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Volvo V90 long-term test: where Teslas fear to tread

Published: 30 November 2017

► CAR runs a Volvo estate
► Ours is a D5 AWD R-Design
► Grown-up, but not boring

Month 4 living with a Volvo V90: big trip? Big deal...

Of course Volvo is to be lauded for its announcement that every new model launched from 2019 will be electrified to some extent. But perhaps like a few other Volvo owners, I walked out to my V90 on the morning I read the news and felt like my clean, sophisticated but conventional diesel had been subtly disowned by its maker.

It seems diesel's days are done, despite the case that can be made to the contrary. Government ministers caution us not to buy them, knowing that punitive taxes and an eventual ban are on the way. I recently bought a nearly-new car of another make from a main dealer, and the salesman's desperation to convince me that one of his in-stock diesels would be best for the use the car will be put to (it really wouldn't) gave him away. Sales of new cars are down, but sales of diesels more so.

So I thought I'd make a road trip ideally suited to a diesel, and which you'd still think twice about in a fully electric car: from the Sussex coast to Belfast, diagonally across much of the UK. It's a round trip of 1010 miles, almost all of it on motorway with the Volvo ticking over in eighth and returning a best-ever 508 miles and 41.8mpg from a single tank.

Volvo V90 front quarter

I made a similar trip in harsher circumstances across Sweden in a petrol V90 for a story in the April issue, and my diesel was even less stressed. A Volvo's ability to compress long journeys is extraordinary. I filled up near Brighton, listened to five or six albums, ate on the boat and filled up again in Belfast. The petrol would have needed an extra stop.

The purpose of the trip was to compete in the Gran Fondo Northern Ireland, a 110-mile bike race – or meander, in my case – starting in Belfast and heading south over the Mourne mountains to the border with the Republic, and back again. I am aware of the absurdity of driving 1100 miles to cycle 10 per cent of that.

The Volvo's boot wasn't troubled by the presence of a 7kg racing bike – which it of course swallows whole – nor the associated tools and lycra. Instead the car proved its worth afterwards. The ride itself was fast, gloriously scenic, mostly dry and I surprised myself with a top-third finish. But celebrations at the finish line were curtailed by torrential rain, high wind and plummeting temperatures. My five-mile ride back to the hotel with tired and stone-cold muscles was probably the most miserable I've had. By the time I reached the car in the hotel car park my hands had ceased to function.

Volvo V90 boot equipment

So I threw the bike in the back, sat in the front passenger seat and let the fierce seat heaters reanimate me while I consumed every calorie in the cabin. It's a nice hotel but the Volvo was a better place to recover.

And more impressively, despite driving home two days later, just when the aching is always at its worst, it delivered me feeling like I could do it all again.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design auto

Engine 1969cc 16v 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp @ 4000rpm, 354lb ft @ 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Stats 7.2sec 0-62mph, 145mph, 129g/km
Price £43,995 
As tested £52,675
Miles this month 1529
Total 3799
Our mpg 34.2mpg
Official mpg 57.6mpg
Fuel this month £242.42
Extra costs £0


Month 3 living with a Volvo V90: all the small things

Well thought-out touches define life with a V90. Such as:

Volvo V90

That empty feeling

You know that feeling you get when you’re stuck in an Arctic snow drift, the engine running to keep you warm, and you’ve no idea if help will arrive before the diesel runs out? Me neither. But the Swedes do: hence this handy ‘gallons per hour’ indicator when the V90 is running but parked.

Volvo V90

Touch me

The big, Apple-style touchscreen beats the menu-driven systems in other cars for finding little-used functions. When I lock my kids in any other car (don’t judge me) the interior motion-sensor deactivation is almost always hidden deep in sub-menus, or on a randomly placed switch. In the V90 I swipe straight to it.

Volvo V90

Eye in the sky

‘Proper’ drivers like us may decry parking aids but they are now spectacularly good and useful, especially in a car this long. I haven’t tried the self-parking function yet, but my guess is that a human using the surround cameras could squeeze the V90 into a space the car’s brain would reject.

