the pressure is on the V90 to deliver. Fortunately, it does exactly that, but it isn’t the practicality king you might expect. The 560-litre boot is about the same size as that of a BMW 5 Series Touring, but you will get more space from a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. That said, the Volvo’s boot is a slightly more useful shape, and the rear seats fold more or less flat. There’s no load lip to speak of, either, so it’s easy to load heavier items.
More impressive is the rear-seat space, which is cavernous. Even tall adults will feel spoilt back there, with buckets of legroom and plenty of headroom to play with. It’s certainly a match for the Germans, and in some cases it’s even better. If you want a car to transport a family of four on long distances, you really can’t go wrong with the V90.
The V90 is a Volvo, so it’s as safe and as solid as a Swedish ski chalet. Predictably, it received five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP, achieving improbably high scores for adult occupant protection and safety assistance technology. No wonder, when Volvo had laid out a target to prevent anyone dying in its cars by 2020. The Swedish brand didn’t quite make it, but it’s still chasing the dream.
To that end, the V90 is stuffed with gadgets designed to prevent accidents happening at all, as well as those to protect the occupants when the worst does happen. All new V90s come with autonomous emergency braking that will stop the car if it detects an impending collision, and lane-keeping technology to help ensure the car doesn’t wander out of its lane. The car will even help you avoid head-on collisions and tell you what the road signs are saying.
V90 customers get a choice of four core trim levels, each of which offers a slightly different feel and differing levels of standard equipment. Things start with the Momentum, which comes with pretty much everything you need.
As standard, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, ‘keyless’ entry and push-button ignition, as well as leather upholstery, a power-operated tailgate and automatic windscreen wipers. Although this is technically the entry-level car, it also comes with a reversing camera, parking sensors at the front and rear and a digital instrument cluster.
Heated front seats are also included in the price, as is wireless phone charging and the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration technology. Both are housed in the car’s portrait-orientated touchscreen, which is powered by Google and gives you access to Google Maps, Spotify and other apps.
Stepping up the range takes you to the luxurious Inscription trim, which provides larger 19-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated nappa leather seats and powered front seats. You also get memory functions for the front seats, allowing you to save seat positions for those who drive the car regularly.
Or you can go for the motorsport-inspired R-Design trim, which is marked out by its glossy black exterior trim and 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, the car is adorned with dark roof lining, nubuck seats and ‘Metal Mesh’ aluminium decor, replacing the Inscription’s ash wood. It misses out on some of the Inscription’s more luxurious touches, but it still comes with heated front seats and power adjustment for the driver’s seat.
Finally, the Cross Country version crowns the range, offering rugged, off-road capability to the suave V90 experience. Externally, tough-looking plastic mouldings mark the car out, as does the raised ride height. All Cross Country models come with four-wheel drive, too, giving them the ability to back up the looks. Standard equipment is broadly similar to that of the R-Design.
When it comes to personalisation, the Volvo colour palette is a little on the dull side. You can have various shades of grey, black and white, but after that it's mostly a range of greyish blues and some browns. Classy, but not exactly inspiring.
If you want some more equipment, we’d recommend the Climate package, which gives you a heated windscreen (you’ll thank us in the depths of winter) and a heated steering wheel. Lowlier models might also benefit from the Seat pack, which gives you power adjustment and memory settings for the front seats.
When a car of this size, price and prestige is reviewed, comparisons will always be drawn with the German executive trio. The Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class are the obvious choices in this section of the market, and with good reason. In their own ways, they’re all absolutely brilliant.
The A6 is the techy engineer’s choice, with a fabulously well built interior, chiselled, sharp styling and bags of on-board equipment. The 5 Series is the one for the drivers, with unbelievable poise for such a big estate car. And the E-Class is the comfy one, with business jet ride quality and the interior design to match.
Of the three, the Volvo is probably most aligned with the Mercedes. It too floats down the road, and it comes with a Scandi designer’s dream instead of a dashboard. But with less focus on technology and more of a calming, relaxing vibe, it feels less austere than its German competitor.
But the Germans are not the only car makers playing in this sector of the market. British brand Jaguar has the sporty XF Sportbrake, which almost matches the BMW for handling prowess, but falls short in terms of cabin quality. Like the Volvo, it’s an alternative, rather than a go-to choice, but it feels less convincing and less well differentiated than the V90.
Verdict & Next Steps
If you’re bored of the German executive estate cars, the Volvo is here for you. It isn’t trying to compete with them, but it’s offering a viable alternative for customers who just don’t quite ‘get’ the appeal of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes.
So although it doesn’t handle as well as a 5 Series or have quite such sublime interior quality as an A6, it doesn’t have to. Instead, it has to be comfy, calming and spacious. And it hits those nails squarely on the head.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Volvo V90
**Correct as of 12/10/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2786.29 - Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.