Volvo V90 review (2017): Is the T8 hybrid the best estate on the road?

£69125
Price when reviewed

Volvo is in the midst of a rebrand and has been for a couple of years now. Cars like the XC90 and new XC40 have turned Volvo from family-tank maker to a truly pioneering marque, and plans to electrify its range are set to transform its image even further. However, estates will always be part of Volvo’s DNA and that’s why the new V90 T8 is so important for it.

The new V90 promises to squeeze all the technology of the XC90 into a sharper package and the T8 hybrid powertrain promises an alluring combination of speed and economy, too. So how is it to use and drive? I drove the flagship estate from London to Peterborough to see if Volvo still makes the best estate car on the road.

Volvo V90 review: Design

Volvo introduced a fresh design language with the release of the new Volvo XC90 and it hasn’t looked back since. The upcoming XC40 carries the same sharp styling, too, but I think it looks best on the V90.

Estates aren’t typically known for their cutting-edge looks, Audi RS4 aside, but the Volvo V90 is a great looking car. As with all new Volvos, the new V90 combines an imposing grille with the Swedish brand’s trademark “Thor’s Hammer” headlights and the result is more attractive than you’d think. It gives the V90 an aggressive snout and makes it look like a silver dart – as well as a practical, family car.

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Take a long walk to the back of the Volvo and you’ll see a neat rear end that incorporates the brand’s hallmark vertical brake lights. Just like the Volvo XC90 the Volvo V90 is a lengthy car but vast swathes of curves and subtle detailing mean it hides its size extremely well. That’s something Volvo seems able to do better than its rivals.

Volvo V90 review: Interior

The XC90 has one of the best cabins I’ve seen so it’s good to see things in the V90 are basically the same. Sure, the vents are in different places and you’ll also find yourself sitting that much lower but it’s more of an XC90 remixed than a whole new car.

That means you’ll find a large, 9.7in touchscreen in the centre where you carry out almost all commands and a further digital display behind the steering wheel to replace the dials. Like Audi’s virtual cockpit, the latter gives you a better view of maps, access to the trip computer and other essential data.

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The Inscription Pro model I drove was also fitted with a huge, panoramic sunroof that strongly emphasises the size of the V90. The Volvo’s cabin seems to stretch back forever: there’s a huge boot and more than enough room for rear seat passengers to fully stretch out.

Volvo V90 review: Infotainment

Volvo’s Sensus system is widely regarded as one of the best infotainment systems in any car today and it performs as well as ever in the V90. Navigating around it is a simple matter of swiping left and right between screens and tapping icons to drill down into options, and if you don’t like the Volvo’s satnav or media playback software (which are pretty good, by the way) you also get compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The only thing Sensus lacks is an accompanying selection of decent physical controls. Almost everything, from seat massage settings to air conditioning is controlled via the touchscreen and that means having to tear your eyes away from the road frequently to read, locate and tap on-screen buttons. Sensus works great at the lights or when you’re at a standstill in traffic but isn’t always the best system to use when you’re on the move. Although there’s a physical knob for the volume it would be nice if there were more.

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I also found Sensus’ handwriting recognition tough to use, as it often mistook my finger scrawl. Instead, I had to opt for the V90’s onscreen keyboard, which was certainly slower but more reliable. Adding an address to the onboard satnav also proved occasionally troublesome; I spent a good deal more time spent fiddling with address fields than I’d like.

Once it did get going, though, the Volvo provided brilliantly clear and prompt turn-by-turn instructions. Lane directions were issued well ahead of time and the car’s virtual cockpit display worked beautifully to deliver more zoomed-in, detailed instructions.

And as for audio quality, the Volvo V90’s Premium Bowers & Wilkins system delivers the goods here as well. It’s similar to the one you can have fitted to the XC90 and it sounds fabulous, reproducing music and the spoken word with confidence, agility, scale and power from the sassiest rap to the most ethereal of choral pieces.

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Volvo V90 review: Autonomous features

The Volvo XC90 is well known for its autonomous safety and driver assist systems and the V90 employs these to great effect. Just like the larger SU, the estate has dedicated Pilot Assist controls on the steering wheel, which makes engaging the car’s adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping super simple. It takes a mere two clicks. Once engaged, it’s easy to select your preferred speed and distance to the car in front and, on the whole, the system works very well.

However, on some occasions, I wasn’t convinced by the V90’s judgements. On some roads, Pilot Assist placed the car worryingly close to the barrier and another time it left braking very late – so late, in fact, that I stopped the car manually, just in case. Both of those events dented my confidence in the system and that’s a shame because, on the whole, it worked pretty well.

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As you’d expect, the Volvo V90 also has proximity sensors and top-down 360-degree cameras for tighter manoeuvres and they were extremely useful in manoeuvring the car into tight spaces without nudging the surrounding cars. It’s also crammed with safety-specific tech, and is actually one of the best performing Volvo’s ever in the Euro NCAP.

As you’d expect from Volvo, the new V90 includes Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection as standard, and there’s also the usual lane-keeping systems for motorway driving, too.

While other manufacturers are starting to include these things too, and even surpass them if you include the Audi A8, it’s important to see them all fitted as standard on the V90.

Volvo V90 review: Hybrid system

The V90 is a large family estate, so it isn’t the most nimble or edgy car in the world, but handling is much more pleasant than I expected. The steering is predictable and accurate and it’s as comfortable threading its way through country lanes and around tight village streets as it is ploughing a dead straight furrow down the motorway.

The V90 T8’s hybrid system can be set to one of three modes – Power, Pure or Hybrid – and the car reacts very differently depending on which you’re using. “Power” puts electric and petrol energy under your right foot simultaneously and, with 396bhp on tap, you can actually break traction and hit 60mph in less than five seconds.

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“Pure”, on the other hand, maximises electric propulsion until the car reaches 78mph and is entertaining in a completely different way. It sips petrol and rewards coasting and is even more frugal when used in combination with the car’s “B mode” – an aggressive energy recuperation mode that must be engaged manually.  “Hybrid”, finally, sits somewhere in between the two.

So, what about economy? My journey from London to Peterborough took in dual carriageways – which required some hard acceleration, especially when pulling out – as well as country lanes and villages and I used different modes along the route, occasionally driving economically, while at other times I wanted to see exactly how fast a 396bhp estate could go – and that meant my mpg figures varied hugely. The entire trip gave me an mpg of 33.5mpg but economic driving saw that figure rise to 40mpg in Pure mode.

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Volvo V90 review: Verdict

Inside at least, the Volvo V90 is everything you’d want in a family SUV. It’s spacious, practical and comfortable but it’s also packed with technologies that will make your life easier. The V90’s Pilot Assist may have had a few hiccups but, when combined with the Volvo’s Bowers & Wilkins system, it made light work of a five-hour round trip. And when I was close to my destination, the V90’s Power mode meant I could have some fun on the slick, country roads.

The Volvo V90 is not without its compromises. The top-spec V90 T8 Inscription Pro model I chose weighed in at £69,125 – so definitely not cheap – but you do get a great estate for your money. With its incredible cabin, hybrid economy or performance – depending on how you drive – and all the practicality of an estate, this Volvo is one of the best family cars on the road.

 

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