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. There's a choice of B4, B5 and B6 petrol units respectively developing 190, 250 and 310hp. And B4 and B5 diesels, respectively developing either 197 or 235hp, the latter unit featuring the security of AWD. With both diesel engines, there's also the option of 'Cross Country'-spec models that have AWD, a 65mm higher ride height and a wider track. At the top of the range sits the T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model. This delivers a 303hp output plus an 87hp electric boost, the combined total offering a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatched in under 6s. All the engines, as usual with the brand, are 2.0-litres and four cylinders in size. As before, all V90s will be ordered with smooth 8-speed auto transmission.
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 body roll decently well controlled.
Value For Money
Prices start at just over £40,000 for the entry-level B4 diesel and B4 petrol models. That represents a premium of £2,000 over the S90 saloon variant. Figures elsewhere in the range swell up towards and just over the £50,000 mark, as you'd expect from a car in this class aiming to go up alongside full-sized executive segment rivals like BMW's 5 Series Touring, Audi's A6 Avant and Mercedes latest E-Class Estate. There's also the option of 'Cross Country'-spec models that have AWD, a 65mm higher ride height and a wider track. You'll need around £60,000 for the plug-in hybrid T8 variants.
With the B5 diesel most V90 buyers will choose, expect around 45mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and well under 150g/km of CO2. Inevitably, these figures take a tumble in the more powerful B5 petrol variant; there, you're looking at around 35mpg and around 155g/km. If you want to do significantly better in a petrol V90, you'll need to look at the top T8 Twin Engine petrol plug-in hybrid model, which delivers around 50g/km of CO2 and up to 26 miles of pure electric driving range.