Volvo V90

You boot-ay

Despite a total volume slightly reduced by the faster rear screen angle, the Volvo’s boot has not yet been defeated. I opened it recently wondering how I was going to keep a 10-litre keg of AdBlue (not for the V90) upright, and discovered that somebody Swedish had already thought of that.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design auto

Engine 1969cc 16v 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp @ 4000rpm, 354lb ft @ 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Stats 7.2sec 0-62mph, 145mph, 129g/km
Price £43,995 
As tested £52,675
Miles this month 1099
Total 2270
Our mpg 34.6mpg
Official mpg 57.6mpg
Fuel this month £163.53
Extra costs £0


Volvo V90

Month 2 living with a Volvo V90 D5 R-Design: about as good as painkillers

I’m already dreading the end of our affair.

Getting to swap cars every few months is a great privilege, until you find one so perfectly suited to your needs that its replacement will almost certainly be a little worse. The answer would be just to buy one, of course.

Early impressions are dominated by sensational seat comfort. As my L5 spinal disc disintegrates, the Volvo’s seats and a prescription-painkiller haze are the only two places I can get comfortable.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design auto

Engine 1969cc 16v 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp @ 4000rpm, 354lb ft @ 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Stats 7.2sec 0-62mph, 145mph, 129g/km
Price £43,995 
As tested £52,675
Miles this month 820
Total 1171
Our mpg 34.1mpg
Official mpg 57.6mpg
Fuel this month £131
Extra costs £0


Volvo V90

Month 1 living with a Volvo V90 D5 R-Design: it's not so bad being a grown-up

At last year’s Geneva motor show I stood on the Volvo stand with friend and US YouTube presenter Jonny Lieberman. We both like fast, powerful cars. But we’re also both in our early forties with kids, and we agreed that the new Volvo V90 was our car of the show. We also both have beards, but it seems that’s no longer necessary to desire a Volvo estate.

A year and a month later, a V90 appeared on my drive. Volvo offered me one in the same Maple Brown paint and ‘blond’ leather interior with walnut trim as that Geneva car. It had been specified by design chief Thomas Ingenlath to be displayed at an awards ceremony.

It looked sensational, but I worried about the effect my kids and bikes might have on that cabin. It wouldn’t feel as elegant and luxurious filled with child seats and smelling of grease. Something darker and sportier might be better, I reasoned. 

I would also have had to wait another six weeks for Thomas’s car, when I knew a V90 would start making my life easier immediately. And so it has. I now think mine looks just as good in Bursting Blue with black trim, and so do the legions of people who have already circumnavigated it in the car park, had their heads turned by it as I’ve driven past, taken a photograph of it or stopped to confirm that it really is a Volvo.

Mine is a D5 R-Design with 232bhp and all-wheel drive. The entry level, front-drive 187bhp D4 starts from £34,995: adding my car’s extra power and traction and kit brings the price to £43,955 and only adds 10 to the basic car’s 119g/km. The major options are highlighted below.

Of the others, Apple CarPlay at £300 is already in heavy use, as is the £575 Keyless Drive, which includes hands-free boot opening and closing and is a constant godsend when both hands are occupied with toddlers whose mobility far exceeds their road sense. Total price is £52,675, but that includes three grand’s worth of further options I wouldn’t have picked myself: I’ll examine and report on those later.

Volvo V90 long-term interior

The car arrived with 72 miles on the clock and appears to be perfectly assembled – not something you can take for granted, even when they know it’s going to be written about in a magazine. So far I’ve done only a few hundred miles: too little for any meaningful judgement on real-world fuel economy. But early acquaintance indicates it might be all I hoped for when I first saw it in Geneva: beautiful, comfortable, and entirely fit for my purposes. 

Lest this sound like some Swedish free-love-in, it’s not perfect. Some of the cabin material quality is short of German standards, and if you know where to look you can see where cost has been saved in the body engineering.

Non-OCD punters won’t notice. They might, however, struggle occasionally with the iPad-style central screen. Despite its size, its user interface and sat-nav directions sometimes lack Apple clarity.

But more on this in future reports. I’ve wanted this car for a year and a month. Excuse me while I go and drive it.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design auto

Engine 1969cc 16v 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp @ 4000rpm, 354lb ft @ 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Stats 7.2sec 0-62mph, 145mph, 129g/km
Price £43,995 
As tested £52,675
Miles this month 351
Total 423
Our mpg 34.0mpg
Official mpg 57.6mpg
Fuel this month £57.15
Extra costs £0

Check out the rest of our long-term fleet here

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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