Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Volvo has used its appealingly-named Power Pulse technology on the V90's D5 engine. This uses compressed air to help the turbocharger kick in faster, and the result is superbly urgent acceleration from low revs, helped by standard four-wheel drive.
With less low-down torque than the D5, the entry-level diesel V90 D4 requires significantly more throttle input to get up to speed. However, the linear power delivery of the D5 has been retained and this engine is powerful enough for most situations, if not quite a match for the equivalent E220d Estate.
If you prefer petrol power, there’s a 187bhp T4 engine that's fractionally cheaper than the D4 but is much harder to recommend. It doesn't have as much power from low revs, and, while it's more refined than the D4, it is pretty coarse for a petrol engine. The 247bhp T5 is actually a better bet; although it costs a little more to buy, it's slightly more efficient and smoother while feeling properly punchy. Should you want even more performance, there's the T6. This adds a supercharger to boost power to 305bhp, although don't expect it to transform the V90 into an Audi S6 Avant rival. It certainly feels strong, but not enough to justify the extra expense when purchasing, or when you visit the pumps.
Alternatively, you can opt for the T8 Twin Engine. This doesn’t lump another turbocharged petrol engine in the boot like its name suggests; instead, you get a battery pack and an electric motor powering the rear wheels. This allows you to run for up to 28 miles on electricity alone if you charge the battery up, bringing a reduction in CO2 emissions. Just remember, though, that the faster you go, the quicker the battery gets drained. On a typical commute with some motorway miles, its electric-only range could drop to around 20 miles or even less. However, the other advantage of the battery power is added performance; the T8 sprints from 0-62mph in just over five seconds. Meanwhile, a Polestar Performance software upgrade is available for various engines in the range, but you'll be hard pushed to notice any real difference, so we wouldn't bother.
The V90, in all its guises, is generally a peaceful cruiser, although not to the extent that it can match the whisper-quiet BMW 520d Touring. Engine noise in the diesels is the biggest nuisance; at idle, there's a mild rumble that seems out of sorts with a premium wagon, but this fades to a reasonable background thrum on the move. The T4 petrol engine is a touch coarse, but the T5 and T6 are hushed unless you're really thrashing them. At speed, only the ruffle of wind noise from those big door mirrors is intrusive because road noise is kept nicely at bay. The T8 is virtually silent when running on electricity, while the car’s petrol engine is much more refined than the diesels.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox fitted to all versions changes smoothly, albeit without quite matching the seamless shifts of the 5 Series. It can also dither when you ask for a burst of acceleration, hindering your progress, a trait sadly not eliminated by the Polestar Performance upgrade. The T8 does at least shuffle between power sources without disturbing you too much. You don’t really notice the engine start and you rarely notice the car switching from electric to engine power and back again.
Ride comfort is crucial in family estates, and this is another area in which the V90 impresses, if you tick the box for the optional adaptive dampers that includes air suspension at the rear. It helps the V90 glide along motorways with a relaxing buoyancy and rides over most surfaces at town speeds in a composed fashion. Only particularly vicious ridges send thuds through the body, something the E-Class tends to suffer from, too, but less so the 5 Series. Without the adaptive dampers, the V90 transmits a few too many road imperfections to its occupants.
One note of caution, though: beware of the R-Design Plus trim. Again, on adaptive suspension it’s fine, but as standard it gets a 15mm lowered ride height, bespoke dampers and stiffer suspension that makes the ride choppy.
The adaptive dampers also sharpen up the V90’s handling, making it marginally more composed through corners than the 5 Series. However, on the standard suspension the V90 falls short of both the 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class Estate for handling, feeling a closer match to the lethargic and ultimately unrewarding Audi A6 Avant. It remains fairly upright though tight corners but never feels particularly eager to change direction, and the steering doesn't provide much feedback. At least the standard four-wheel drive on the D5, T6 and T8 models provides the V90 with plenty of traction when accelerating out of slow corners.
It’s worth noting that the heavy battery in the T8 makes it feel less agile than the regular models, something that could be a disappointment if you pick one as a high-performance estate. The steering wheel occasionally writhes around in your hands slightly if you accelerate hard from a standstill, too. With its electric motor at the back, T8 may be four-wheel drive, but the front wheels receive more than three times as much power as the rears.
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