Gareth Butterfield spends a week in the Volvo V90 estate
I’VE waited a long time to have a go in one of these When Volvo launches a completely new car there’s often a bit of a queue because, quite often, the new car will become one of the best in its sector. Volvo has a habit of quietly getting on with the mammoth task of making excellent cars, one after the other, and always pushing the boundaries of innovation.
And this one’s something of a big deal. The V90 follows in a long line of models that effectively make up its Royal family; the Volvo estate.
Every generation of the current population has grown up with the knowledge that the Volvo estate is the ultimate load-lugger, not just in terms of its gargantuan space, but in terms of comfort, reliability and, above all safety.
The arrival of the V90 sort of follows on from the long-dead-but-lovely 900-series. The new naming convention has made it a bit more complicated than that, and it left a bit of a gap in the top-model line-up, but this is actually the first big Volvo estate launch since the V70 which, in all honesty, out-stayed its welcome.
And that’s why I’ve been itching to drive one. This is a complete reboot of a motoring icon.
Everyone should drive a Volvo estate, they’re as much a part of the motoring landscape as the Volkswagen Beetle. But is the new one really as good as all the hype? Was it worth the wait?
It’s here, it’s brown, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Typically Volvo with the muscular shoulders back along each side, unmistakable Volvo lights back and front and a lovely, large grille.
WHEN the wife first saw the V90 she stood and took in its side profile for a moment before telling me it reminded her of the MkII Ford Granada her mother used to own. I was about to laugh at her and mock her stupidity but I refrained for two reasons; firstly, because I was hungry and it was her turn to cook tea but secondly; because she’s sort of right. Directly side-on is not the V90’s best aspect. It looks less impressive, less sculpted and, yes, a bit like a 1970s Ford. Especially in brown.
The interior, however, looks bang up-to-date. Volvo has established itself as purveyors of the finest interiors found in any mainstream car and this one follows suit. It’s not that different to the one in the XC90 but that’s fine because the XC90 has one of the nicest interiors I’ve ever sat in.
From its framless rear-view mirror, to the starter button that looks like it’s made from cut crystal, it is so lovely inside you just want to stay in it. But the postman just turned up and I need to sign for something, so reluctantly, I get out.
The interior is also, as you’d expect, cavernous. There doesn’t seem to be anything like as many estate cars with huge boots these days and, truth be told, the V90 with its slanty rear end isn’t as big as some of its rivals – but it’s a practical space with a low entrance and with the seats folded down it goes from large to massive.
I’ve not used it much today but it also does the job of pootling round town very well. There’s only two diesel engines available at the moment, and they’re a bit clattery when cold but they’re both good units. The 190bhp D4 in my test car is nice and plenty quick enough but there’s a 235bhp D5 option with all-wheel-drive should you need a bit more oomph.
TODAY the wife and I are off to see some friends in Yorkshire, so I’ve got to weave it through Derby, then up a couple of motorways. Despite its size, it copes with close-quarters traffic very well. There are sensors everywhere and, despite that non-traditional sweeping roof-line, visibility is very good.
Further up the road I test out the Volvo’s adaptive cruise control and Pilot Assist. I’ve used all this before but the latest version of Pilot Assist is nothing short of spooky. You’re not supposed to do this but, as long as the lanes either side of you are clearly marked, you can take your hands off the wheel and let the car steer by monitoring where said lines are and keeping you within them. The Volvo will, after a minute or so, give you a subtle telling-off for not touching the wheel but it’s more of a gentle “ahem, you know we really shouldn’t be doing this” than a slap on the wrist.
The thing is, with this working in tandem with the adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from the car infront, accelerating and braking for you, I as a driver have pretty much become incidental. In fact, it’s possible (and I won’t tell you how) to easily trick the Volvo into thinking your holding the wheel when you’re really not.
If anyone’s in any doubt that autonomous cars are going to happen, drive a modern Volvo. It’s incredible.
WE’RE now in Yorkshire and our friends want to take us out for the day to a place called Howarth, where some women wrote a book about the weather, or something. Obviously, we go in the Volvo because it’s perfect for four people.
On the way we have a chance to play with some more of the gadgets, most of which are contained in the iPad-like central display This is something all manufacturers are doing now, doing away with nobs and buttons and putting them on a screen. I don’t like it, but I must admit, the Volvo system is one of the best.
On the way to the middle of nowhere, we encounter a traffic jam. And this is where Pilot Assist comes into its own. With the car stopping and starting and steering for me I can sit back and enjoy the view, rather than have to sit and get increasingly angry at the hold-up. Everyone should have this system, the world would be a happier place.
We arrive in Howarth comfortable, safe and impressed The consensus is that the V90 is a lovely place to be on a long journey. Not that that was any surprise.
BEFORE our return trip to Derbyshire my friend and I pop out to pick his car up from an MOT centre. This takes us along some pretty south Yorkshire back lanes and it’s a great opportunity to stretch its legs without making our wives feel sick. To be honest, the driving experience is hardly electrifying. Even in sport mode, using the gears manually, it does feel a tad unresponsive. I’m told the R-Design version, which sits slightly lower, responds better but it does grip well. Even on wet Yorkshire roads it feels solid, capable and safe. Just like a Volvo should.
I’ve also, today, been doing some number crunching. Even before we took it out to stretch its legs I notice its averaged 48mpg so far. And that’s pretty good. Sure, there are rivals that will beat it but it’s still impressive.
THE V90 goes back tomorrow and this short spell in one of my most eagerly-anticipated cars comes to an end.
It’s certainly lived up to my expectations. Volvo does this sort of thing very well, in fact, it’s what its best at.
A big, comfortable car with more safety gadgets and gizmos and acres of space just feels right behind that unmistakable grille.
And I still think it looks lovely. It’s more subtle than I’d imagined, when I first saw the pictures from the launch. Epecially in brown, it blends in without making too much of a statement. But that’s the Volvo way.
There might be bigger cars, there might be faster cars, there might be more economical cars but here’s a new estate car which does so many things so well without any unforgivable flaws whatsoever. And it’s arguably one of the most comfortable, safe and clever cars on the market.
And with that in mind, it’s probably one of the best cars I’ve driven in a long time. I want one.