June Neary and family check out Volvo's spacious V90 estate
Will It Suit Me?
As a family, we've always thought an estate car would suit us. And in this day and age of fast motorways, town congestion and sheer volume of traffic, we're tempted to invest more money in a family car than we've done in the past for the extra peace of mind that superior build quality brings. The latest generation Volvo V90 estate that I was driving recently appealed to me far more than I expected it to. After all, it looks like a Volvo, solid and dependable - but not quite as dull as the V70 model it replaced.
Volvos are nothing if not practical. Five passengers will travel in complete comfort and the boot space will swallow up a fair bit of kit, too. The driving position is well thought out, with all the buttons and switches close to hand and easy to identify. My first impressions were that the rear end of this V90 looked a little more sleeker than before but it was clear that Volvo hasn't been diverted from this car's raison d'etre - lugging gear. There's a class-competitive 560-litres of virgin space back there and a massive space can be liberated if you fold the rear seats down and stack your cargo to the roofline. The total cargo capacity is though, 110-litres shy of what you'd get in a Mercedes E-Class Estate. Still, forget the numbers and just enjoy the usability: the cargo divider that raises out of the boot floor; and the way that you can raise that floor on little struts so that muddy items can foul a part of the cargo area which can afterwards be shut away out of sight if you can't be bothered to clean it. You get a proper spare wheel beneath the boot floor (Mercedes take note); there's a ski hatch for long narrow items; an optional retractable tow bar can spring out at the press of a button; and there are more buttons to help you retract the rear seat head restraints and seat backs. Activate them and a completely flat cargo area is revealed. Ok, so at 1,526-litres in size, it's the smallest area on offer in this class, but we don't think many potential owners will mind too much. Those who do will be directed towards Volvo's XC90 SUV, which offers up to 1,868-litres. On to safety, which as you'd expect is a Volvo strongpoint, a subtle reminder of the fact found with the 'Since 1959' references on the seatbelt buckles, this being the year that the brand invented the three-point seatbelt we all now use. Today, the company's continues its safety ambitions with the most daring and far-reaching safety objective in the industry: that by 2020, no one should ever be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo. Ramping up to that means the need for a whole new level of safety in the company's future models, a process that starts in this V90 with two segment-unique 'Intellisafe' features that are standard across the range. 'Run off road protection' detects that you've lost control and left the road, pre-tensioning the seatbelts and priming the standard seven airbags (twin front, side and curtain 'bags, plus a driver's knee 'bag). What's unique about this set-up though is that if the car's launched into the air and thumps down - as often happens in such a situation - a little mini shock absorber in the front seat frame protects your body from the damage that might otherwise be inflicted upon your lower spine, while Volvo's usual 'WHIPS' protection guards against whiplash on your neck.
Behind the Wheel
For a larger car than I'm used to, the V90 handled beautifully. The power steering felt to me a bit lighter than I might have expected in a heavy estate like this, but it's responsive and relaxing. Volvo limits its mainstream V90 models to a twin turbo 2.0-litre four cylinder diesel engine that must be mated to an 8-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox. The base D4 variant most will want puts out 190bhp through its front wheels, 4WD with this engine only available if you choose the mildly SUV-like 'Cross Country' model, a variant that features a 65mm ride height increase. The alternative mainstream engine is the one I tried, a 'PowerPulse' D5 powerplant that boosts the 2.0-litre Drive-E diesel's output to 235bhp and only comes mated to AWD. On the move, you aren't served up anything that encourages much driving involvement -blame the rather vague steering for that - but in compensation, there's unruffled poise and exemplary refinement. You get supple standards of ride comfort from the soft suspension too and there's the option of rear air suspension if you want it. A standard 'Drive Mode Settings' driving dynamics system allows you to tailor throttle response, steering feel and auto gearshift timings to suit the way you want to drive. And if you do push on a bit, grip and traction are actually quite impressive and cornering bodyroll decently well controlled.
Value For Money
Expect to pay somewhere in the £35,000 to £45,000 bracket for conventionally-engined diesel V90 models. Which means that for this estate derivative, Volvo is requiring a premium of around £2,000 over its mechanically identical S90 saloon. The brand isn't selling the mainstream petrol V90 variants here that it offers in other markets, but we do get the top T8 Twin Engine Plug-in petrol/electric hybrid derivative - though for that, you'll need a likely budget in the £50,000 to £55,000 bracket. Both the mainstream engine options are acceptably frugal, the D4 managing 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 119g/km of CO2. If you want to do better than that, you'll need to stretch to the top T8 Twin Engine Plug-in hybrid flagship model that mates a 320bhp turbocharged/supercharged petrol unit together with an 87bhp electric motor powered by a battery pack neatly packaged away in the transmission tunnel. When fully charged, this variant can offer up to 28 miles of all-electric driving range.
Could I Live With One?
The V90 is an impressive executive contender that's also an admirable family car. If, like me, you're into 'need not speed', then this estate should suit you beautifully, meeting day to day needs while still offering a reasonable level of driving enjoyment. I could certainly live with this Volvo.