SHARE THIS ARTICLE

After just over nine years with my daily driver Volkswagen Golf, I made the decision to call it quits.

While it has just over 63,000 miles on the odometer and it is in mechanically great condition, it just feels like it’s time to move on. It doesn’t help that I have a new commute, which is strictly highway and then interstate driving. A Golf is a great city car but when you get near triple digit territory, however, you need more juice.

So, that’s what I set out to find. Something for daily driving duty, can tackle the elements and has utility. Technology wouldn’t hurt either coming from my stripper veedub.

Volvo V90

After checking out things like a new Jeep Grand Cherokee High Altitude, <10,000 mile certified pre-owned BMW 740i and 750i xDrives, I started to think a bit outside of the box. The Grand Cherokees are everywhere. The 7-Series’ reliability could be problematic as I do plan to keep this vehicle for five to nine years.

I started racking my brain and thought of something that eluded me earlier on. The Volvo V90 R-Design.

I’ve been a fan of Volvo’s work for quite some time now. From the days of the 850R then the S60R with the spaceball shifter, I always thought they were neat in their own way. Now that the Swedes have essentially given the brand a renaissance starting with the excellent XC90 and its siblings in the S90, XC60, S60, XC40, et al., I knew it was time to revisit and see if I wanted to put one in my driveway.

Upon learning more on Volvo’s site, I was really digging the possibility of a black on black V90 R-Design. It’s discreet, mean and tasteful all in on package. And its interior is quite good — just add the Bowers & Wilkins sound system. There’s just one problem: If you want one, you can’t just ring up your local Volvo dealer and take it on a test drive before plopping down nearly $65,000. The V90s have to be ordered from the factory. When I was looking to simply experience one, there were only a handful R-Designs across the country.

A coupe of emails to corporate later and I was set up with a V90 Inscription. Of course, this isn’t the exact car I was seeking but a beggar can’t be choosy.


Volvo V90










Taking delivery of the Platinum Grey example, I liked the exterior design. The Inscription features chrome trim bits, a different front grille and wheels that are obviously designed for a luxury automobile. It’s not offensive if any way, which is exactly what I was looking for. Unlike many of today’s social climbers that see themselves as the Kardashian’s 2.0 with illuminated three-pointed stars and bulbous four-door coupe SUVs, I want to blend in and not be seen. The V90 is perfect if you appreciate clean lines and something that follows Scandinavian design principles.

For me though, the interior is one of my top concerns. Nothing to worry about in the V90, however, as its quality is on par with the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. I still appreciate the Sensus system, even if it requires a bit of fumbling around to get the hang of. If you want to have some fun, just time how long it takes for you to find the Bower & Wilkins’ equalizer.

HINT: It requires a swipe you may not have expected.

Where the V90 takes some more lumps is with its instrument panel. Although it is a 12-inch TFT display, it doesn’t allow for much customization. It’s a bit disappointing given how there could be so many ways to visualize information yet Volvo went the traditional route with a straightforward tachometer, speedometer and a fairly basic map, if you so desire.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, it’s clear that Volvo’s standard chairs are beating the market. While the adjustments are minimal, it reminds me of a Herman Miller product. They’re ergonomically correct and somehow super comfortable in their simplicity. Bonus points for the optional massage function but just know this feature is not class leading in terms of the variety of settings or the actual massage itself.

Even for my 6’8, 300 pound build there’s plenty of room in all directions. And, I am happy to see there’s enough space for an average-sized adult behind me. As I am getting to a certain point in my life where a baby seat may be needed in the second row, roominess is important. A neat option fitted in my test vehicle were the integrated booster cushions on the second row’s outer seats. Once again, a nice detail that’s especially appreciated if you have toddlers — Why aren’t more automakers doing this?

Walking around back, the power liftgate unveiled a cavernous cargo area. Although on paper it’s considered tight for its class, I thought it could handle pretty much whatever you throw at it. Coming from a Golf hatch, anything is bigger; however, an SUV would provide greater space for taller items you’re transporting.


