After a 20-year hiatus, the Volvo V90 returns.
Station wagons dominated the American scene from the 1950s to 1970s, serving as the people hauler of choice for large families. By the 1980s, wagons (as they were by then commonly called) began to disappear. Once the 1990s arrived, even fewer models were available. Minivans became the new vehicle of choice, essentially ending the wagon phenomenon.
Apparently, Volvo never got the message as they continued to build wagons for years after. Models such as the V40, V50, and V70 came and went, with the Swedish automaker curtailing its US models for several years in the early 2010s.
In 2015, the Volvo V60 rolled out, restarting Volvo’s wagon quest. Beginning with the 2018 model year, the V90 itself returns after a 20-year break. While the V60 is handsome in its own right, the V90 just may be the world’s most glamorous wagon.
Yes, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it! And judging by some of the comments I’ve received from colleagues, friends, and neighbors, Volvo hit all the right buttons with the V90, especially from its design standpoint.
2018 Volvo V90
There are two lines of V90 models offered. One is the standard model, the other is the Cross Country, best known for its one-inch higher ground clearance. My test model was a 2018 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD, so that’ll serve as the focus of my review. That said, I’ll share price information for both, before diving deep into all things test model.
The 2018 V90 comes in two trims: R-Design ($49,950) and Inscription ($51,950). At present, the V90 Cross Country is a T6 AWD-only model ($55,300). Add $995 for destination and handling.
The sticker price for my Cross Country test model was $69,440 and it had the following packages and upgrades: Luxury ($4,500); Convenience ($1,950); Metallic Paint ($595); 20-inch alloy wheels ($800); rear air suspension ($1,200); Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System ($3,200); and a head-up display ($900). There are a few other accessories available, including a built-in child seat and tow package. In all, your price might top $72,000.
Exterior: A Matter of Style
What may be the V90’s strongest suit is its style — inside and out. What you have here is a large wagon, but it doesn’t feature the bland or boxy styling of past models. The same elegant grille found on the S90 sedan and XC90 SUV marks the front fascia, with striking “hammer of Thor” LED lighting elements amplifying the look.
The wagon’s profile is at once elegant and sporty, benefiting from a one-inch raised ground clearance. A sweeping roofline, rising beltline and much sculpting and character lines set this wagon apart from models of old.
But it is at the rear where the V90 makes a clean departure from the pack with its oversized L-shaped combination lamps, notched liftgate with a spoiler, and dual exhaust ports. Front to back this model is perhaps the most handsome wagon design you’ll find anywhere today as well as down through the ages.
Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, rear tinted windows, and a power moonroof with sun blind. Options include integrated split end pipes ($220), side scuff plates ($845), and 20-inch wheels.
On Cross Country models you’ll find underbody cladding, but don’t mistake these for skid plates as they consist of some undetermined lightweight material, not the usual steels and alloys you’ll find on SUVs, such as from Jeep. Notably, Volvo advertising materials suggest doing nothing more than driving the Cross Country on wet roads and packed down trails — this wagon simply isn’t designed for serious off-roading.
Interior: Elegance Matching German Rivals
The top German luxury brands — Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz — are the measuring stick for evaluating luxury cars. The 2018 Volvo V90 is a match for all three, delivering a clean, upscale and altogether pleasing environment to behold.
You’ll find leather and wood (or optional metal mesh) generously apportioned throughout the cabin. The electronic dashboard offers a clean interface on an uncluttered center stack and is visually pleasing. Volvo wrote the book on ergonomics, thus all controls are sensibly placed.
Up front are a pair of firm, but comfortable bucket seats topped by headrests with a “space age” look. The second row 40:20:40 bench seat is also comfortable, with sufficient room for three. Volvo could have added a third row, but be glad that they did not as there is a generous 53.9 cubic feet of standard storage space available. Yard sale finds, anyone?
A long list of standard equipment includes keyless entry with toggle start, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, full power accessories, power-adjusted front seats, and multi-zone climate control.
The available luxury package adds heated outboard rear seats, rear and rear side window sun shades, additional leather and sill trim, backrest massage for the front seats, and expanded leather choices.
V90 Cross Country Performance Matters
When it comes to today’s Volvo, you’ll find just one engine choice across the entire model line. A 2.0-liter four cylinder is it, but what Volvo chooses to do with said engine makes all the difference in the world. Or at least on the road.
No, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill engine. It is a modern powerplant with forced induction at work. For this reason, Volvo offers the engine in two variants. The first option is a direct-injected turbocharged (T5) engine generating 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. These numbers are within the ballpark of what some naturally aspirated V6 engines produce.
The second option keeps the turbocharger and adds a supercharger. It is a highly unusual arrangement for a vehicle and, to my knowledge, Volvo is the only manufacturer using both forms of forced induction in the same engine. As a result, performance jumps to 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque for this so-called T6 engine. That’s within the range of what some small V8s produce. By the way, both engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission supplied by Aisin.
