Volvo V90 review - Engines, performance and drive
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.
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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.
The V90 gets an arsenal of safety equipment - both active (which tries to stop the accident) and passive (which protects you when it’s happened). 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. 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.
The engine line-up comprises two twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesels and a plug-in hybrid petrol, which makes use of a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit.
The entry point is the D4, which produces 187bhp and 400Nm, enough to take the V90 from 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds. The D4 is available with front-wheel drive only, and it’s the greener of the two diesels, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km.
Those power figures are similar to the BMW 520d Touring, but it feels quite different on the move. The Volvo’s unit is noisier, especially if you rev it – and you need to do that to extract the performance as the gearbox holds on to ratios longer, while shifts aren’t quite as smooth as in the BMW. Even in the more driver-focused R-Design you don’t get steering wheel paddles, either. Despite jerkier full-throttle shifts the V90 was the faster than the 520d from 0-60mph, taking 7.3 seconds.
The more potent engine is called D5; it packs 232bhp and 480Nm, and features a trick electric compressor, called PowerPulse, that’s designed to spin up the turbocharger with air and reduce the amount of turbo lag – the delay between pressing the throttle and the engine providing its maximum boost.
The D5 is offered with four-wheel drive only, but while it’s quicker than the D4, it’s also a couple of BIK bands higher thanks to CO2 emissions of 129g/km.
The plug-in hybrid T8 option is the most potent powertrain choice, boasting 401bhp and claimed performance figures of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. It's also the greenest too, with CO2 emissions of 46g/km, claimed fuel economy of 141mpg and an all-electric range of 28 miles on the NEDC scale.
On the road the D5 feels extremely punchy and comfortable with a car of the V90’s size. You rarely need to rev it much beyond 2,500rpm, and it’s perfectly happy to sit at around 1200rpm when you’re holding a fast motorway cruise. Volvo’s PowerPulse technology doesn’t quite eradicate turbo lag, but the engine’s response is impressively quick and the power delivery feels smooth and linear.
The engine is refined for a four-cylinder diesel, with not much harshness or rattle to speak of. It quietens down to a hush once you’re up to speed, too; you’re more likely to hear wind noise from around the large side mirror than any diesel thrum.
The T8 powertrain is punchy, though given the weight of the V90 it's not as fast as you'd expect from 401bhp. It's a refined powertrain, however, and the all-electric injection means that at town speeds you'll drive around in complete silence most of the time.
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 readingExcellent cruising refinement, but the chassis isn't quite the ultimate in this class in either ride or handling terms
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsCleaner of the four-cylinder diesel models is among the most efficient offerings in the class
- 4Interior, design and technologyDistinctive, stylish and nicely finished, with only a few weaknesses
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceCapable enough, but it’s strange for a Volvo wagon to no longer be the biggest load-lugger in the class
- 6Reliability and SafetyEngines and chassis are still new, but Volvo’s safety reputation speaks for itself