Volvo S90, V90 R-Design and V90 Cross Country (2017) review: Hands on with Volvo’s “sensible” high-tech cars

£32995
Price when reviewed

Thanks to the wonderfully high-tech XC90, Volvo has been experiencing something of a rebirth in recent years. A brand typically associated with staid, boxy family movers, the XC90 injected self-driving tech, plus an all-new touchscreen infotainment and control system. All of a sudden, the world sat up and began to take notice. The new Volvo V90, V90 Cross Country and S90 represent another significant development for the brand: they’re the first vehicles to start spreading the technological message from the Volvo XC90 down the range.

When I say down the range, it’s important to remember that this is still a Volvo we’re talking about; the S90/V90 are in direct competition with premium models such as the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, and although the base model is a little cheaper, it’s still going to cost you.

The basic Momentum S90 saloon equipped with the standard D4 automatic engine, for example, comes in at £32,955 and prices rise from there. The Momentum D5 PowerPulse all-wheel-drive model costs almost £40,000, while the top-end, D5-equipped S90 complete with luxury-level Inscription trim will set you back £42,455.

READ NEXT: Volvo XC90 (2016) review – we drive the most sophisticated Volvo in the UK

Volvo S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country review: Dashboard and infotainment tech

There’s a healthy selection of upgrades and options with which you can bump the price even higher, of course, but you do get a good selection of standard equipment (as with the XC90).

In the cabin, it all stems from Volvo’s continually evolving Sensus infotainment system and its centrally mounted, portrait-orientated 9.3in touchscreen, which here sees the addition of Android Auto support.

The V90 and S90 are the first Volvos I’ve driven to have this feature, although Android Auto has been rolling out to existing XC90 owners via firmware updates since November 2016.

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It takes some learning your way around, but once you’ve acquainted yourself with its ins and outs, Sensus is a wonderfully responsive system to use and it lends the car a distinctively modern feel. I particularly like the way that when it’s running Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you can still access the car’s other systems from the top half of the screen, even to the point of being able to quickly flick over to consult the car’s built-in navigation system and mapping if you need to.

What isn’t so good is the way that the moving map from Android Auto and CarPlay integration still isn’t integrated with the optional 12.3in digital dashboard display behind the steering wheel. If this is your preferred method of getting turn-by-turn instructions, you’ll have to lean on the car’s internal satnav instead.

Thankfully, this isn’t too much of a bind: the internal satnav is decent, as are the rest of the V90 and S90’s internal systems. There’s even an integrated standalone Spotify app, which connects to the internet via the car’s data SIM slot.

Volvo’s On Call companion app has also seen a couple of additions. Alongside such handy features as remote lock and unlock, and the ability to send destinations over to the car’s built-in satnav system, you can also now warm up the car remotely on chilly mornings, so you don’t have to wait for the windscreen to defrost before you get going.

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Volvo S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country review: Driving assistance and safety

The Volvo XC90 won our sister title Auto Express’ Car of the Year award in 2015 and Large SUV of the Year in 2016, and a large part of that was Pilot Assist – Volvo’s package of semi-autonomous driver-assistance technologies.

In the S90 and V90, we have the second generation of that tech, with two key new features. The new Pilot Assist removes the need for the system to have a car in front for adaptive cruise control to work, and it also ups the top speed of operation to 80mph from 50mph.

It worked pretty well on our test day as well. On dual carriageways and motorways, it will keep your speed steady, and brake when the car in front slows down, and it will keep you dead-centre in your lane without making distracting or abrupt steering changes. You might want to take control when braking from speed towards static traffic, however; by default, the system leaves final braking zone a little too late for my liking.

Volvo’s take on driver assistance is very much driver-focused, though, and the system gets very unhappy if you take your hands off the wheel and leave them off. Volvo has said it’s targeting 2021 to introduce its first fully autonomous-drive vehicle; until then it looks like we’re going to have to put up with a fair bit of nagging.

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Safety is Volvo’s middle name – always has been, always will be – and there’s a full package of safety tech squeezed in as standard. New features include Run-off Road Mitigation, which helps prevent the car inadvertently leaving the road by monitoring road markings and applying the steering corrections. Run-off Road Protection tightens the front seatbelts if it does leave the road.

Large Animal Detection employs the car’s integrated radar and camera unit to detect horses, deer and cows (and kangaroos presumably, for those living down under), automatically applying maximum braking to avoid a collision – or at least reduce the seriousness of impact. The Volvo V90 Cross Country, meanwhile, gets automatic hill-descent control, which manages braking for you on treacherous downhill sections so you can concentrate on the business of pointing the car in the right direction.

