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That looks like an angry Volvo V90. A Polestar? Sadly not. But true, the V90 R-design does looks punchier. As you’ve no doubt guessed, this is a trim option aimed directly at the likes of the Mercedes E-Class AMG-line wagon, the Audi A6 Avant S-line, and the brand-new BMW 5 Series Touring M Sport. It’s all about the sensible, low-CO2 engines, draped in a suit of snoutier intakes and spindlier alloy wheels. Except the Germans have actual models to imitate… Funny one, isn’t it. The uninitiated might mistake a 5 Series M Sport for an M5, or a A6 S-line for an RS6. But there are no fast Volvos to sprinkle halo effect on the V90 R-design… Anyway, that means you’ve a simple choice of two engines: both 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesels, either with or without the ‘Powerpulse’ boost that fires compressed air into the turbo to cut out lag and increase power. Our test car did without it, which is fine, because in our experience the relaxed, easy-going torque of the D4 motor, the standard-fit eight-speed auto and front-drive suits the V90’s placid gait just fine, thanks very much.
What does R-design spec actually get me? The body kit, with those handsome twin exhaust outlets, and 18-inch wheels as standard, though you can spec impossibly fragile-looking 21s. Volvo etches ‘R-design’ onto the kickplates and slightly thicker steering wheel, embosses it onto seats wearing taller bolsters, and deletes one of our very favourite things about the latest crop of Volvos – the light interior options. You’ve got to have business-like black, with metal trim, rather than the warm woods and light leathers available in Inscription and Momentum trim. Because racing cars don’t have beechwood and beige, right? Meanwhile, you’ll spot polished pedals (ooh) and new mats (aah), and the not insignificant matter of revised dampers supporting a body that rides 15mm lower than before. At last! An engineering change! Handling ahoy… For yer basic R-design D4, you’re asked to pay £38,365, which works out £2,500 dearer than a ‘basic’ Inscription spec V90. About in line with that the Germans charge for snoutier bumpers, blingier rims (is ‘bling’ still a thing?) and to mess about with your suspension. Gotcha. Any good? The V90 is a wonderful car – thoughtfully practical, serene and likeably straightforward – but this isn’t the most wonderful version. Here’s why. Mainly, it’s the ride, which has introduced more fidgetiness than the standard car. Our test model was on the 18-inch wheels too, and it rode like a regular V90 does on 20s. That is – a bit nobbly on bad surfaces at low speed. Sad to say, that’s quite a common challenge on congested, crappy UK roads. A predictable complaint. On the plus side, if you’re really taken with those flared bumpers and the whole R-design schtick, this is a way, way better effort than what we were met with when Volvo first introduced R-design. With the ageing, V40 and S60, it had a tendency to ruin cars entirely, with crashy rides and little to no handling pay-off. The V90 isn’t irredeemable in this spec. It’s just that, well, you can’t help wishing you’d embraced the V90’s relaxed mantra fully and gone with the less thrusting Momentum or Inscription models. What’s more, this isn’t really a very full-fat makeover. There are still no gearshift paddles for the eight-speed gearbox. You can have adaptive air suspension, but that’s another £1,500. There are no upgraded brakes, and as we’ve discussed, any more power. It’s really just trim, and an inferior ride added to what is, as standard, the best large estate car on the planet right now.