Fleet innovator test drive: Volvo V90
The only surviving Swedish carmaker attacks the premium E segment with the impressive S90 (saloon) and V90 (estate). Beyond its intriguing design, it builds on its safety and comfort reputation, seasoned with promising powertrain choices.
Volvo is back. After the jealous-makingly successful SUV XC90, the German competition has to face yet another premium-aspiring newcomer in the segment of the nearly 5-metre long estates. Called the V90, this latest Volvo of the new era uses much of the technology and underpinnings of its SUV brother, including powertrains, connected infotainment, advanced driver aids and safety features. Which kind of drivers does it target? Those who value comfort, safety, quality, interior space and fuel efficiency. Audi A6 Avant and Mercedes E crowd, let’s say. But does the new Swede deliver?
A new wind blows
The XC90 introduced a brand new vehicle architecture (scalable platform) and design language in 2014. Perhaps to the regret of the fans of ‘vanilla design’ – a term used by Volvo to describe the previous generation of vehicles, such as the S60, V70 and S80 – the V90 continues down this refreshingly new stylistic road and even takes its particularities up a notch. Its original design cues make for an impressive vehicle which looks sophisticated, luxurious and dynamic.
One of the items that makes the V90 innovative as a fleet car is the new connected infotainment system called Sensus, featuring a central tablet – like in a Tesla, but of more modest dimensions – that replaces virtually all buttons and thereby creates a clutter-free dashboard. Another new USP is the suite of advanced active safety and driver aid systems, which makes this Viking with an edge one of the first vehicles to be able to drive semi-autonomously.
Engine, performance and fuel economy
Gone are the days of the lyrical, almost legendary five-cylinder. From now on, Volvo only builds two-litre turbocharged four-cylinders, with power ranging from 150 hp (D3 diesel) to 320 hp (T6 petrol). The version we tested was the D5, which puts 235 hp onto all for wheels (standard AWD) via an 8-speed automatic (equally standard). A technical particularity of this D5 is that its turbo has a so-called PowerPulse feature, which uses compressed air to speed up the turbo in its start-up phase, eliminating any turbo lag.
This four-cylinder runs in a civilised manner, builds up its torque progressively and has no trouble putting this nearly 2-tonne Swede in motion. This impressive weight is unfortunately not without consequence: in spite of the interesting theoretical efficiency figures, we consumed 8.3 l / 100 km on average. The 8-speed automatic transmission (from Aisin Warner) shifts swiftly and makes this V90 D5 an enjoyable companion in most every situation, but the ZF transmission used by BMW and Jaguar remains the benchmark. The start-stop system works discretely and never irritates, not even in a traffic jam. Grip is plentiful thanks to the on-demand all-wheel drive system.
Practicality, comfort and convenience
By the looks of it, Volvo chose legroom over boot capacity. This results in a very roomy cabin indeed: even with the front seats in their rear-most position, the backbenchers can still find space to put their legs. If it’s maximum loading volume that you are looking for, perhaps you should consider the Mercedes E-Class: the latter offers minimum 670 and maximum 1,820 litres, compared to 560 and 1,526 for the Swede. The absolute champion, by the way, is the Skoda Superb Combi: with 660 – 1,950 litres, the Czech remains unrivalled – admittedly, it’s not in the same league as far as perceived quality and brand image is concerned.
In Volvo’s defence, the V90’s rear headrests drop down at the touch of a button while the rear seats can be folded from the boot and make for a perfectly flat load area. A pop-up divider makes sure that your luggage remains in place. The load cover retracts automatically as the power tailgate (part of the Versatility Pack) opens and slides back into position to hide the cargo as you close it.
Volvo lives up to its reputation of offering excellent seats, with a multitude of adjustments (lumbar, side bolsters, cushion length, et cetera). You can even have them fitted with a massage and ventilation function. Those who want to maximise ride comfort without sacrificing the handling can opt for the Active Four-C chassis with adaptive dampers all-round and air springs at the rear.
Safety, Volvo’s middle name
Volvo has a reputation to uphold when it comes to safety. It goes without saying that the V90 was rated 5 stars by independent assessment institute EuroNCAP, with a remarkable 95% for the Adult Occupant category, 76% for Pedestrian and 93% for Safety Assist. The V90 is equipped with an active bonnet that pops up to ‘soften’ the impact for the unfortunate person that comes into contact with it, should the AEB not be able to stop the car in time. And of course, this Swede recognises moose, too.
The standard safety equipment includes a suite of driver aids that allow the V90 to drive semi-autonomously (active cruise control with queue assist, lane keep assist, intersection braking, et cetera). You do however have to keep both hands on the steering wheel – indeed, these systems should be considered as a helping hand, not as a fully-fledged auto-pilot. Further enhancing safety is the Run off road Mitigation with applies evasive steering and braking to avoid the vehicle from leaving the asphalt. If that is unavoidable, Run off road Protection tightens the seatbelts to prepare for a possible impact.
Connectivity and infotainment
Connectivity-wise, the standard Sensus Connect includes various built-in tethering-dependent apps and voice control. The interface looks like a vertically integrated iPad with slide, tap and various two-finger command functionality. It takes a while before you find your way in the different menus – we still prefer the more intuitive and better structured iDrive from BMW.
For navigation you need to add the Sensus Navigation Pack, which enlarges the screen diameter from 9 to 12.3 inches and expands the feature list with a hard-drive sat nav system including real-time traffic information (making use of your phone data) and lifetime map updates, and smartphone integration using Apple Car Play or Android Auto.
You can expand this package with Volvo On Call, with includes track & trace in case of theft, automatic crash response plus a Volvo On Call app which allows you to remotely check the fuel level, find your car, lock and unlock it, preheat or precool the interior, log your rides, and so on. Indeed, nothing much left to be desired.
The bottom line
Yes, the V90 is a worthy alternative for the German usual suspects. It is well put together, extremely safe, very comfortable, practical and pleasing to most eyes, while it exudes a more neutral, dare we say less snobbish aura. Personalisation possibilities are plentiful, while the wide powertrain line-up covers every fleet need. The competitive pricing and low CO2 powertrains make for an attractive financial picture.
Most of its drawbacks seem to originate from the high weight. It puts some 150 kilos more on the scales than its rivals, resulting in a higher actual fuel consumption and a less nimble ride. Looking at the average lease rates, the V90 sits nicely between the (ageing) Audi A6 Avant and the (new) Mercedes E-Class Break. In conclusion: mission accomplished for Volvo, that is finding its way into more and more car policies – and rightly so.
Advanced safety, driver aids and connectivity
Competitive TCO, comprehensive line-up (diesel, petrol, hybrid, CNG)
General comfort, roominess, well-being, fit and finish
Heavy weight influences fuel consumption and handling
Menu structure of central tablet not hyper-intuitive
Less boot capacity than its rivals
Audi A6 Avant
BMW 5-Series Touring
Mercedes E-Class Break
Most interesting fleet model (EU5 region)
V90 D3 Kinetic FWD equipped with Sensus Navigation Pack
Picture copyright: Volvo Cars, 2017