- 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/$51,833.00
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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.
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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
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.
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/$10,500 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.
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.
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.
Pilot 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.
The 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.
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.
There’s also optional Apple CarPlay support (£300/$450 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.
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.
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.
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.
VOLVO V90 – OPTIONS GUIDE
Like any modern car, the options on the V90 are bewildering in the extreme. The version I drove had almost all the available extra tech features possible, but I don’t think you need all of them. Here’s my recommended spec for the Volvo V90.
D4 Momentum base spec (£34,555/$51,833) – By all means spend extra on the more powerful D5 PowerPulse AWD (+£7,000/$10,500) if you prefer, but most people will be perfectly happy with the standard D4 Momentum.
Apple CarPlay (+£300/$450) – A standalone option, CarPlay is essential for any iPhone owner. Volvo’s integration is particularly smart given it works in a ‘windowed’ mode, allowing to you use other features at the same time. Android owners can ignore, obviously.
Surround View 360-degree Parking Camera (£700) – This was one of my favourite tech features on the V90. It uses four wide-angle cameras to create a virtual ‘top down’ view of the car. Not only does this mean you get a camera view for every side of the car, but it’s extra-useful for checking you’re correctly inside a parking bay or fitting through tight gaps.
Winter Pack (£525/$787.5) – The standard Winter Pack includes heated steering wheel, washer nozzles, headlight cleaning system and a heated front windscreen. The heated windscreen is a godsend during the winter months – only those with a garage large enough to house the huge V90 need not apply! The Winter Pack is available with ‘Head-up Display’, but it costs £1,125/$1,688 and you can’t have the heated windscreen.
12.3-inch Driver Screen (£400/$600) – The standard screen is only 8-inches, but the 12.3-inch screen (above) is well worth the upgrade. It allows much more space for the navigation map in the centre, whereas the 8-inch version only has a small window for it and looks a bit rubbish given the space is designed for the 12-inch screen.
Power Driver Seat with Memory (£600/$900) – This allows you to create profiles for the driver’s seat and door mirrors, so they will automatically move into your favoured position when you get in. The profiles are associated to the key fobs (two are provided), so the car knows who is driving the moment you unlock the car. Awesome if you share the car with your other half, which is likely given this is an ideal family car.
These are all small things on their own, but they’re good peace-of-mind upgrades – especially the blind-spot alerts.
Blind Spot Information System Pack (£600/$900) – This pack includes a selection of safety features, including Cross Traffic Alert (CTA), Rear Collision Mitigation and Autodimming Exterior Mirrors. The blind-spot feature uses sensors to alert you to vehicles in your blind spot – a light appears in your mirrors when indicating. I found it really useful when changing lanes, especially on long journeys where your concentration might waver for a split second.
Cross Traffic Alert alerts you to traffic approaching from the side of the vehicle – handy when reversing out of driveways and the like. The final feature, Rear Collision Mitigation, detects imminent rear impacts and tightens seatbelts automatically.
Volvo On Call (£450/$675) – On Call is mainly essential because it adds a data SIM slot to the front dash. You can use any SIM of your choice, so you’re not locked into some inflexible built-in option. You’ll want this for the built-in Spotify app and Yelp, among other things. It also adds several smart features, such as Stolen Vehicle Tracking, and car monitoring via Volvo’s app. You can unlock the doors remotely, keep track of journeys, fuel usage and various other parts of your car. There’s on further safety feature, too, as an operator will be alerted whenever your car detects a collision. They will contact the car and alert emergency services if necessary. Finally, you can start the car remotely to warm it up in winter.
Metallic Paint (£700/$1050) – Essential not just for aesthetic reasons, but for better re-sale value. There are also two Premium Metallic options that go for £1,000/$1,500.
Total Cost: £38,830/$58,245 on the road
Inscription Upgrade (£3,000/$4500) – This adds a decent range of options over the Momentum spec, including larger 18-inch alloys, a 12.3-inch driver display – standard is 8-inches – soft leather, keyless boot entry, LED foglights, powered passenger seat and loads of extra illumination. It’s not essential, but it’s a decent overall upgrade if you can afford it. The R-Design spec is similar but ‘sporty’ with lowered suspension.
B&O Speakers (£3,000/$4,500) – Needless to say, they sound spectacular. Phenomenal bass, great detail and adaptable to a huge range of music. Are they £3,000/$4,500 good? Probably not, so it’s a money-no-object option.
Winter Plus Pack (£1,100/$1,650) – Similar to the Winter pack, but adds headlights that bend as you turn. This is, undoubtedly, very cool and has safety advantages, as it illuminates where you’re going rather than where you were. That said, it’s expensive, which is why it’s only a nice-to-have feature.
Power Glass Tilt and Slick Panoramic Sunroof (£1,295/$1,943) – Worth it if you can afford it – a panoramic roof in a car this large provides a great, airy feeling open or closed. If you want this and the 360-degree parking cam, select the Xenium Pack (£2,000/$3,000), which includes both.
Active Dampers and Rear Air Suspension (£1,500/$2,250) – The standard suspension offers a decent ride, but it’s less effective on larger bumps. Four-corner active dampers, and rear air suspension, will give you a silkier, bum-friendly ride. The rear air suspension is also available alone as a £950/$1425 extra.
SHOULD I BUY THE VOLVO V90?
This isn’t an exciting car to drive, but that doesn’t matter – it’s luxurious, practical and the standard spec is excellent. The semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system is a standout feature compared to the competition, and the Apple CarPlay integration is the best out there. Volvo’s reputation for safety needs no explanation.
There’s no shortage of alternatives, of course, not least the outstanding XC90 SUV. But the XC90’s starting price is £10,000/$15,000 more before you add any extras. Other similar-spec SUVs also come at a higher premium.
Among estate cars, BMW, Audi and Mercedes all offer excellent alternatives with some advantages, but the tech package on the V90 can’t be matched. It’s the only one to offer a comprehensive semi-autonomous system as standard – the E-Class has it as an option – and the overall infotainment system is excellent.
A modern estate car in every possible way, and good value to boot. No family could be disappointed by the V90.