IAIN ROBERTSON

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Market shift is epitomised by Volvo’s development of the estate car genre, writes Iain Robertson, an up-market exercise that re-gauges quality control, supreme comfort and trim detailing, while ‘Twin Engine’ technology heralds tax-happy benefits for all.

Estate cars have a time-served role to play in the UK. Linked invariably to the country estate and the era of transporting the landed gentry from railway station to the ‘big house’, they were used to move baggage. Largely classless and fairly agricultural in their aspirations, there was little fear in them being used as anything other than workhorses.

Naturally, just as electric windows and swathes of wood trim and leather were the sometime remit of only the upper echelons of the motoring scene, these details gradually wound their ways into less salubrious surroundings. Of course, as prosperity increased, surprisingly ‘ordinary’ models started to feature the more luxurious accoutrements, although the archetypal estate car invariably retained its most practical, seat-folding, flat load deck aspects.

IMGNobody is in doubt. Think about large estate cars and Volvo always springs to mind. Yet, in the period when Volvo ruled the space race and SUVs were still a distant dream, its 245 and later 740 and 940 lines held the large estate market by the scruff of its neck, albeit contested by big Peugeots, Citroens and even Merc models. They were tough old beasts, designed for maximum stowage, short of acquiring a van.

The growth of the SUV sector, now well populated by a variety of Volvo XC models, forced Volvo into a comprehensive rethink. The result has been the V90, where V stands for Versatile and 90 is the largest vehicle to carry the prefix. Standing six feet six inches tall in my stocking-soles, I can enter the boot of the V90, with its rear seats folded forwards practically, and stretch out comfortably, with at least six inches spare lengthwise and a foot of space on either side. It is a lumpy but moderately comfortable double-bed, were I that desperate. Very few estate cars can get as close, although the Skoda Superb, a relative new boy on the block, will give V90’s accommodation a run for its money.

IMGAside from the novelty factor, with the rear seats re-erected, cracking open the electrically operated tailgate causes the flexible load cover to whirr upwards and reveal over 500-litres of useful luggage space, which is what a large station wagon is all about. Clad in soft but durable carpeting, its bumper height load deck is low enough to the ground to make loading and unloading less of a chore. However, without needing to lower the 60:40-split rear seats, there is enough room for a family of five’s holiday luggage.

Yet, as Volvo’s notional top model, it is the natural wood trimmed, Nappa leather-lined and alloy panelled cabin that creates the major occasion, when entering the car conventionally, the cherry on the cake being its gorgeous, hallmarked Orrefors Crystal gear selector-knob. Which other carmaker invests such impertinent details in its models? Not one, I do assure you. Every stitch within the V90’s interior has its well-formed place and the levels of tactility are pinnacle. Some carmakers cut the expense levels below a certain line but Volvo does not.

IMGThe hide-bound dashboard features Volvo’s customary 9.0-inch portrait format touchscreen, the menu pages of which can be accessed by familiar left-to-right side swipes that reveal significantly easier navigable elements, improved over the years since its inception. Ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital and reprogrammable instrument panel, while the aforementioned auto-box gear selector and the beautifully knurled twist-to-start switch and the roller driving mode selector are located in the centre console.

If the smile on the driver’s face is still not formed properly, the brilliance of a drive is sure to provide the affirmation. Volvo’s exquisite 2.0-litre modular engine gives up 303bhp in turbo-petrol form, to which you can add a further 87bhp from its plug-in hybrid electric motor, the combined grit of which results in a 0-60mph benchmark blitz of just 5.0s, allied to an entertaining 472lbs ft of combined torque (perfect for towing potential) and a 155mph top whack. In Volvo-speak this is ‘Twin Engine T8’ technology in its ultimate form. Yet, it emits a cool 49g/km CO2 for a truly low taxation benefit, while returning up to 117mpg, according to the more realistic WLTP test regime (although a respectable average of around 65-70mpg will be the norm), thanks to an up to 35 miles pure-EV range, driving all four wheels through an 8-speed fully automatic gearbox.

IMGSelf-levelling air suspension on the rear supplements the all-round variable damping rates to ensure a perfect dynamic balance that was reflected on the challenging test-driving route around the South Cotswolds. Deliciously weighted and well geared steering is matched by superb controls that encourage long distance relaxation at the helm. Body roll is controlled tautly and the rear wheels follow the fronts religiously. Dependent on chassis setting, the V90’s ride can vary between ‘magic carpet’ and ‘sportscar’. As tested, with around £8,000’s worth of options, at a (pre-discount) £68,080, it is expensive but is a price more than justified, when contemplating the total package.

Volvo’s reputation in the big estate car scene remains unsullied. The V90, which is available from £39,335 in T4 Momentum trim and looks like conspicuously good value for money alongside the test car, is an amazingly long motorcar that creates a most impressive stance. In its top specification, the luxury is all-pervading and highlights the expertise inherent to the Chinese-owned, Swedish brand, which also explains the logic behind Geely Corporation (its beneficial parent) simply leaving it to its own devices. When self-supporting Volvo needs new model costs to be underwritten, Geely steps in. It is a good scenario.

Conclusion:     This is the load-lugger for the individual, who does not desire an SUV. Ineffably handsome and well proportioned, the Volvo V90 T8 combines both high performance and remarkable frugality in a 2.0-tonne, elegant, safe and luxurious estate car.

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