The idea of looking to the past has always been a long enduring trend. In the automotive world, the massive glut of SUV and CUV offerings can make folks forget that long before those two segments rose up to smother the utility vehicle market, another brand of utility reigned supreme. We're of course talking about the venerable station wagon, which has endured various twists and bends in its iconic existence. However, like the endangered White Rhinoceros, these vehicles are straddling the line between relevance and extinction in the U.S. with only a small handful of models remaining. One of these is the 2018 Volvo V90 which aims to continue the Swedish car company's long tradition of building stylish yet bulletproof wagon offerings.
But in an age where wagons are declining, and SUVs and CUVs are in vogue. Does the V90 still have what it takes to land a decisive blow in the broader market? Or has the curtain finally fallen for this grizzled veteran?
The exterior styling of the V90 incorporates alot of the DNA that defines its sedan cousin the S90. This is especially apparent with the front fascia, which channels alot of its shared heritage with a classic two box wagon shape to generate a result that is both awe inspiring and visually impressive to the eye. The headlights feature the iconic 'Thor's Hammer" arraignment, and they really standout at night. The rear fascia is distinctively Volvo, and like on the S90 sedan, the taillights are un-mistakenly a love it or hate it affair. While they looked somewhat awkward in daylight, nighttime was a different story, with the lighting standing out brightly in evening commuting. The side profile is simple, and Swedish minimalism is prevalent here. Our tester had the optional 20-inch alloy wheels, and they did an exceptional job filling the wheel wells of our Maple Brown Metallic Inscription example.
The interior of our tester was heavily upgraded for Inscription duty, and arrived at our office with a whole host of luxury equipment. The basic design is simple with splashes of leather and walnut wood trim scattered throughout. The look is uniform, and does away with many of the cliches that strangle many of its Germanic rivals. The digital instrument cluster is clean and delivers plenty of information to the driver, while the 9-inch Sensus infotainment system forms a key aspect of the interior. However, while it's a very impressive example of screen size, the unit suffers from laggy inputs and an un-intuitive menu interface that sometimes prevented us from returning to select sections, including the main menu. The V90's starting procedure also takes a few moments to get used to. Instead of using a traditional push button or keyed ignition system, the V90 features a twisting start/stop button which was a bit awkward to manipulate at times.
Those minor annoyances aside, there are other aspects of the interior that hold up better in the greater scheme of things. For example, the leather seats in our tester were very comfortable, and in Volvo tradition offered a whole suite of comfort choices to occupants (they even featured neat stitched Swedish flags.) There is no third row here, but the second row offers decent amounts of leg and headroom for passengers. Buyers can also fold down the seats to further expand the V90's already generous 54 cubic feet of cargo room. Volvo's vertical air vents dubbed "Air Blades" in Volvo speak embody an unexpected dramatic touch to the buttonless dashboard and are quite stylish in their own right.
Lastly, the optional $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system proved to be one of the best stereos we ever listened to. The 10-speaker unit delivered crisp sound quality, and offers several sound modes including one that supposedly replicates the Gothenburg Concert Hall. That latter item prompted us to enlist the services of our resident audiophile Emily, to see if her trained ears could pickup the subtle differences in each mode. When switched to the fore-mentioned Gothenburg setting, she noted that there was indeed a concert hall like quality to it, and that the reverberation characteristics of select notes were relatively accurate. Her favorite mode though was the Stage setting, which allows the listener to hear the sound as if they were on the stage itself. Overall the stereo here is a solid piece of engineering, but remember that the Gothenburg Concert Hall feature was not designed for lectures, or virtually any AM radio station known to man (they sounded horrible and were relegated to the default mode.)
Performance for the 2018 Volvo V90 is another example of Volvo's recent push towards twin-charging its engines (using supercharging and turbocharging at the same time.) In this case, it's from a 2.0 liter supercharged and turbocharged four cylinder that's good for a healthy 315 horsepower and a equally respectable 295 lb-ft of torque. The engine is very responsive, and our tester had no problem surging its way up to freeway speeds in highway driving despite brief turbo lag and jerky throttle responses. All V90s arrive with an eight speed automatic, and it did a good job delivering smooth shifts and had a buttery smooth quality to its operation.
Handling in our tester was mostly solid, with our tester doing a good job maintaining its composure through twistier tarmac. At times, it felt smaller and much nimbler than it's 4,400 lb curb weight and 115 inch wheel base would lead you to believe at first glance, with plentiful levels of grip and poise. The lone flaw here is the same trait that is common with all Volvos, their stiff ride. Even with the adaptive suspension set to its softest setting, our tester still shuddered and thumped over many road imperfections, which sent spine tingling vibrations through the seats. A fair amount of road and tire noise also permeates the cabin, but thankfully, the stereo helps mask the bulk of this intrusion especially with a good selection from Bach or Mozart playing through the speakers.
Pricing for 2018 Volvo V90 Inscription starts at $51,950 for the base T5 model with T6 grade cars like our tester starting at a slightly higher $57,950. Our loaded T6 Inscription AWD example had a final MSRP of $69,340 with the bulk of the number inflation coming from its extensive list of optional extras. In addition to the $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound system, our tester also had other goodies including the $1,000 tailored dash treatment, $900 HUD unit, and the $1,900 Convenience package. For comparison, the pricier Jaguar XF Sportbrake starts at $70,450 but that figure can rapidly balloon to over $85,000 when sufficiently optioned. A closer competitor is the $63,050 Mercedes Benz E400 wagon which is one of the few remaining wagon models still established in the marketplace. While its 3.0 liter biturbo V6 makes more power than the Volvo, the wagon is only available with the V6, and has no four cylinder option available. Also like the Jag, the Mercedes can inflate its price very quickly with optional equipment, though its not quite as extreme of a problem as it is on its British counterpart.
Overall the 2018 Volvo V90 is a very compelling package. Buyers looking buy one will have to special order one, but we highly recommend it to not only experience the full wagon experience, but also glimpse at an era when passenger space and utility were not defined by size and sales trends.