Can a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and electric assistance cut it in the performance-luxury segment? Volvo reckons it can...
A market position defined as 'not German' has served Volvo well over the years, albeit confined to specific social and geographical enclaves. More recent Volvos have, meanwhile, demonstrated a new-found swagger standing comparison in the luxury market and favor beyond leafy New Hampshire suburbs.
Peak Volvo in the modern sense is a modern twist on its traditional station wagon. Based on the same Scalable Product Architecture as all the '60 and '90 series cars (prefix with S for Sedan, V for station wagon and XC for SUV) the V90 is a well-mannered middle digit to those who think luxury and practicality can only be combined in an SUV.
Stateside the V90 is limited to front-driven T5 and all-wheel drive T6 spec, Cross Country versions with raised ride height and notional all-terrain credibility also available.
The car you see here is a European market V90 T8 Twin Engine, sold as the T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid in the US in the S90 and XC90but – sadly – not the V90. Which is a shame, because the idea of a $70,000, 400 horsepower, 472 lb-ft, hybrid-assisted luxury station wagon capable of 0-60 mph in less than five seconds is fun. Especially one that simultaneously virtue signals your right-on credentials while proving capable of smoking unsuspecting BMWs, Mercedes and Audis.
Motivation for Stateside readers to continue reading depends on what's of most interest to you. If a big Volvo wagon appeals then the 316 horsepower V90 T6 AWD is basically this car, minus the hybrid element and about 400 lb and starting at $55,950 MSRP.
If you're a tech nerd curious about the combination of a 2.0-liter petrol engine – supercharged and turbocharged – with electric power then feel free to transpose driving impressions to the S90 sedan, given they're born of the same modular product range. In Momentum trim the S90 T8 starts at $63,650 or $68,150 in more luxurious Inscription.
Returning to that 'not German' theme, the first thing that strikes you about the V90 is its genuinely unique sense of style. Much as Lexus is asserting its Japanese roots, Volvo has taken deliberate steps to define itself by its Scandinavian heritage. And the results are rather nice, expressed in both the bigger picture and confident little details like the fashion-label style Swedish flag discreetly stitched to a seam on the seat leather.
Touchscreens, voice control and 'hidden' haptic switchgear have helped clear up the interiors of feature-heavy luxury cars of late. Your first impression in the Volvo is that the interior is both good to look at and satisfying to use. Center stage is the Senus system's Tesla-esque vertical touchscreen. Thankfully there's still a big rotary volume knob and shortcut buttons for things like demist and hazard lights but most of your interaction with the car comes through the screen. So it's a good job it works well, with a clear home screen and more detailed menus a swipe away.
The simple steering wheel has basic controls for menus and cruise but is mercifully clutter free compared with most. Nor are there any shifter paddles, Volvo correctly asserting this is meant to be a luxury car, not a supercar in a lounge suit.
This is all nice, as are the materials you touch around the cabin, soft leathers set against cool, solid metals and quirky, matt-finish woods. The jewel-like gear selector on this car even has an inlay from celebrated Swedish glassmaker Orrefors. Tick the box (and pay your $3,200) and you can have a fancy hi-fi system to match, in this instance a 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins set-up with mic-like central tweeter atop the dash, adding substance to the luxurious vibe. Scandinavian architectural and interior design is rightly celebrated and you don't need a roll-neck sweater and chunky designer spectacles to appreciate the way it works here.
At just shy of 195 inches in length the V90 feels like a big car, to the benefit of interior space and practicality. Wheelbase, legroom and headroom are all comparable with a Mercedes E-Class Wagon by the tape measure but the Volvo's airiness makes it feel more spacious. Volvo quotes a maximum of 69 cu. ft. of interior storage when using all available space, including underfloor compartments. The usable trunk space with the rear seats raised is wide, long and with a usefully low load sill but the roof is shallow and tall or boxy items might be difficult to install.
So you're in a good mood before you even pull away, the 'relaxed confidence' Volvo likes to speak of successfully translated into the V90's driving manners. If you've been able to plug the car in and charge the battery there's a good chance the first 20 miles or so of your journey can slip by without even firing up the internal combustion engine. In this respect it makes more of the hybrid boast than, say, a Lexus LS 500h and can genuinely cruise about on electric power alone.
Some hybrids can't sustain meaningful acceleration from the lights or freeway cruising without waking the gasoline engine too but the Volvo's clever display indicates how much electric power you've got to play with before the internal combustion motor kicks in.
True, with 87 horsepower acting against over 4,500 lb of Volvo you're confined to mooching. But intelligent use of the throttle pedal makes a cruise out of the suburbs and onto the freeway a viable use of silent electric power, the Eco option from the four driver modes helping you maximize your range by limiting power drain from AC and other functions.
Once it's gone it's gone though and even studious attempts to claw back re-gen are futile, dreams of triple-digit mpg figures fading fast even if you charge the battery with the engine. Driven sympathetically you can still expect 400 miles between fill-ups on a cruise though, the small tank underlining how far your gas can get you with a little help from some electric power.
Official mileage figures – 29 mpg combined and 71 mpge 'gasoline equivalent' are only half the story though, the trip computer going from a wildly optimistic 240 mpg over the first 10 miles to a mid to high 30s after a few hundred more of varied driving conditions. Not enough to save the planet but sufficient to help your wallet and conscience a little.
It might only have four cylinders but the gasoline engine's combined supercharging and turbocharging means when it does join the fun the extra 300+ horsepower makes a significant difference. Such a small engine under the hood of such a big car may sound disappointing but the Volvo mindset means you don't feel your virility has been threatened. And, remember, howsoever generated 400 horsepower is still 400 horsepower.
And when the gas engine does join in it does so seamlessly and surprisingly smoothly, the V90 shrugging away its extra pounds and capable of genuinely impressive acceleration. Where it's coming from, which axle it's going to, what gear you're in and suchlike becomes less of an issue – cruise as you like and then enjoy the unexpected rush of speed available when you need it, the more so for how unexpected it is.
Those who crave a sense of interaction with their powertrain will miss the sound and sensations of a traditional big-cube gasoline engine. But there's no denying the effectiveness of the Volvo's complicated combination of internal combustion, forced induction and electrification.
We encountered no issues with the V90 over a week and around 1,000 miles of mixed driving. The only issue we faced was with plug-in charging for the car via public stations but we'll attribute this to the poor local infrastructure rather than the car itself.
Don't expect to be dazzled dynamically in the way you might in a Panamera E-Hybrid or similarly sporting alternative. The Volvo's steering is light and somewhat vague while the optional $1,200 suspension upgrade swaps out the transverse leaf spring at the rear for air springs (the front axle retains its coils) and adds Four-C adaptive dampers.
The V90 is built for comfort though and teeters on its struts, rolling through bends and reinforcing the impression this car is best enjoyed at a relaxed cruise.
And you know what, there's nothing wrong with that. Sit back, enjoy a soothing backrub from the seats ($600 very well spent), relish the awesome punch of the Bowers & Wilkins stereo, let the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driver aids take the strain and you'll find this big Volvo a very relaxing place to spend time.
It's out to take care of you, not burnish your ego or hammer home your status over other road users. That it does so as a wagon adds a pleasingly eccentric twist – Volvo has denied us some of its quirkier creations but this hybrid flagship wagon is one we'd love to see in US showrooms.