Volvo now has a new flagship station wagon to challenge upmarket German estates.
CROSSOVERS and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are the fastest- growing car segment in the world. Station wagons have been around longer, though, and can be considered as the precursors to crossovers. But wagons have fallen out of favour with the crossover-crazy market.
Even Volvo, a wagon pioneer with over six decades of family estate heritage, has had to adapt. The company now offers a range of modern SUVs (XC60 and XC90) and high-riding Cross Country crossovers.
In my opinon, there’s still much to like about estate cars. They drive like saloons, with better handling and lower fuel consumption than equivalent SUVs. Estates’ luggage capacity is also similar to that of SUVs. But wagons generally look less purposeful than their sports- utility counterparts.
Volvo, the king of family wagons with over six million units sold, may have just the comeback with its new V90, which was launched simultaneously with the S90.
Both cars, like last year’s XC90 SUV, are part of the automaker’s 90 series based on the SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform, which includes shared underpinnings and drivetrains.
The V90’s design language and premium feel are like the S90’s, enabling it to compete head-on with the German luxury leaders – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The V90 is arguably better- looking than the S90 and XC90. Gone is the boxy styling of old Volvo wagons. In its place is a sexy estate exterior, especially with a bodykit and the Osmium Grey paintwork.
The V90 is identical to its S90 saloon sibling up till the mid-section, where the sleek lines start to extend all the way to the rear. Volvo’s signature slim tail-lamps run down the D-pillars, zig-zagging towards the number plate plinth to frame an unusually shapely tailgate.
The V90 is a largish estate that’s 122mm longer and 18mm wider than the V70 it replaces. Interestingly, for all its 4936mm length, the V90 is actually a pinch shorter (27mm) than the S90. I’m told it’s all down to the revised rear bumper.
Despite the “Grande” dimensions, the V90’s cargo capacity is mediocre for an estate – 560 litres expandable to 1526 litres. This is marginally less than in the smaller V70 even.
On closer scrutiny, you’ll notice it’s a compromise for the sake of styling, so as to provide a sporty roofline and rakish tailgate.
Taller items such as nursery planters won’t fit inside the boot, but the V90 can still swallow most of the flat-pack furniture and outdoor sports gear you need to transport.
The V70’s nifty rear-facing kiddy seats are no more. Volvo told me this deletion was necessary to meet higher rear impact standards. Currently, the Mercedes E-Class is the only large estate to offer a third-row seating option for kids.
Up at the front of the cabin, it’s a class-act clone of the
S90, with the same minimalist Scandinavian flair. The dashboard is uncluttered, high- tech and swathed in premium- grade materials throughout. It matches the best German interiors with its wow factor.
As in the S90, taking centre stage on the dash of the V90 is an iPad-like 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which doubles as the command centre for most of the car’s functions.
Complementing this is a 12.3- inch digital display for essential driving info. Features that can be specified to enhance the driving experience include a head-up display, 360-degree-view cameras, rear collision warning, blind spot monitoring and Park Assist Pilot.
The V90’s front seats are even more comfortable if equipped with the optional ventilation and massage functions.
Rear passengers get plenty of legroom, courtesy of a generous 2941mm wheelbase. To keep them cool in the summer heat, there are additional air vents in the B-pillars to supplement the individual central air vents. The roomy cabin is made airier by the optional panoramic sunroof.
In a sense, the V90 is a veritable lounge on wheels. Just sit back in the orthopedically supportive seats and relax to the audiophile-delighting sounds of the optional Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) audio system.
It’s a modern Volvo, so there is a lot of safety kit, which includes City Safety, pedestrian detection and Run-off Road Mitigation.
The V90 also offers Pilot Assist version II, an autonomous combination of adaptive cruise control and auto lane keeping. It can be operated at speeds of up to 130km/h and is most useful on stretches of highway. Volvo is quick to stress that the V90 isn’t a self-driving vehicle – the driver still needs to keep his hands on the steering wheel.
In the handling department, the V90 drives much like the S90, even with the extra rear overhang. It’s a hefty car, weighing over 1.9 tonnes for our fully optioned T6 AWD (all- wheel-drive) Inscription test car.
Thankfully, there is an ample spread of torque (400Nm) from the 2-litre “double- boosted” (supercharged and turbocharged) engine to more than offset the heft.
It will even sprint to 100km/h in a GT-quick 6.1 seconds, just a bit (0.2 of a second) behind the S90 T6. Just don’t expect the V90 to be the nimblest thing when punting around sharp bends. It is, after all, a station wagon, and a big and heavy one at that.
However, the V90 does feel more balanced, and less jittery over mid-corner bumps, than the S90 on meandering mountain roads. Perhaps it’s the extra weight of the aft section (plus our on-board luggage) which keeps the rear suspension firmly planted, or maybe it’s the rear adaptive air suspension at work.
Along the Costa del Sol coastline, the V90 is as much in its element on fast sweeping highways as it is coasting along blemished village streets.
We even venture off-road onto unpaved olive-tree estates to explore further. Throughout our test route, the V90’s ride is always well-damped and comfortable, despite riding on ultra-low-profile 255/35 R20 tyres. This attests to the well- sorted suspension setup.
On our 200km test drive, the V90 returns a petrol consumption figure of 8.13km per litre. This is way off the official (optimistic) figure of 13.5km per litre, but considering the 2-litre motor’s high state of tune and the vehicle’s weight, it’s acceptable.
The fact that the V90 T6 doesn’t come with paddle- shifters indicates that this is not a ride for attacking twisty roads. Besides, the smooth 8-speed autobox isn’t the quickest-shifting.
Even setting the car to “Dynamic” (notice that it’s not termed “Sport”) does not sharpen the V90’s response much. The steering is nicely weighted and reassuring, though.
I believe it’s best to drive the V90 as Volvo intended – with “relaxed confidence” (to quote the PR spiel), and preferably in the “Comfort” mode, whereby the V90 rewards with swift progress, good composure and a level of refinement befitting a luxury wagon.
I’m not sure whether Volvo’s wagon icon reboot will be able to distract buyers away from their ongoing love affair with crossovers. But I’m sure the V90 is at the top of its game in the league of large luxury estates, along with the V90 Cross Country.
GONE IS THE BOXY STYLING OF OLD VOLVO WAGONS; IN ITS PLACE IS A SEXY ESTATE EXTERIOR.
Inline-4, 16-valves, supercharged & turbocharged
BORE X STROKE
82mm x 93.2mm
320bhp at 5700rpm
400Nm at 2200-5400rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT
166.3bhp per tonne
8-speed automatic with manual select
Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Integral axle, transverse leaf springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR
Pirelli P Zero
PRICE INCL. COE
To be announced
+ SLEEK SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN, SUPERB COMFORT, WAGON PRACTICALITY, HIGH-TECH SAFETY KIT
- THIRST FOR FUEL, LESS CARGO SPACE THAN EXPECTED, NOT AS VERSATILE AS THE SEVEN-SEAT XC90