It’s also worth noting that these are all supplementary to Volvo’s existing bank of standard safety kit, which is not inconsiderable; all told it adds up to one of the safest cars on the road. Indeed, in the latest round of Euro NCAP testing, Volvo’s new cars went straight in at the top of the table with maximum five-star overall ratings. They’re are also the first vehicles, Volvo says, to score six points in the pedestrian AEB section of those tests.

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Volvo S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country review: Audio system

As for entertainment, the S90 and V90 are just as good as their big brother the XC90. You can play media back via the integrated Spotify app, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, directly via Bluetooth or from a USB thumbdrive inserted into one of two sockets in the centre console storage box.

Sound quality is generally excellent, the standard audio system delivering a confident sound that’s free of distortion at any volume. It’s a little on the gritty side in the mids and highs, but otherwise excellent.

If you really want to pamper yourself, however, go for the premium 1,400W, 18-driver Bowers & Wilkins audio system, complete with centre-mounted dashboard tweeter. It really is a step up in clarity and (in particular) smoothness.

Everything from the strident guitar strands of Six-by-Seven’s “Eat Junk Become Junk” to the soaring choral drama of Mozart’s “Requiem” is delivered with effortlessly listenable ease, and there’s not a hint of distortion and barely any cabin rattle at high volume levels.

Just like Bowers & Wilkins system in the peerless Volvo XC90, this is one audio system you can keep on listening to for hours on end. The best part is that, as premium audio upgrades go in this sector of the car industry, it isn’t terrifyingly expensive. However, three grand isn’t an investment you’ll make lightly.

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Volvo S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country review: Design and engine options

Whether you choose the standard audio system or the swanky Bowers & Wilkins, though, neither looks out of place in the V90 and S90’s achingly Scandinavian interior.

It’s minimalist, exceedingly well put together and, in the case of the Inscription models, as luxurious as it gets, with soft nappa leather upholstery all around and powered front seats (with memory on the driver’s side) among other extras.

It’s a comfortable drive – it should be, since it’s built on the same “Scalable Product Architecture” as the Volvo XC90 – and although there are no drastic departures on the design front over the previous models, the V90 and S90 remain handsome vehicles, holding their own in the sector against more established rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6.

The V90 Cross Country has a little more of an upright stance and a more SUV-like driving position but without the bulk of a full-blown off-roader, with an extra 60mm of ride-height to help cope with rougher roads.

It’s the sporty R-Design that catches the eye most keenly, though, with its lower, squatter position on the road, twin-integrated tail pipes and broader, more aggressive front spoiler.

As for engines, I drove both the lower-power D4 diesel and the D5 PowerPulse diesel, and found both were strong and refined performers; of the two, though, I’d choose the D5. The PowerPulse system – which sees compressed air fired from a two-litre chamber into the turbocharger for an almost instantaneous burst of acceleration – is great fun to drive. It gets the S90 from 0-60mph in seven seconds, the V90 in 7.2 seconds and the V90 Cross Country in 7.5 seconds, where the D4’s best 0-60mph time is 8.2 seconds.

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A couple of extra things to note: if you prefer front-wheel drive, you’re going to be stuck with the D4 engine. In the UK, all the D5 engines are all-wheel drive, and the T8 hybrid engine isn’t coming to the UK until later this year.

As for off-road performance on the V90 Cross Country, that’s surprisingly good. This is a car that, ostensibly, is designed for only the occasional excursion on rutty, rocky and muddy tracks, rather than extreme off-road environments, but it’s surprisingly capable even then.

Once you switch the drive mode to off-road using the knurled rotary knob in the centre console, the car lightens the steering, lengthens first and second gear, and engages hill-descent mode, making even quite treacherous, slippery downhill sections easy to tackle.

My favourite feature, however, is the ability to select one of the Volvo V90 Cross Country’s cameras and view the road speeding by on the Sensus touchscreen. In the case of the downwards-facing, wing-mirror cameras, this is a seriously useful tool, and could save you from unnecessarily clipping protruding stumps and rocks.

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Early verdict

It’s taken a while, but Volvo has at last begun to push its best technology out into models other than the XC90, and in the V90, S90 and V90 Cross Country, that’s undoubtedly a very good thing.

Sensus has been refined slightly to include both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Pilot Assist has received a boost and there’s oodles of standard safety tech. Add in the superlative Bowers & Wilkins audio system and a comfortable, fun drive, and you have a compelling all-round package.

If you still think Volvo is synonymous with the school run and boxy load-lugging estates, then take a long, hard look at these new cars. They’re smart, packed with high-tech, practical features, and are a viable, slightly cheaper alternative to the excellent Mercedes-Benz E-Series and Audi A6.

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