Volvo V90: Another V good Volvo
VOLVO'S large XC90 is, as has been noted in these pages before, one of the very best new cars on sale today, writes William Scholes.
Today, it's the turn of the V90, its estate car sibling.
Like the big seven-seater XC90, the V90 is also a very lovely thing to behold and in which to travel.
The V90 and its saloon version, the S90, share essentially the same platform, engines and other oily bits, as well as their approach to the things you can see and touch, such as the fabulous interior.
If the XC90 is the sort of vehicle you might buy instead of a BMW X5 or Audi Q7, then the V90 is squarely positioned as an alternative to the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6.
Actually, 'squarely' may be the wrong word here; where Volvo estates of the past had their bodywork shaped using a set square, the modern V90 is a far more rakish device.
A long, low bonnet leads to a steeply raked windscreen and an even longer roof, from where the car's profile meets an elegantly canted back tailgate - no vertical back window on this Volvo estate, thank you very much.
It's all drawn over a long wheelbase, and the sum effect is an extremely well proportioned and very attractive estate car, with Volvo's new-style very large grille and distinctive 'Thor's hammer' headlamps giving the V90 further presence.
The sloping tailgate window means the V90 sacrifices some boot space for style. This is still a big car, as luggage volumes of 560 litres to the window line, 723 litres to the roof and 1,526 litres with the rear seats folded, attest.
If maximum load-lugging volume is your thing, it is worth noting that the Skoda Superb with its 660/1,950 litres, Audi A6 (565/1,680 litres) and Mercedes-Benz E-Class (640/1,820 litres) are more commodious.
However, I suspect the V90 is more than roomy enough for most would-be buyers of a posh estate car.
Its roominess for passengers is beyond doubt. The back seat is a wonderful space, with lots of room for even someone as lanky as me to sprawl, and the driver and front passenger are similarly well catered for.
"Volvo has a long history of building go-anywhere estate cars, and the new Cross Country follows in the tyre tracks of the long-serving but still desirable XC70"
Volvo has given real thought to how it builds its interiors. The XC90 was a calling card for this 'new Volvo' approach, with subtle combinations of leather, wood and metals, and the V90 builds on this.
Everything you touch feels top-notch; Audi was once unbeatable when it came to the sheer quality of its interiors, but Volvo is now at least its equal.
A large centrally-mounted portrait-orientated touchscreen dominates the dashboard, like an upended iPad.
The stereo, climate control, sat-nav, telephone and other 'infotainment' gadgets are controlled from it, meaning Volvo has been able to take the decision to drastically reduce the number of buttons around the dashboard.
The result is pleasingly minimalist. Those who prefer to have a button to press for each function might take a while to get used to the various taps and swipes you need to make on the touchscreen, it is worth noting that a lot of the key controls are duplicated on the steering wheel and - provided you can make it understand you - there is also a voice control system.
The seats, as is traditional in a Volvo, are quite superbly comfortable and underline just how relaxing and feel-good the V90 is.
Safety is a longstanding Volvo attribute. The V40 and XC90 were each the safest cars crash tested by Euro Ncap when they were launched. And so it is with the V90 and S90, which are the safest vehicles yet tested under Euro Ncap's latest crash-test regime.
Beyond having simply a very strong body structure, the V90 gets a full package of safety kit as standard.
A 'city safety' system detects pedestrians, cyclists and large animals and sounds a warning if it thinks a collision is imminent; if the driver doesn't react quickly enough, it will apply the brakes automatically.
It also gets semi-autonomous capability thanks to Volvo's 'pilot assist' system, which works with the adaptive cruise control to take of the steering, accelerator and brake inputs required to keep the car within lane markings at a set cruising speed up to 80mph. But don't think it allows the driver to fall asleep or climb into the back while the car is moving - the driver has to keep their hands lightly on the steering wheel, or the system will deactivate.
Volvo describes pilot assist as a "stepping-stone technology on the way towards fully autonomous driving", something in which the company is among the industry leaders.
The car will even apply steering if it thinks you are about to leave the road and if the worst does happen, 'run-off road protection' automatically tightens the front seatbelts should the car leave the road, while those comfy seats feature a collapsible section designed to help prevent spinal injuries.
"The V90 Cross Country's relaxed gait, sheer capability, comfort and low-key desirability are compelling"
The LED headlamps have an active main beam function as standard, meaning they can change the range and direction of the light according to speed, road direction and oncoming traffic.
