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Volvo V90

Andy Vandervell

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Summary

Key Features

  • 57.7-62.8mpg
  • 119-129g/km CO2 emissions
  • 1,526-litre max internal capacity (seats down)
  • W201.9 x H147.5 x L493.6cm
  • 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Sensus Connect infotainment with 9-inch touchscreen
  • Pilot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Manufacturer: Volvo
  • Review Price: £34,555.00

Editor's Note: Reviewing cars is new to TrustedReviews and we're looking at ways to make our reviews different to the ones you can find everywhere else.

Most reviews will tell you everything about how a car feels, looks and drives, but almost nothing about all the tech in them. We'll still do some of that, but our priority is to explain and review all those techy features others ignore.

We'd love to hear your feedback on this review as we evaluate whether we'll review more cars in future, and what those reviews should be like. Leave a comment or vote in the questionnaire at the end of the review to share your thoughts.

What is the Volvo V90?

Volvo estates are close to an institution in the UK, renowned for their practicality and safety. For the most part the new V90, which shares much of its DNA with the S90 saloon and XC90 SUV, is everything you'd expect. It's spacious, practical and rammed to the gills with clever safety features, but it’s also smarter than your average car.

Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist feature, which will steer, brake and accelerate just like a Tesla at speeds up to 80mph on motorways, comes as standard. The Sensus Connect infotainment system, meanwhile, is based around a 9-inch touchscreen and features Spotify, Yelp local search and live traffic updates. Apple CarPlay is an optional, and very handy, extra too.

The V90 is every bit as impressive as its German rivals, and edges them all where in-car tech is concerned.

Version tested: V90 D5 PowerPulse Inscription with Xenium and Winter Plus packs

Volvo V90 17

Driving and living with the Volvo V90

The V90 is pretty much everything you could want from a large, executive estate. While my initial reaction was something like “Holy crap, it’s huge!”, it doesn’t feel like a big car. OK, it’s not nimble and engaging like a sports car, but it is light and easy to drive about town, and quiet and relaxing on long motorway journeys. The looks grew on me over the week I had it – I'm not a fan of the Luminous Sand colour, mind – while the interior and cabin can’t be faulted.

Passengers will enjoy the V90, too. The rear seats two adults comfortably, or three children with room to spare – hell, even three adults won’t complain. The ride isn’t as silky smooth as some, but you’ll only notice the largest bumps.

While it lacks the classic square rear beloved of Volvos of yore, the 560-litre boot space is plenty and there’s 1,526 litres with the seats down. That said, if space is a priority then the Mercedes E-Class trumps all comers. The flat boot entry makes loading very easy and is perfect for perching on after muddy walks and kids' football matches.

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The D5 PowerPulse version I tested featured a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine – 235hp, 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds – and four-wheel drive. Clever tech eliminates turbo lag well, giving it plenty of poke when accelerating. That said, it’s thirstier than the standard 190bhp 2.0-litre diesel in the entry-level D4, so I’d be tempted to opt for that. It is, by repute, a perfectly serviceable motor and £7,000 cheaper to boot, leaving you change for some of the excellent extras available. PowerPulse is worthwhile if money’s no object, though.

If I had to complain about driving the V90, I’d say the 8-speed auto 'box is slightly indecisive – and the engine note more raucous – when accelerating from low speed. Cruise up to a roundabout and then accelerate without stopping and the V90 jerks into action, surging in a less-than-smooth manner before finding the right gear. Conversely, the gearbox is fine at higher speeds and the engine settles into a barely audible hum at motorway speeds.

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Volvo V90 – Driving with Pilot Assist and Safety Features

It’s on motorways and A-roads that the V90 truly excels. That’s partly because it’s quiet and comfortable, but also because it can (for the most part) drive itself. Volvo’s Pilot Assist works in a similar way to Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’, using cameras and radar to keep the car in-lane and adjust to the flow of traffic in front of you.

Indeed, the only differences come in the degrees of assistance and sophistication. While Tesla’s system attempts to deal with a wide range of road situations, Volvo positions the more aptly named Pilot Assist as a feature for motorways and multi-lane A-roads only.

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On paper, provided adequate road markings and conditions, Volvo’s Pilot Assist will take care of all steering, braking and acceleration under your supervision. And, in practice, it works brilliantly. In a near two-hour journey encompassing the M3, M25 and A3, I made no more than 20 interruptions to Pilot Assist – mainly for changing lanes, navigating junctions and where road markings were lost due to road works.

