2017 Volvo V90 D5 AWD Auto review: quietly keeping up with the Joneses
Listing large luxury estates is about as easy as inadvertently consuming an entire tube of Pringles. Even those with zero automotive interest could point you in the direction of the nearest BMW, Mercedes or Audi dealership, with the German brands justifiably commanding the top spots on most buyers' shortlists.
If someone where then to suggest adding a Volvo to the list, they might find themselves quietly escorted from the room. After all, Volvo estates have historically been about as desirable – the likes of the slightly bonkers 850R and Polestars aside – as a filing cabinet.
That's not to say they were otherwise bad cars, mind, with most providing dependable, practical and comfortable transport for countless owners.
Successfully taking on the established big hitters these days, however, requires fulfilling far more than those basic criteria. Which, as luck would have it, is exactly what the new Volvo V90 estate does.
Looks pretty slick. Is it an all-new car?
Yes. It's a five-seat estate based on Volvo's 'Scalable Product Architecture', which is the modern platform that underpins the company's latest cars – including the XC90. Volvo's also carried a lot of the XC90's design and interior features over to the new V90, including the 'Thor's Hammer' LED front lights and the touchscreen-centric interior layout.
Safety hasn't been overlooked, which will please long-standing Volvo fans; the V90 earned five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing and even entry-level versions come with a lane keeping system, autonomous emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control with steering assistance.
There's nothing lacking on the technology front, either. An Inscription-specification V90, like that tested here, features a 12.3-inch touchscreen media and navigation system, dual-zone climate control with air filtration, adaptive LED headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and voice control.
Where one alarm bell might ring, however, is when it comes to the powertrain options. Tick a few upgrade boxes and you can easily ramp the price of a V90 to over £50,000, at which point you'd expect it to come with a suitably premium six-cylinder powerplant.
Volvo, however, only offers its new estate with four-cylinder engines – and, in most trim levels, that four-cylinder engine's a diesel.
Presumably it's pretty slow, then?
Opt for the range-topping D5 version of Volvo's diesel and you'll get a twin-turbocharged engine that puts out a stout 232bhp and 354lb ft, which is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic. Sharpening its responses is a new compressed air injection system, called 'PowerPulse', which is designed to help the turbochargers spool faster.
As a result, it's far more willing than you might expect. Despite the V90 weighing 1817kg, the D5's capable of propelling it from 0-60mph in 6.9sec. That's unlikely to disappoint and, thanks to the Volvo's all-wheel-drive system, you can make quick getaways without unseemly scrabbling.
There's enough mid-range punch to prevent the gearbox running up and down the ratios like a violinist's elbow, too, although the D5's peak of 354lb ft is only on offer for just 500rpm. A diesel V6 would not only serve up more torque, but do so over a far wider rev range – delivering far more relaxed performance.
That said, although there's no mistaking the cylinder count, the Volvo's diesel is quiet when cruising and not unpleasantly raucous when worked hard. It's even capable of turning in some decent economy figures, with the trip computer showing an indicated 37.5mpg by the end of our test. That means you could rack up almost 500 miles from a full tank, without even really trying.
I bet it's a bit numb in the corners, though.
While the V90 doesn't hit quite the right chords in the powertrain department, Volvo's got the suspension and steering dialled in a charm – because this estate drives in a fashion that neatly blends driver satisfaction and suppleness.
There's some roll and a sensible bias towards safe understeer in corners, but the steering is precise, slick and well weighted. There's enough feedback to keep you feeling involved with the proceedings, too.
Volvo's also avoided making the V90 overly stiff, a feeling people usually correlate with 'sporting ability'. The downside is that overly stiff set-ups typically result in a car being skittish and unsettled on rougher roads.
The V90's suspension offers up a lots of well-damped travel instead, allowing the car to deal with lumpy roads while remaining composed and in contact with the surface.
This makes it feel far more controllable, and its responses easier to judge. You can consequently carry a lot of speed across country, with further confidence being instilled by powerful brakes, all while enjoying a plush, neatly controlled ride.
It's not the most engaging car in its class, but its effortless compliance makes it a quietly satisfying car to drive – and ideal for those with higher annual mileages.
There is, however, a fair amount of road and suspension noise for a luxury estate. This blunts the V90's serene ambiance somewhat, although not by enough to make it overly tiring on longer trips.
What about the interior?
An estate needs to major on comfort and space, otherwise it'll be about as effective as a graphite-free pencil. Fortunately, the V90 ticks both boxes with ease, as its neatly finished and practical cabin is both relaxing and vast.
The interior also echoes the exterior's subtle elegance and feels suitably upmarket. Simple details, like a frameless mirror and leather-trimmed handles in the door cards lift it over the more conventional affairs.
Only two points frustrate; the media system is a little fiddly, and having to adjust the climate controls by using the touchscreen is a practice that should be banned. There's nothing worse than having to take your eyes off the road merely to up the cabin temperature a degree or two.
Similarly, the Volvo has a digital instrument cluster – but most of the time it just presents you with a conventional pair of dials, making it seem unnecessary. Its rivals execute this tech with far more flair.
As a car to live with on a daily basis, otherwise, the V90 proves hassle-free. Take, for example, the windscreen wipers. They're extremely good, and the washers - integrated into the blades themselves - fountain water liberally over the glass, cleaning crud off with ease. A minor point, but one that shows the thought that's gone into ensuring the Volvo doesn't otherwise annoy.
Should I buy one?
Volvo's pulled off a neat trick with the new V90. Here is a car that retains all of the brand's classic hallmarks, but wraps them up in a far more appealing and dynamic package.
As a result, the subtle new estate can hold its head up high among the likes of BMW 5 Series Touring, Audi A6 Avant and Mercedes E-Class Estate.
It is admittedly a shame that it's only offered with a four-cylinder diesel, though. It would be quieter, quicker, more relaxed and more refined with a big six .
Volvo's not going to be tooling up to make a bigger engine, though, so we might as well stop griping and enjoy what is otherwise an accomplished estate. Just bring back some dials for the climate control, please.
2017 Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD Auto Inscription
Engine: 1969cc twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Layout: Front-engined, all-wheel-drive
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 232bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 354lb ft at 1750-2250rpm
Top speed: 145mph
Economy: 57.6mpg (combined)