Volvo introduces two new models at the same time: the S90 and V90. The S90 is a sedan, a body type that is usually more popular in America and Asia. The V90 is an estate car, which is aimed at European customers. That is why the V90, even more than the S90, is characterised by relatively simple lines.
The basic shapes are elongated with a long bonnet, narrow side windows and a low roofline. Design-wise this means a huge leap ahead for Volvo, comparable to the transition at the end of the 90s from the boxy 850 to the more streamlined S70 and V70.
The build quality and eye for detail also make a leap ahead for Volvo, which means the V90 now really qualifies as a "premium" product. Depending on the chosen trim level, the ambiance in the cabin is either typically Swedish with light and natural tints or dark and business-like as seen in the test car.
Despite all the innovation, Volvo did repeat one old mistake. Even with this estate car Volvo prefers form over function and therefore the V90 has the smallest boot in the segment. The luggage space is even smaller than that of its predecessor: the V70. Still, 560 litres (expandable to 1,526 litres) is a lot of space, but the rivals do much better.
Volvo does convince with many gadgets that make it easier to utilise the available space. This starts with a power tailgate and even a power back seat to make expanding the boot easier.
Underneath the luggage floor there's an extra space that's big enough for a full suitcase! Optionally, Volvo offers a "grocery bag holder": a pivoting barrier against which one can rest bags so they don't fall over. Also, this barrier splits the boot in two so suitcases don't move while driving.
The head and legroom both in the front and back are fine. Do notice that the optional sunroof does affect headroom. The seats are, as usual with Volvo, of top quality. Once adjusted to the perfect position, they are in fact more comfortable than the seating in most living rooms! At first the cooling function of the seats didn't seem to work, but that's because Volvo doesn't blow cold air but instead absorbs warm air, so the cold breeze is absent.
The V90 is the top of the line estate car from Volvo, and it shows! That is: after some research. While other cars parade their many features, Volvo tries to simplify technology. All the usual luxury and safety features are there, from head-up display to a top-quality stereo (keep in mind: the sound quality is so accurate that MP3 sounds horrible).
Most functions are operated using a centrally located display. Because of its size and the way it is operated, it reminds one of a tablet computer. Thanks to the logical menus and simple design (no animations or eye candy here) operating the system is easy and intuitive.
A key new safety feature is "Pilot Assist". Within limits, this enables the V90 to drive by itself. Pilot Assist takes over the throttle, brakes and steering. And it works well: the V90 keeps a safe distance to other cars and will steer through (shallow) corners. As the name implies, this is merely an assistant. After about 10 seconds the system urges the diver to take control again.
Pilot Assist is like a second pair of eyes. Steering in the wrong direction is made harder, accelerating at the wrong moment is discouraged. This all works in a natural way and was never annoying or distracting. Also: the human driver is always in control: it is easy to override the suggestion of the computer.
At the time of testing, the V90 is available with a choice of two petrol engines and three diesel engines. Because the T6 petrol engine was used for the test drive with the S90, the V90 was driven with the strongest diesel engine under the bonnet: the D5 (for the photo shoot a T6 was used).
From a displacement of just 2.0 litres the four-cylinder engine develops 235 PS / 480 Nm. Other brands usually deploy six-cylinder engines to achieve this. The Volvo engine owes its awesome output to two turbos and so-called "PowerPulse".
A turbo uses the pressure of the exhaust gasses to increase the pressure in the engine, thereby increasing the output. However, this first requires the presence of exhaust gasses and that's why a turbo is only effective at high revs. To increase power at low revs a compressor can be used. However, a compressor uses power and a diesel is chosen for its fuel economy.
"PowerPulse" is a cylinder filled with air, which is pressurised in 7 seconds by an electric motor (12 volts / 400 Watts). While accelerating from a standstill, this pressurised air replaces the pressure of the exhaust gasses. This makes the V90 set off quicker and it prevents turbo lag (a sudden increase in power because the turbo takes time to rev up). Therefore, the D5 is, just like Volvo promises, as smooth as a six-cylinder. Only the exciting noise is missing.
To experience what PowerPulse does, Volvo prepared two cars. In one, PowerPulse was disabled. During a drag race, the car with PowerPulse responded quicker to the throttle and the initial acceleration was much smoother. Once at speed, differences were nil.
In fact, the only point of criticism is driving at low speeds. Every test drive includes an economy run, and when driving extremely smooth and calm the D5 seems to be unable to contain its power. When driving slowly for a longer period of time, the engine runs less smoothly until one accelerates fiercely. While the D5 didn't like an economic driving style, it was positively frugal! The trip computer noted an average consumption of 5.2 litres per 100 km (54 mpg) and that's excellent for a car of this size and weight.
With the V90, Volvo wants to compete with luxury brands from Germany and Japan. At the same time the V90 remains a true Volvo. Handling isn't exactly sporty, but the driver does experience some feedback from the mechanics. This is why the V90 is as communicative as the more sporty brands, but the experience is less intense.
The strongest versions of the V90 come with four-wheel drive as standard. To improve fuel economy, by default only the front wheels are powered. The rear wheels assist briefly when required. This is why every V90 handles like a front-wheel drive car.
To make sure the V90 handles safely despite the payload, this estate car features air suspension on the rear axle. In this way the V90 always handles safely, no matter how much cargo is on board.
According to Volvo, luxury is a combination of space and simplicity. What that means became ever so clear after a test drive with the new Volvo V90. The element of space is self explanatory: the V90 is a large estate car that offers plenty of space for four passengers and their luggage.
"Simplicity" doesn't mean poor or simple, but modest. Next to its rivals, the design of the V90 is understated and elegant. All technology has been wrapped in such a way that it's easy to use. This means everyone can enjoy advanced technology that makes driving easier and safer.