Whoever said not to judge a book by its cover clearly hadn’t laid eyes on the Volvo V90.
It’s been four years since Volvo first unveiled the V90 wagon, but damn if seeing one in my driveway doesn’t make me a little weak in the knees. Maybe it’s the Bursting Blue paint. Maybe it’s the R-Design styling tweaks. All I know is, whoever said not to judge a book by its cover clearly hadn’t laid eyes on the Volvo V90.
LikeGorgeous exterior designComfortable and nicely appointed interiorHuge roster of standard driver-assistance tech
Don’t LikeSensus tech is sometimes buggy20-inch wheels negatively affect ride qualityExtra effort required to buy one
The R-Design is set off by a slightly different lower front fascia and these 5-spoke, 20-inch wheels, but even the standard V90 looks handsome as heck. The low, wide stance and loooooong profile are all fantastic, as is the short front overhang, plus the LED lighting elements and generous dash-to-axle ratio. It’s a design that’s both striking and modern but will surely age well. I wouldn’t change a thing.
That longroof shape lends itself to utility, too. Fold the rear seats flat and the V90 offers 53.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which is about the same as a compact SUV. Admittedly, while passenger space is equally generous, that short overall height means headroom can be an issue for taller passengers, especially in the rear. At least the R-Design comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, to make the cabin feel as open and airy as possible, which is especially welcome given my tester’s all-black upholstery scheme.
Every single part of the V90’s interior is as nice to look at as it is to touch.
Up front, the driver and passenger are treated to super-comfy, super-supportive chairs. Every single part of the V90’s interior is as nice to look at as it is to touch, with soft leather wrapping the dashboard and steering wheel and high-quality plastics on the door cards and center console. I could do without the abundance of piano black trim around the shifter and cup holders, as it gets very dusty very easily, but it’s a small complaint about an otherwise lovely cabin. Even the carbon fiber trim looks great.
Volvo’s Sensus software handles infotainment duties, arranged on a 9-inch, portrait-oriented screen. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Sensus over the years and my experience continues to be hit or miss. Despite adding processing power, the V90’s system is often slow to respond to commands at startup, but once it gets going, those issues go away. I like that both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not only standard, but can be relegated to the bottom tile of the home screen so as to not take over the entire interface.
What I don’t like, however, is that some of the hot points to access pages like the settings menu are kind of small and easy to flub while driving. Swiping left or right reveals different menus for different things, but while the learning curve is slightly steep, once you get to know Sensus, it offers a wealth of functionality.
A digital gauge cluster is standard and, while I appreciate the minimalist approach to what information is fed to the driver, the screen isn’t as feature-rich as what you’ll find in Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz products. That said, where Volvo really ups the ante compared to the German competition is its standard level of active driver-assistance tech. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a driver alert monitor, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, road sign information and Volvo’s Pilot Assist tech, which adds steering assist for highway driving, are all standard on the V90.
Volvo offers its T5 and T6 engines here, which you’ll find in pretty much every one of the company’s other models. The T5 consists of a 2.0-liter turbo I4 with 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, while the T6 — which is what I have here — adds a supercharger to the mix, resulting in 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. Interestingly, the less-powerful T5 delivers its full torque thrust at just 1,500 rpm while the T6 takes an additional 700 rpm to build boost — and honestly, given the V90’s relatively relaxed demeanor, unless you’re all about bragging rights, the T5 seems like the way to go.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is imperceptible in its action and T6 models come standard with all-wheel drive for added foul-weather traction.
That’s not to say the T6 isn’t a great engine. It provides lots of power and, despite having a turbocharger and supercharger doing work under the hood, overall operation is buttery smooth. The eight-speed automatic transmission is imperceptible in its action and T6 models come standard with all-wheel drive for added foul-weather traction. If you stick with the T5, you’re locked into front-wheel drive, but that’s not necessarily a problem a good set of winter tires can’t solve. Besides, if it’s rugged, go-anywhere ability you’re after, might I suggest the V90 Cross Country?
Even with the extra power and additional driven wheels, the T6 setup isn’t that much less efficient than the T5. The EPA says a V90 T5 with front-wheel drive should return 22 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, while the T6 AWD lowers those numbers to 21, 31 and 25, respectively. After a week of mixed driving, I recorded 24 mpg.
On the road, the V90 doesn’t really compel you to drive it hard. The steering has nice weight, but feels a little numb. The V90 doesn’t hate being thrown into a corner and the chassis does a nice job of mitigating body roll on winding roads. Unfortunately, the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires of this R-Design tester make for an often brittle ride on Los Angeles’ crappy freeways.
The R-Design kit might look sporty, but the V90 is an easy-does-it sort of cruiser that’ll happily breeze through hundreds of miles at a time.
Still, I really like driving the V90. It’s just easy. There’s great visibility out the front and an Individual driving mode allows you to tailor things like the throttle, steering and even the brakes to your liking. Personally, I prefer to leave it all in Comfort, since that’s where the V90 really shines. The R-Design kit might look sporty, but the V90 is an easy-does-it sort of cruiser that’ll happily breeze through hundreds of miles at a time.
But here’s the thing: You have to really want a V90 to get one. This wagon remains an order-only affair, meaning dealers don’t have them readily in stock, instead focusing their efforts on the higher-riding V90 Cross Country. At $53,090 to start, including $995 for destination, the V90 T5 FWD represents a $3,090 bargain over the cheapest Cross Country, which can only be had in T6 AWD guise. And if you’re really hot on a Volvo wagon, there’s also the $40,645 V60, which is slightly smaller but uses the same engines. Don’t forget about the $46,095 V60 Cross Country, either. Decisions, decisions.
The 2020 Volvo V90 is comfortable, functional and pretty nice to drive — and there’s a lot to be said for the inherent exclusivity (read: cool factor) of a special-order-only car. Those who do make the extra effort to seek one out surely won’t be disappointed. The design alone makes it a standout.