My test model had the more powerful engine, which automatically adds all-wheel drive. The beauty of this dual forced-induction system is that the supercharger supplies upfront power, while the turbocharger kicks in up the power band curve to extend boost. The engine feels more powerful than its size, but make no mistake about it: it sounds like a four-cylinder engine. Also, the exhaust note is quite tame — you don’t buy a Volvo for raucous performance, but for fuel economy — my test model makes an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Choose the T5 FWD model and you’ll find an outstanding 24/34 mpg city/highway rating. You’ll need to fuel your model with premium gasoline.
Steering is crisp and handling offers decent feedback. But there is a weak point with this model even with the air suspension system added and dynamic drive chosen — it has the bouncy feel common to wagons of yore. Further, when tackling washboard surfaces, you’ll feel it. None of this should come as a surprise as the V90 is the largest wagon on the market.
Safety: Pilot Assist Debuts
Volvo is synonymous with safety and the company’s reputation precedes it. That said, there is almost always something different you’ll find when an updated or all-new Volvo model debuts. The big news this year is standard Pilot Assist, what gives customers their first taste of autonomous driving.
This semi-autonomous system works with adaptive cruise control to keep the car centered in your lane as well as to supply sufficient separation with the vehicle centered immediately in front of you. When activated, Pilot Assist “views” the center line and side marking(s) to ensure your vehicle stays on course, even as the road curves. Gentle steering inputs from the system keep the car centered; braking and acceleration is also controlled, but all three are easily overridden by the driver.
I activated the system just below I-540 on US Route 1 while heading south (Wake County, NC), keeping Pilot Assist active until I exited at Carbonton Road (State Hwy. 42) near Sanford. Heading west on that road, I reactivated the system once I moved past the elementary school.
Unlike Route 1 with its mostly straight shot, this road rises and falls, and has its shares of twists and turns. There were times when I overrode Pilot Assist for one simple reason — I had grown tired of the near constant inputs.
I activated the system once again as I turned left on Hwy. 42 to head south on South Carbonton Road (Lee to Chatham to Moore counties), which eases into Glendon Carthage Road past the Alston House (House in the Horseshoe). I turned Pilot Assist off for good once I approached Carthage’s business district.
Pilot Assist allowed me to drive hands free (fingers just off the steering wheel) for 10 seconds at a time before a “take steering wheel” warning appeared on the head up display, followed by a second notice on the instrument panel. If you ignore the first visual warning, the system allows you to drive another 5 seconds before a warning chime sounds. Ignore that chime and you’ll have an additional 5 seconds of hands-off driving before a follow-up warning and chime occurs. Immediately, Pilot Assist deactivates, requiring you to take full control of the car.
I must have driven at least 30 miles without my hands firmly grasping the steering wheel, although no more than 15 to 20 seconds at a time before I laid hold of the wheel. The sensation of driving without firmly holding onto the steering wheel was an odd one for me. Indeed, there was one time when it seemed as if the Volvo was about to leave the road, so I took firm control of the steering wheel to redirect the wagon. Volvo admits the system isn’t perfect as it may misread things along the side of the road, such as a traffic cone and mistake it for something else.
You should not rest your hands in your lap while using Pilot Assist. Furthermore, I only activated the system where roads were dry per Volvo’s instructions. Cruise control-contributed hydroplaning is a real danger.
Technology Features and Options
Volvo once offered a dreadful infotainment system interface known as Sensus. Well, the Sensus name continues, but the pain is mercifully gone. The prior system included more than two dozen buttons and knobs, offering an arrangement I found confusing and distracting. Volvo must have figured the system was a hot mess and contrary to all things safety. That’s because what’s now in place is far superior and very easy to use.
The new interface is clean and ruled by a touchscreen evenly divided into four sections. From top to bottom you’ll find the current position (navigation), media, phone connectivity, and car status. At the base of the screen, you can manage climate control as well as seat heating and cooling. For these reasons, I give the updated system two thumbs up.
Standard equipment includes a 224-watt audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and music streaming, USB ports, and an auxiliary audio input. There is also available for upgrade a Bowers & Wilkins audio system with 19 speakers and a 1,400-watt output. It’s the type of system audiophiles prize; how Volvo integrated the Tweeter on the dashboard is nothing short of a work of art.
Volvo V90 Parting Thoughts
So Volvo makes the most beautiful wagon on earth. Or at least it does in the eyes of some.
Of course, some shoppers may never see past its body style, preferring an SUV (XC90) or a sedan (S90) instead. Happily, Volvo has you covered in all three categories.
Is the one-inch lift of the Cross Country worth it? Oddly, it is if you want to save money as the standard T6 AWD R-Design model costs $55,950 or $650 more than the Cross Country. Add in the $4,500 luxury package and you’ll pay about $60,000 for a unique wagon with a sporty flair.
***Check out the feedback from Volvo fans on Reddit***.
See Also — Highlights of the 2018 Volvo Product Reveal
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