I was hugely looking forward to my week with the all-new Volvo V90, the car Volvo should have been building these past 20 years or more. I even had a 1980’s play-list ready on my iPod.
Back-seat teenage journeys were always in a large Volvo estate, my father’s default pick from the company car list. A 265 GL was the first. It replaced some dreadful Renault which had replaced a Bristol – of all things – when the price of fuel went through the roof. The Volvo was a welcome step back towards comfortable motoring. And it had a six-cylinder engine too. It could easily swallow a long autumn term’s worth of books, Hi-Fi, LP’s, posters, lamps and duvets from London to a muddy valley in Sussex. And it had a tape player. Even now when I look at one I can hear The Cure (my choice) or Glen Campbell (my father’s).
The 265 became the 760, became the 960, became the 850. I learnt to drive in one (the 760) and I bought the last (the 850) off my dad, when he retired and it was my turn with the young family. Those big Volvos had become an almost timeless icon of dogged, pioneering safety and spacious practicality. No-one else built cars like them.
For a teeny window of time the 850 morphed into the V90 and then Volvo had a collective brain-freeze and replaced their sine qua non with a shrunken version, the V70, and for a full generation everyone with a growing family missed out on the ‘classic’ Volvo. Mercedes, then Skoda particularly, stole the market in enormous estates.
Now, with a fresh injection of cash, Volvo has found its way again and the V90 is back!
An AWD D5 Inscription version was delivered almost new and gleaming fresh to my driveway, just in time for beet harvesting. Before it got covered in mud I took a few minutes to be struck by the looks, inside and out. Volvo has the styling spot on.
My AWD version was powered by a four-cylinder turbo-diesel (they’re all four-cylinder now), so a teeny bit growly when pressed hard, but not intrusively so. This one had plenty of power and low-down shove. It’s not a car that encourages you to get a hustle on anyway. Volvo has deliberately built a relaxed, mile-munching cruiser. Basically you engage D, leave it there (no flappy paddling needed) and glide about the place in immense comfort, cocooned by every safety feature known to man.
I had the car for a week, bustling to the shops and back for a few days and then I undertook a very long round-trip (fruitlessly) chasing woodcock in west Wales. The return journey of 254 miles was taken non-stop in the dark and the rain, full tanks, iPod connected, caffeine injected and it says a lot about the comfort of the car that I got out at the far end with no aches or strains. The boot swallowed all my gear – and somehow I contrived to take a ton of stuff – and looked only a quarter full. And with the front seat (which was as comfy as Volvo seats always are) set as far back as I needed I could still have found room for a tall passenger behind me. It is a therefore a very good machine for consuming vast tracts of tarmac in pampered comfort: ski trips, summer weeks in Scotland, or even just the full family and dog at Christmas off to see Granny. So far, so very Volvo.
But there were niggles, or rather a singular niggle: “Sensus” the car’s touch-screen computer system. It hadn’t bugged me in the XC90, so maybe it was the journey, but whoever developed the interface needs to try working the thing at night, in the pouring rain in heavy traffic somewhere near Dudley. There are no easy-to-hand buttons or dial-like controls: it’s all touch-screen or voice-command, so that most tasks (finding Radio 6, finding a phone number, finding another route) involve a laborious scroll through menus, or talking to a computer. It’s a clever system, but using it saps too much attention from the road ahead. And that’s not very Volvo at all, in my opinion.
Verdict: a dial and a button might lie between very good and great, but the big one is back and not before time.
Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse Inscription
OTR from £44,455
Annual road fund licence £110
Combined fuel consumption: 57mpg (34mpg as tested)
Power 235 bhp
0 – 60: 7.2 secs
Top speed: 145 mph