Volvo V90










Firing up the V90 via the center console-mounted switch is a quirky touch — one that I get a kick out of. The 316 horsepower, supercharged and turbocharged motor comes to life. To be honest, the engine has always been my biggest concern. While power isn’t an issue as the T6 powerplant has plenty of pep, it still is a four-cylinder engine. When pushed it is a bit noisy and not in a good way. My previous experiences with this motor has resulted in me not really loving it from a noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) perspective and this time it isn’t feeling much different. This is a pretty big hurdle for me to clear since I am a sound guy. If an auto doesn’t sound good, it chips away at me. Especially if its for me to purchase.

Coupled with an eight-speed automatic, the V90 is OK at changing cogs but it’s not quite as seamless or as sharp as the eight-speed ZF automatic that many automakers have pivoted to. The Volvo’s transmission is good, not great. While it’s acceptable throughout my time with the tester, I did have the oddball lurch or clumsiness when I needed power to be put to the ground, fast.

After a week worth of driving I saw 23 mpg. While I wasn't primarily concerned with fuel efficiency for my new daily, I was a bit let down by this figure given the EPA says it can nab up to 31 mpg, highway. It would have been nice to crest the 25 mpg mark.

Hustling the V90 Inscription around some country roads, it’s actually pretty capable. It’s certainly not a sports car as it softly pushes through corners and you feel the body lean. But, the all-wheel drive (AWD) provides plenty of traction with the tarmac.

The steering feel is predictably numb but that can be said for anything today with an electric rack. That said, its weighting is ideal — not too heavy, not too light — and inputs are relatively direct. Kudos, Volvo!

On the luxury/sports sedan spectrum it’s clearly oriented towards the luxury end. While that may be the case, it still can put a smile on your face and keep things interesting after a long day at the salt mines. Frankly, that’s sort of what I was looking for: Something that’s luxury-oriented.

This was especially important when it came to ride quality. There was just one pronounced issue: The V90 isn’t as well sorted as I would have hoped in this department either. Whether you’re around town or at speed, it is a nice ride; however, when you do hit bumps they’re felt more than I would have expected. Sure, my tester was shod with 20-inch wheels, which didn’t help matters, but even if I stepped down to 19s I don’t have the conviction that it would isolate bumps as much as I was looking for.

Largely, I think that sort of sums up the entirety of my experience with Volvo’s flagship wagon. It’s good but not great. And I have to admit, that does become very problematic for me when the price of the subject in question starts inching to that $65,000 mark.

I want to love every bit and piece of it.

I’d hate to make that level of investment, and then every time I push the T6 motor I wince or every time I hit a bump and say “Damn, I wish I bought something with a more isolated ride.”

So, that’s it. It’s off the list.

The Good:

- Excellent build quality with lovely materials
- I love the interior with its thoughtful, Scandinavian design
- Some of the best seats in the business


The Bad:

- While I feel the T6 motor has enough grunt, its NVH is still a roadblock for me — It’s a bit too noisy and harsh when throttled
- Man, I wish the V90 isolated bumps better as road imperfections make themselves more known than I’d like
- The transmission falls short — I am sure most people won’t notice or care but the extra beat it takes to shift when power is NEEDED or that occasional, jerky downshift gets to me


The Lowdown:

Volvo does build some wonderful autos today. There’s just a catch. If you’re seeking a vehicle with true sporting intentions, these aren’t the pick of the litter. Although I do like their attention to detail and contemporary interiors, there’s just a certain “X” factor that’s lacking with the V90, overall. It doesn’t help that it’s powered by a four-cylinder engine or that it’s exterior has a very clean look rather than something provocative. While I do like the Sensus system and comfortable seats, it’s just not enough to put it over the edge for me.


Volvo V90





























































































REVIEW: MORE Hatch?! Is Agent 00R Ready To Take The Plunge With The Volvo V90 — Verdict Enclosed

About the Author

Agent00R