Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design, Polestar Optimized

Before SUVs, there were minivans, and before minivans, there were station wagons. Station wagons were vehicles that every kid hoped their parents wouldn’t buy. Station wagons were not cool.

With a mighty flourish, the V90 raises a Viking fist to wagon – and Volvo – naysayers

Volvo wagons were sort of in a class of their own, however. Volvo built them like tanks, installed slick manual transmissions, turbocharged them, and even raced them. Volvo wagons were cool, but then for a while they went away.

And now they’re back – revived, rejuvenated and reimagined – the latest and most impressive version being the magnificent 2017 Volvo V90. Yes, I said magnificent. Long (4,936 millimetres) low (1,475 mm), wide (2,019 mm) and extroverted without being ostentatious, this car can turn heads wherever it goes. With a mighty flourish, the V90 raises a Viking fist to wagon – and Volvo – naysayers.

For sure this vehicle has killer looks, especially in our tester’s Bursting Blue Metallic, and whether you think the lines are Scandinavian sleek, American retro 1960s, or some post-modern combination of the two, they will get your attention.

Okay, enough about the looks, let’s get to the details.

First of all, the V90 is referred to by Volvo as an estate, not a wagon, so let’s get that straight. In base Momentum form the 2017 V90 T6 AWD starts at $59,900, and the V90 T6 AWD R-Design (special 19-inch wheels, sport seats, exterior trim enhancements, stiffer suspension, 20 mm lower ride height, R-Design steering wheel and accents) stickers at $64,450. But we were testing a fully loaded R-Design with Polestar optimization plus packages version, and for this you’re looking at $81,325 including freight/PDI.

We’ll unpack that for you. Under the hood, as with all Volvos now, you’ll find a four-cylinder engine (even if it’s the big XC90 SUV, it’ll have a four-cylinder engine). In the V90 T6 AWD and V90 T6 AWD R-Design, the engine is both turbocharged and supercharged, making 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque that it delivers through an eight-speed transmission. Fuel consumption is rated at an impressively low 10.8 / 7.6 / 9.4 L/100 km, city/highway/combined.

Polestar optimization increases horsepower from 316 to 330 and torque from 295 to 325 pound-feet. You get faster throttle response and gear changes, gears are calibrated to increase stability when cornering, and the engine and transmission respond more quickly when the driver releases the accelerator. It’s chipped, in other words.

Convenience, Vision and Leather packages included Park Assist Pilot, blind-spot information and cross-traffic alert, Nappa leather sport seats with cushion extension and the car was also fitted with standalone options including metallic paint, Bower & Wilkins audio, 20-inch wheels, head up display, rear air suspension and active chassis, and the Polestar performance bump.

Before getting underway, I should point out that even without the packages and options, the V90 T6 AWD R-Design model is generously equipped with luxury, performance and safety features. These include, and are by no means limited to navigation, leather, panoramic roof, LED exterior lighting, power folding head restraints, Volvo Sensus HMI with 9.3-inch display, Volvo City Safety low- and high-speed collision mitigation, Volvo Wi-Fi hotspot, power liftgate, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, road sign information, driver alert, road-edge- and barrier-detection with auto steer, adaptive cruise control, graphical instrument cluster, sun curtains and four-zone climate control.

So you see, Volvo is still about safety, but they reckon safety on its own is a bit humdrum as far as branding goes (even with their unprecedented Vision 2020 commitment that no person will die or be seriously injured in a new Volvo as of the 2020 model year). Safety, therefore, is now integrated into an impressive design/performance package expected to elevate Volvo solidly into the ranks of Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. This is, after all, where Volvo and other genuine luxury contenders need to be, and arguably where Volvo thought it already was. It’s just that consumers may not have agreed.

So when you open the door to your V90, you’re greeted with a vast and finely tailored interior that properly affirms its luxury intentions. Our vehicles, of course, had the Nappa sport seats, which I must say, are wonderfully sculpted, trimmed and proportioned, and, I should think, will keep you fresh and limber after any long-distance driving experience.

The electronic instrument cluster is customizable and very easy to read, a supplementary map is located conveniently between the major gauges. The head-up display disappears if you wear polarized sunglasses (as they all do) but it’s great at night otherwise. The centre stack features the much-lauded Volvo Sensus HMI that has the proportions and behaviour of an Apple iPad. It’s crystal clear, easy to operate but sometimes generates far too much information if you’re driving, and it’ll do Apple CarPlay, if you’d like.

That said, Volvo’s moving towards autonomous driving in a big way, and the V90 does feature some semi-autonomous capability in the form of its Pilot Assist system.

On the road, the ride is not as firm as I expected, even with the low-profile 20-inch wheels and stiffer damping. The Drive Mode program will further mitigate the rougher surfaces, its control handily located on the centre console. Auto stop-start is also selectable.

We drove our V90 on four-lane highways and two-lane country roads in rural Quebec. We also encountered lots of rain so I can tell you the big sweep of the wipers is very effective!

As opulent as the interior is, it does lack the design cohesiveness of the exterior. It’s something of an amalgam between Asian, American, and European, with trim panels, surfaces and accents of different texture and finish not fully succeeding in their attempt to get along. It ends up being busier in appearance than perhaps intended, although it’s likely targeting all three markets at once and is luxurious enough for sure.

Roominess is not an issue. Front and rear-seat occupants have more than enough head-, shoulder-, and legroom; and the cargo area behind the rear seat is likewise substantial. And the V90 tows as well: a tow package is available from Volvo and when fitted, you’re looking at a useful 1,681 kg ((3,700 lb) tow capacity, which is more than many crossovers.

While the steering isn’t high-performance sharp, it’s certainly quick. Braking is easily modulated and acceleration is brisk. The low centre of gravity of the V90 contributes to an overall feeling of stability on the road and outward visibility, despite the big C-pillars at the rear, is very good. At highway speeds the car is barely turning 2,000 rpm so the ride is smooth, quiet and calm. Nudge the accelerator, however, and the transmission responds on cue and you’re away.

It’s really a travelling machine, I think. You can pack the family, the dog, and half the contents of your house in it, and tow the rest. Then head for parts distant, carrying your connectivity with you and letting the V90 help with the driving when appropriate.

Okay, it’s not that huge or that smart, but it is notable in both departments. Plus it drives like a car, and a sporty one at that. For those looking for something different, the Volvo V90 estate, in whatever form, will be that vehicle. Your kids may even think you’re cool-ish.

Pricing: 2017 Volvo V90 T6

V90 T6 AWD: $59,900
V90 T6 AWD R-Design: $64,450

Price as Tested:

Base price (V90 T6 AWD R-Design): $64,450

Options: $15,480 – Convenience Package $1,500; Vision Package $2,000; Leather sport seats $1,800; Metallic paint $900; Bower & Wilkins Premium Sound $3,250; 20-inch wheels $975; Head-up Display $1,150; Bumper Cover $155; Rear Air Suspension, Active Chassis $2,350; Polestar Optimization $1,400

Freight and PDI: $1,395

A/C Tax: $100

Total as tested: $81,425