You can have whatever engine you like in a V90 as long as it is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder.
Two flavours of diesel are available - a 187bhp, 295lb.ft unit badged D4, and a 232bhp, 354lb.ft version called D5.
The only gearbox is an eight-speed automatic; the D4 is a front-wheel-drive car, while the D5 is four-wheel-drive.
The D5 is noteworthy for its 'PowerPulse' technology; this uses compressed air, stored in a small tank under the bonnet, to help the turbocharger spin up faster, thus helping to eliminate turbo lag and making the engine generally more responsive.
The D4 unit has impressed before in other Volvo models, and the D5 is similarly effective.
At the D5's power and torque levels, most rivals use six-cylinder engines. These tend to be inherently smoother than four-cylinder units, but it must be said that the Volvo shrugs off any concerns about refinement.
The Cross Country model can be had with a supercharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, badged T6 and producing a prodigious 316bhp. It is only as torquey as the D4 diesel, however.
A plug-in hybrid T8 model arrives later this year; it marries a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine breathed upon by a turbo and a supercharger with an electric motor. This will be a very quick car - power output is said to be 401bhp...
For now, the only way to get a D4 with all-wheel-drive is to opt for a V90 Cross Country.
Volvo has a long history of building go-anywhere estate cars, and the new Cross Country follows in the tyre tracks of the long-serving but still desirable XC70.
As well as four-wheel-drive, the Cross Country gets a ride height raised by 65mm and a range of rugged bodywork enhancements, including larger door mirrors, wheelarch extensions, skid plates and side sills.
The Cross Country's four-wheel-drive system gets hill descent control and an off-road mode to help it make the most of its extra traction in tricky conditions - attributes emphasised by the ease with which the car tackled an off-road course laid on by Volvo at the car's launch.
The V90 is a well-equipped car - in addition to the safety equipment and the touchscreen already mentioned, leather seats, heated front seats, a digital dashboard display, power-operated tailgate, twin-zone climate control with a 'cleanzone' air-quality system, power-folding rear-seat backrests and headrests and alloy wheels are standard on the entry-level Momentum trim.
R-Design - Volvo's version of BMW's M Sport or Audi's S line - brings 15mm lower sports suspension, gloss black and matt silver trim, sports seats and 18-inch diamond cut alloys.
Top of the range is Inscription trim, with refinements including even softer leather for the upholstery, electric seats and multicolour interior 'theatre lighting'.
Whichever version you opt for, a long and persuasive options list is available...
I would find it hard to look past the V90 Cross Country, however. Its relaxed gait, sheer capability, comfort and low-key desirability are compelling.
But whichever version you choose, the V90 is a deeply impressive car. Given its XC90 lineage, this should be no surprise.
With the new BMW 5 Series wagon yet to reach us, the Audi A6 Avant feeling a bit long in the tooth and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate both meanly equipped and more expensive, the V90 is the best posh estate car you can buy at the moment.
AT A GLANCE
Volvo V90 and V90 Cross Country
The Volvo V90 is available in Momentum (from £35,865), Momentum Pro (£38,365), R-Design (£38,365), R-Design Pro (£41,865) Inscription (£39,115) and Inscription Pro (£43,115). Cross Country models start at £40,605.
Engines are all four-cylinder 2.0-litre units, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard.
The D4 diesel makes 187bhp and 295lb.ft, with 119g/km CO2 (138g/km in the Cross Country), 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds (8.8 seconds for the Cross Country) and 62.8mpg on the EU combined cycle (54.3mpg for the Cross Country).
The four-wheel-drive-only D5 PowerPulse's respective figures are: 232bhp, 354lb.ft, 129g/km (Cross Country 139g/km), 7.2 seconds (7.5 seconds), 57.6mpg (53.3mpg).
The 316bhp T6 supercharged petrol 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit is available only with the Cross Country model. It has a torque figure of 295lb.ft, EU combined fuel consumption of 36.7mpg, emits 176g/km of CO2 and accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds.
Car tax and benefit in kind tax rates are: D4 - £160 in first year, then £140 annually, 25 per cent; D5 - £160 in first year, then £140 annually, 27 per cent; D4 and D5 Cross Country - £200 in first year, then £140 annually, 29 per cent; T6 Cross Country - £800 in first year, then £140 annually, 34 per cent.
The V90 is the safest car yet tested by Euro Ncap. It has been awarded a five-star rating and was the first car to be awarded full points in the 'autonomous emergency braking for pedestrians' test.