Unlike earlier versions of Volvo’s system, it doesn’t need a ‘lead car’ for reference, though its Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) means it adjusts naturally to the flow of traffic. Where full assist isn’t available, the system always falls back to ACC, with the small steering wheel icon turning on the dash from green to grey. I’d prefer a more obvious audible alert as well, but it’s a reminder that you still need to pay attention at all times.

Volvo V90 9Pilot Assist is controlled from these controls on the steering wheel

Pilot Assist is a godsend when navigating tedious 50mph average speed zones, contraflows and slow traffic, but it’s just as reliable at normal cruising speeds up to 80mph. It takes so much of the stress out of long journeys, so the fact it’s a standard feature is awesome. Anyone who regularly navigates major roads for their commute, or any other reason, will absolutely love Pilot Assist.

The only serious weakness is a slight preference for hugging the left-most line in a lane, particularly when driving in the slow lane. Pilot Assist normally adjusts, but even so you can do so yourself without disengaging Pilot Assist.

Of course, it’s a reminder that this is a semi-autonomous system, not a fully autonomous one, and Pilot Assist won’t tolerate removing your hands from the wheel for long. An ‘Apply Steering’ message appears after around 15 seconds, and audible alarms start chiming not long after. I didn’t test the system beyond this, but it will eventually disengage if you don’t obey.

Volvo V90 11The optional heads-up display shows your speed, current speed limit and other key info

The other obvious limitation, which is true of all systems like this, is that Pilot Assist can’t look ahead and anticipate like a human driver can. The radar that guides the Adaptive Cruise Control responds to what’s directly in front of it, not what’s a mile down the road. This means it will break hard when you arrive at the back of long tailbacks, unless you intervene beforehand to enjoy a smoother ride before re-engaging Pilot Assist to navigate the impending jam.

Caveats aside, though, Pilot Assist is a good system and it’s standard on the V90. In contrast, the Drive Pilot system from Mercedes is a £1,700 extra on the E-Class. That’s a huge tick in the V90’s favour.

Of course, there’s no shortage of standard safety features either. The City Safety system detects pedestrians, cyclists and will apply an emergency brake where necessary, while Run-off road protection automatically tightens seatbelts if you leave the road. There are enough airbags to build a bouncy castle, including one for driver knee protection.

Related: Best car gadgets

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Volvo V90 – Sensus Connect and Apple Car

The V90’s techie smarts don’t begin and end with Pilot Assist. The main infotainment system, called Sensus Connect, comes as standard with a 9-inch touchscreen at its centre. It has built-in support for Yelp (local search and reviews), Spotify and navigation with live traffic updates. You can even create a Wi-Fi hotspot provided you have a data SIM inserted.

Volvo V90

There’s also optional Apple CarPlay support (£300 extra) and Volvo says this is the only system where you can use CarPlay ‘windowed’. This means you can use the built-in navigation while still enjoying your podcasts or music via Apple Music, use Siri via the steering-mounted controls, and make calls hands-free. It’s just a shame Android Auto isn’t supported as well, but it’s a no-brainer if you own an iPhone.

Outside of CarPlay, Sensus Connect is good but for a few quirks. The touchscreen is admirably responsive and quick, and the interface is easy to grasp if you’ve used any modern smartphone. There’s even a home button and the screen works when wearing gloves.

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Volvo’s found a nice balance between touchscreen and physical controls. While most features are accessed via the touchscreen, including climate control, there’s still a large multi-function dial and physical buttons for enabling things like screen demisting and other toggles you need quick access to. Most features are accessible using voice control, too, activated from the steering wheel.

The navigation system is decent, but it did leave me pining for the Google Maps app on my iPhone after a while. Live traffic updates are useful, and you get full European mapping and lifetime updates, but it doesn’t feel as dynamic at finding the best route. I often found it easier to look up an address on my phone and input in manually than to rely on the slightly clunky POI and address search.

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In use, directions are fine most of time – lane guidance is included and the combination of a map on the digital driver display, and summaries on the optional heads-up display, is very handy. But occasionally final reminders came a little too late for me to make the correct turn.

CarPlay works great – it’s fast and largely intuitive. Apple Maps remains underbaked, but it’s worth it alone for the Music and Podcasts apps, and easy hands-free calling. It connects via a USB socket in the centre console glove box, so your phone is charging when in use. Spotify is supported in CarPlay as well.

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Out of the other apps, Yelp (pictured above) is the most useful. While it takes a little while to get going, once loaded it’s a handy resource to quickly find something nearby. Again, though, some might find it easier just to use their phone.

