Volvo V90 review - Engines, performance and drive
The V90 has excellent cruising refinement, but the chassis isn't quite the ultimate in this class in either ride or handling terms
Volvo has had the sense to focus the V90’s development on making it a capable long-distance cruiser instead of something you’d want to throw around a Welsh B-road, and it has, in the most part, succeeded.
On a motorway, you should be pretty impressed by the V90’s ability to eat up long distances; the diesel engine has enough punch to get you up to speed pretty quickly, and once you’re sitting at a fast cruise, the motor fades away nicely into the background.
The rest of the dynamic package is sensible and safe; the V90 stays stable and composed under braking, and while its steering is a little light, it is at least consistently weighted as you wind on lock. It’s not as satisfying to use as the set-up in the BMW 5 Series Touring, though.
If there’s a blot in the copybook, it’s ride quality. That’s not to say the V90 is particularly harsh or uncomfortable; it’s right up there with other big estates like the BMW 5 Series Touring and Audi A6 Avant. Choose the £1,500 Active Four-C Chassis, which features adaptive dampers all-round and air springs for the rear suspension, and it delivers a supple ride over bigger bumps, although sharp ridges and big potholes can catch it out and send a shudder through the cabin.
Car group tests
- Audi A6 Allroad vs Volvo V90 Cross Country
- Jaguar XF Sportbrake vs BMW 5 Series Touring vs Volvo V90
- BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90
Used car tests
The car is on the firmer side in R-Design trim, especially with its sportier chassis settings. It has plenty of grip and fairly fast steering, so it’s more agile than an E-Class, but it doesn’t feel quite as alert or adjustable as a BMW 5 Series, and neither does it have as much compliance in the damping.
The suspension controls body movement well but struggles a little more with mid-corner bumps when the car is loaded up. The drive modes have less of an effect on how the V90 steers and handles compared with its rivals, too. But it’s still lovely to cover long distances in, as the dampers serve up enough composure that only big jolts and expansion joints at higher speed affect comfort – and even then it’s controlled relatively well, just lacking that final degree of finesse compared with a BMW.
There is, incidentally, a conventional suspension set-up on the V90 - but we haven’t been able to find a Volvo test vehicle that’s not on the optional adaptive system, and we’d wager it’ll be the same when you ask for a demo model at your local dealership.
The V90 Cross Country features an additional 65mm of ride height, and as such trades a bit of body control for the ability to climb over rougher terrain. It's far from the sharpest tool in the shed when the going gets twisty, but it's better than most large SUVs and the soft ride is a fair compromise.
Regardless of which engine you choose, you’ll end up with an eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s no manual gearbox, for the time being at least, but you’re unlikely to miss it, because the auto has smooth and quick shifts. It does get caught out a little more frequently than BMW’s eight-speed unit, but not to the point where it’s an issue.
An arsenal of safety equipment - both active (which tries to stop the accident) and passive (which protects you when it’s happened) is available with the V90. Its features include large animal detection, which is designed to watch for creatures like elk and moose, but is also said to be capable of warning you when deer are at the side of a dark road in front of you.
The car also gets Volvo’s latest semi-autonomous technology, called Pilot Assist (R-Design versions and above). You still need to keep your hands on the wheel to let the car know you’re ready to intervene, but do that and it’ll look after acceleration, braking and keeping the vehicle in the right lane. It works at speeds of up to 80mph, so it’s possible to use it on long journeys - though the real strength is in slow-moving or stop-start traffic on urban dual carriageways.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The T6 petrol plug-in is the quickest version in the V90 lineup, managing 0-62mph in a rapid 5.9s, while the B6, B5 and B4 petrol cars all offer decent sprinting pace with times of 6.2s, 6.9s and 7.9s respectively. Top speed is limited to 112mph for all V90 variants.
Opting for diesel power doesn't mean you have to settle for pedestrian pace, as the standard V90 B4 oil-burner is capable of reaching 62mph from a standstill in 8.5s, and the 232bhp B5 a second quicker.
In this review
- 1Volvo V90 reviewThe Volvo V90 isn't the biggest executive estate on sale, but what it lacks in volume it makes up for with style and comfort
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingThe V90 has excellent cruising refinement, but the chassis isn't quite the ultimate in this class in either ride or handling terms
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsV90 buyers have the choice of either petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid power
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe V90 is distinctive, stylish and nicely finished, although there are some pricey options
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe V90 is capable enough, but it’s strange for a Volvo wagon to no longer be the biggest load-lugger in the class
- 6Reliability and SafetyV90 safety levels are excellent, while Volvo's performance in Driver Power satisfaction survey is improving