Because why wouldn’t you want an 888bhp widebody luxury saloon?
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Ah, one of the great beasts of the automotive jungle, the big Volvo estate. Oh yes, but literally re-born. It’s all-new. It shares very few parts with the V70, which it effectively replaces. So there’s lots to say. There is and there isn’t. Its basic engineering and technology, and the flavours of its design inside and out, are copy-pasted from the XC90. Which shouldn’t be a problem. That’s a bit of a TopGear favourite.
It is. Very safe, relaxing and a delight to sit in. So we have no particularly shocking news to deliver on the new estate. It too has those qualities in abundance. OK, any differences from the XC? The V90 is a five-seater, without the XC90’s third row of seats. That allows the design to be a lot sleeker. You sit lower to the road, looking over a shallower bulkhead and lower bonnet. The wheelbase is a scant 43mm shorter, so this is still a big car. A really tidy looking one, the earnest grille given a striking tweak by the T-shape running lights. Volvo’s usual shoulder is sharpened and tautened, and the rear end runs light blades in a signature angular sickle shape. And mechanically? No, it’s mostly a matter of re-tuning the XC90’s ingredients. The basics are the same: four-cylinder engines with clever boost, four-wheel drive options, class-competitive sophisticated aluminium suspension. Lots of safety kit. Is that cabin as good as it looks? Yes. It’s done with a striking commitment, which is what’s needed given the strength of the Germans that it rivals but doesn’t copy. The design makes the best of the materials, and vice versa. It’s modern and stylishly Scandinavian, and steers clear of pseudo-racer cliches. The tablet centre-dash interface is high on resolution and responsiveness, even if it does demand a bit of practice to give of its best. Volvo does wonderful seats too.
What about the drive? Better than the XC90. Because it’s lower to the ground, and also I suspect because this is Volvo’s second go at tuning a car on this hardware, it behaves more harmoniously. The steering isn’t too light, and the load builds up very naturally as you move the wheel off-centre. It’s a softly-sprung car (we’re on the air-suspended option today). But the damping lets the body breathe agreeably without getting out of sorts – there’s very little untoward pitching or lurching. It’s all very relaxed, even at decent speed on a tricky road. Traction isn’t an issue either, as this D5 engine gets 4WD as standard. The news is good in workaday environments too. On motorways it glides serenely and tracks earnestly to its lane. At urban speed, the ride stays supple. Enough power to enjoy it? The D5 diesel version, which makes 235bhp, has a new tweak to its sequential twin-turbo diesel engine. Power Pulse, they call it. A small electric pump compresses air into a two-litre cannister. When you accelerate from low revs, a valve opens and the cannister expels its contents as a pulse into the inlet manifold. So you’ve already got pressure even before the first turbo spins up. It does indeed reduce the lag, though the effect isn’t transformative. (Other Volvos will soon get this gadget.) Hooked to a standard eight-speed auto it’s a discreetly authoritative powertrain. Not massively quick, but quiet enough that you don’t notice. Quieter than rivals, for sure. What about Volvo’s safety tech. Shouldn’t it be driving itself? Well, the V90 (and S90 launched at the same time) does have a new iteration of Pilot Assist. It can steer a course by following lane markings visually, and identifies other vehicles and even animals and humans, by a variety of other sensors. Similar capability, in other words, to an E-Class or 7-series or even Tesla. But Volvo is very careful not to advertise it as self-driving. These are support measures. You’re obliged to keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on the job. Volvo argues that the moment when the auto-systems lose their hold and give up is likely to be a stressful one. If at that critical instant the so-called driver is metaphorically miles away, then the transition from machine to man could get very messy indeed. Having driven rivals, I happen to agree. So Volvo continues to work on autonomous driving, but it’ll only allow the human to zone out when the car really can drive itself for significant portions of the journey. And can give the driver lots of warning when their input is required. When’s it on sale? You can order it now. The test car is the D5 AWD auto, in top Inscription trim. That’s £44,055. A 190bhp FWD D4 in lower spec is £34,555. They arrive in Britain in September. There will also be one with the plug-in hybrid T8 ‘Twin Engine’ setup for super-low-emissions commuting and a major swerve around company-car tax. OK, so it’s the Volvo estate re-booted. But what about the boot? I see what you did there. And it’s a good question. That slightly rakish silhouette and sloping rear glass does eat into capacity. This isn’t quite the Ikea-swallower that Swedish estates are expected to be. The boot, even with the seats folded, is big in area but shallow floor-to-ceiling. But on the 363 days a year when you don’t need max cube, you’ll appreciate the clever storage and tie-down solutions. It’s a useful car and no mistake, as well as a subtly enjoyable one.