The future of BMW's M Division looks like 0-62mph in three seconds...
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£47,250 when new
More good things from Volvo, then? It would appear so. The next two products from Volvo’s Scaleable Product Architecture (SPA) are the S90 (saloon) and V90 (estate - the ‘V’ stands for ‘versatile’). The SPA is a kind of expanding Lego kit that allows Volvo to pull and push the exterior dimensions of a vehicle via a kind of mix’n’match set of chassis components - it’s mystifyingly clever and allows for lots of commonality between the various versions, which keeps things cheap. In fact, the only measurement that stays the same between model lines is the distance between the dashboard’s centre and the middle of the front axle - the rest is variable. The XC90, S90 and V90 are essentially all on the same chassis, and there’ll be a V40 based on a mini-version of the SPA soon enough. But back to this: we’ve got the V90 here, driven in the UK on our peculiarly horrific roads in proper spec. This particular one is a V90 D5 with all-wheel drive (front-biased) and the four-cylinder ‘PowerPulse’ diesel. It’s a big, handsome Volvo estate. With a diesel. Cue the yawning and ubiquitous mentions of labradors.
Really? Not really. It’s been quite a while since Volvo had any genuinely interesting cars, but with a chunk of Geely-shaped Chinese investment, that time has come. The big XC90 (XC being ‘Cross Country’ or proper 4x4) led the charge, but the follow-up saloon and estate pairing looks pretty good to us. Not especially arresting, but definitely a handsome looking pair in the metal. There’s an easy cleanliness to the way they’re styled, nice details, nothing that’s likely to scare people from the Home Counties. The estate especially. In the right colour and with the right wheels, it looks genuinely brilliant. And it’s not scary money. What’s under the bonnet? Nothing especially exciting, so don’t get frothy just yet. Volvo has just one capacity of engine now (1969cc) and it only gets four cylinders, though it does come in both petrol and diesel forms. At launch in the UK, the S90 and V90 get D4 and D5 diesels, the former with 190bhp and 295lb ft and the latter with 235bhp and 332lb ft. The 0-62mph times are 8.2 and 7.0 seconds respectively, and you’re looking at 116g/km and 64.2mpg or 127g/km and 58.9mpg. Good numbers, those. Later, there’ll be a T8 Hybrid with the XC90’s 407bhp/49g/km plug-in petrol/electric set up, but bet on that being an executive express rather than a sports car. Volvo seems to have figured out what it wants to be, and pseudo-BMW it certainly isn’t. The D5 also comes with ‘PowerPulse’ technology, which basically incorporates a pressurised air tank on the side of the engine: when you need the turbo to be on-song, it fires compressed air into the turbo housing and creates boost lower in the rev-range. Turbo-lag is therefore managed, efficiency raised and throttle response improved. It works (the straight D4 is by no means embarrassed, mind), although neither of these cars are likely to be purchased because you want to go street racing. Both get an eight-speed auto - without paddles.
So it’s all a bit floppy then? Not at all. In fact, both of these big-ish Volvos handle very well, if on the conservative side. No drift buttons here. Both cars carry independent front suspension and a composite, transverse leaf spring rear (just like a Corvette). That’s good for packaging (the loadspace of the estate will remain uncompromised, even when it gets the hybrid drivetrain and associated batteries) but usually bad for isolation of gutterside bumps. The V90 doesn’t suffer, and the general ride and handling balance is pretty good. Worth noting that the electrically-adjustable dampers and subsequent air-suspension on the rear axle is an option worth having, especially if you regularly carry decent-weight loads. Personally I’d prefer it even softer, but the demands of the market probably mean that proper waft is off the cards. The R-Design package is also due soon, which offers a firmer ride with uprated dampers and a 15mm drop in ride height, and although it looks very nice, it’s probably not what you need for this kind of car. Also worth noting that the difference between the 21-inch optional wheels and 19s isn’t hugely noticeable - you’ll probably need to drop right down to 17 or 18-inches to really note the ride difference. Anything else we should know? Inside, it’s about as relaxed as it gets in the executive segment. No huge button-tastic dash here, just the usual bits and the XC90’s nine-inch Sensus Connect portrait-orientation touchscreen. It’s easy to use, fairly intuitive and looks great. There’s a good selection of Scandi-style blonde woods and leathers, clever and subtle interior lighting and enough Nappa leather to re-make a decent cow coat. It also includes more than its fair share of connectivity, featuring as it does Apple CarPlay, voice control and standalone Spotify, as well as Volvo’s On Call service, which allows you to control various functions (like locking and pre-heating) through a smartphone app. The usual suite of Volvo anti-crash software is present too: City Safety (pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection with braking), Pilot Assist and adaptive cruise (semi-autonomous driving), Run-off Road Mitigation (applies steering if it detects that the car is about to go foraging in the bushes/armco/hedge), Run-off Road Protection (tightens the seatbelts if the car detects said foraging), advanced ABS, traction control, rear crash mitigation, road sign info, blind spot warnings, a suite of park assist functions, autobrake at junctions… the whole lot. The V90 is big enough to cope with 560 litres of bootspace seats up, 1,526 litres folded flat (with seatbacks that fold electrically), and you can get useful family-fun extras like built-in booster seats for the outer pair of rear seats. I’m still tempted by a BMW…. It might be throwing itself into the premium executive saloon/estate fray, but Volvo really does feel like it’s trying to carve out a more relaxed niche for itself. None of the new cars handle as well as a BMW, but they’re more relaxing, less thrusty and a bit less try-hard. We like that a lot.
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