Ralph

November 14, 2016, 6:39 pm

Not a bad review - be nice to know how it compares for load space to the E Class. And a bit more on the everyday comfort of the car. Does it have a 3rd row of seats in the boot? The D5 engine: is that 5 cylinders? And is it a new engine - the old one was a dog, and the top of the range competition use 6 cylinder engines that are really smooth so some commentary comparing the engine noise/real-world power across the class would be great.
My perception is that the E class is all about functionality and comfort at the expense of the driving experience whereas Audi and BMW trade comfort for go-faster stripes with much stiffer suspension resulting in a much harder ride than the Merc - reviewing in this context would be a great help: from your review I'm guessing the ride is more Merc like, although the rough 5 cylinder engine is no match for it?
On the tech front, what happens if you do run an Android or Windows phone? Can you connect them? And is there a hard drive on to which you can download all your music? I'd guess a lot of the current purchasers of this car will have huge hard drives of music at home and are less likely to be on Spotify - how do they get these music collections to play in the Volvo? From your pictures it also looks like a phone is connected by a stray cable with the phone floating around the car? Or is there a specific place for the phone to go?
What about storage space? And is the glove box chilled when the a/c is on? Are there any USB charging points? Or even 12v sockets dotted around?
And lastly, are there any hybrid/eco options?

Phil

November 14, 2016, 8:02 pm

Pretty damned good review I thought. Would like to have some comparison in performance between this and the base model engine - 0-60, 30-70, etc. Also the active suspension - how much of a difference does it make and how does it work? Ride quality of the base model compared to the top end is a big deal and so I'd like to see these two types of suspension compared.

andyvan

November 15, 2016, 7:03 am

Thanks for the feedback. Sadly, Active and air Suspension was one of the few things my test car didn't have so I can't comment on that.

andyvan

November 15, 2016, 7:17 am

Thanks for the feedback -- some really useful thoughts in there. Let me try and answer some of your questions:

1) The D5 is still only four cylinder, which is another reason why you may as well stick with the D4. What it adds is AWD, more power and PowerPulse technology, which helps eliminate turbo lag.

2) I think your perception is pretty much bang on. Volvo certainly doens't offer the range of engine options of rivals, though there is a petrol hybrid version in the works. It's really the tech where the V90 stands out for me.

3) There's Bluetooth and standard AUX input in the centre console glove box, which is where you can store your phone when connected. It just so happens I had my phone out when I was taking the photos. There's no hard drive that I'm aware of, sadly.

4) I believe a cooled glovebox is an option on one of the packs. There are USB charging points in the centre glovebox, but didn't spot any others. I've read somewhere Volvo is planning to add more as an aftermarket addition, so guess that's something of an oversight on its part!

Cas

November 15, 2016, 9:07 am

Cooled glovebox comes as standard (atleast with Inscription). In my opinion you don't buy this car if your looking for a sporty six cylinder car, you buy it for it's comfortable ride and tech features. About the hard drive: there is no built in harddrive but it is possible to use a usb stick which is pretty much the same...

Just two small things: in the review you mention the 'B&O sound system', in fact it is not Bang & Olufsen but Bowers &Wilkins. Second thing, in think the panoramic sunroof is an absolute must-have. It just makes the car some much roomier.

Very nice review though. I've read quite a few about the V90 now and this one is a very nice addition to all of whats already out there. I've driven both the new E class and the V90 and there really isn't a "better one". I personally prefer the Volvo because I think it just looks so much better.

andyvan

November 15, 2016, 9:50 am

Good spot -- I've corrected that.

I kind of agree on the panoramic roof, it's just such a pricey addition. But, as you say, it gives the car a wonderful airy and open feel.

RaminNoodles86

November 15, 2016, 10:05 am

Good review. I particularly liked the breakdown of the optional extras. I always get tempted by these when purchasing a car - and it doesn't help that I love my tech and want them all!

As for the review as a whole, I can't imagine anyone reading this in isolation and deciding that's all the information they need to make a purchase. I can imagine reading this review alongside a bunch of other traditional reviews of cars to give me a honest account of what it's like to use.

So it's good to see you taking a different approach and there now being a site that focuses on aspects of cars I enjoy the most - the tech inside them!

BoBoBolinski

November 15, 2016, 2:44 pm

I don't think diesels are the way to go now, many big cities considering banning them, only suitable for long journeys, not lots of start stop short journeys. Small capacity high out put small petrol engines are being developed by manufacturers now, I just drove the new Seat Alteca SUV the other day, 1 litre petrol turbo engine was a revelation.

Lee Marshall

November 16, 2016, 8:31 am

It was announced a couple of days ago that a lot of manufacturers are dropping small capacity engines as in the real world they are actually less efficient than bigger engines. Petrol is a lot cleaner though.

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