Being a father and also writing about cars, I often get asked by other parents what I think is the best car in the market today. These parents are not looking for a sports car or a convertible to cruise around town, but instead a good (read: not boring) car that can haul the entire family and all their gear. For the past few years, that would have me looking into the crossover segment. Deep down, however, I know these are indeed not perfect. The crossover’s higher ride height translates to a higher center of gravity and in turn, a compromised driving experience.
My solution has always been an all-wheel-drive station wagon, which hauls just as much cargo as a similar sized SUV but with sedan-esque driving dynamics. Unfortunately for North American shoppers, station wagons have long been perceived, often mocked as the most boring type of car, and the wagon market has been all but replaced by the popular SUV and crossovers.
The Volvo V90, released last year, is a car that has potential to be that perfect dad-mobile, at least on paper. A luxury station wagon with cargo space that competes with many SUVs and looks that could kill. This week, Volvo sent us their gorgeous 2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design with Polestar Performance Optimization, so I can put my theory to test and decide whether the station wagon can be cool again.
The V90 R-Design sits in the middle of three trim levels in the V90 lineup. The R-Design distinguishes itself with 19″ R-Design five-spoke Matte Black wheels, and special design elements including a unique front and lower outer grille, matte silver side mirrors, various R-Design badges and specific interior parts to remind you this is the sportiest of the bunch. My test car was further embellished with a set of optional 20″ eight-spoke alloy wheels. These wheels, combining with Volvo’s signature Thor’s Hammer daytime running lights, complete the V90’s look and this car is a real head-turner.
All V90s are powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, with direct fuel injection. Power on the “T6” configuration is enhanced by turbocharging and supercharging. It’s rated at 316 horsepower at 5,700RPM, and 295 lb-ft. of torque from 2,200 to 5,400RPM. My test car was equipped with the Polestar Performance Optimization option, essentially a factory tune with a focus on optimizing mid-range engine performance, gearshifts and throttle response. It bumps the power figures up to 330 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and the torque figure is increased to 325 lb-ft arriving at 4,500RPM.
The combination of a turbocharger and a supercharger, and Polestar’s special blessing, created a car that would surprise a lot of muscle cars. There is minimal lag off the line and I did not feel much drop-off beyond the mid-range either. A stomp on the gas pedal rewards your ears with sweet, deep exhaust notes, which is pretty much the cherry on top for this Swedish delight. Volvo rates this V90’s 0 to 100km/h acceleration at 6.0 seconds, 0.1 seconds better than the standard model without the Polestar tune..
All V90s sold in Canada are all-wheel drive with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, idle start/stop and adaptive shift technology. The AWD system offers the V90 great traction under hard acceleration and balanced handling feel in the corners. Gear shifts are quick and seemingly instinctive, keeping the car in the right personality for whatever hat I decide to put on it. The V90 R-Design has three driving modes; Eco, Comfort, and Dynamic. Selecting the Dynamic mode sharpens up engine, gearbox, steering, and braking response; all of which makes for a rewarding backroad drive. Steering feel is precise and the 18″ front and 17″ rear brakes stop the car on a dime with confidence inspiring feel.
Volvo rates the V90’s fuel economy at an impressive 10.8L/100km in the city, 7.6L/100km on the highway, and 9.4L/100km combined. I observed a slightly higher than rated 11.2L/100km on my week-long commute, which is acceptable as my average speed was 42km/h for the entire week. The V90’s supercharged and turbocharged engine will accept 60L of premium 91-octane gasoline.
Despite my grinding commute all week, the serenity inside the V90 made things much more tolerable. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again; Volvo makes the best seats in the industry. The power adjustable and heated front seats have paddings everywhere, holding occupants snugly without ever feeling constricted. The minimalistic interior design is pleasing to the eyes, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector are a joy to hold. The focus of the interior is on the integrated 12.3″ Volvo Sensus infotainment system. I have never been a fan of touchscreen infotainment systems, as it requires eyes off the road to operate, thus creating unnecessary distraction. However, the Volvo Sensus system is an exception.
With intuitive design, I was able to navigate the system without much difficulty. I enjoyed the stacked display on the main screen, displaying multiple types of information in an easy-to-read layout. The Sensus system will support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are physical shortcut keys on the bottom of the touchscreen, alongside a much appreciated volume knob. My test car was equipped with the optional Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, consisting of a 12-channel amplifier, 1,400W output, and 19 speakers all over the cabin. This sound system is the perfect complement to this world class interior, offering a complete sensory gratification to all of its occupants. Cargo capacity of the V90 is 723 litres, allowing it to fit almost everything a family would throw into it.
Pricing for the Volvo V90 Momentum starts at $60,500, while the R-Design starts at $65,100. The top of the line Inscription model starting at $66,700. My particular test car was equipped with a long list of packages and options, including the $2,000 Vision package (blind spot information system & cross traffic alert, auto-dimming mirrors, retractable side mirrors, 360-degree surround view camera), the $1,500 Convenience package (park assist pilot, built-in compass on the mirror, HomeLink garage door opener), the $1,250 Climate Package (heated wiper blades/steering wheel/rear seats), the $1,400 Polestar Performance Optimization, the $1,150 Heads-Up Display, $3,250 Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System, the $900 Bursting Blue Metallic paintjob, and the $1,000 20-inch alloy wheels. All of these options brought the as-tested price to $77,550.
In terms of size and luxury, the closest competitor of the Volvo V90 would be the Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Wagon, which starts at $74,000. A similarly equipped E 400 4MATIC Wagon will be at least $8,000 more expensive than my V90 R-Design tester. Most shoppers for these two cars will also be comparing them against similarly priced luxury crossover and SUVs, putting them in competition with Range Rover Velar (reviewed here) and the Jaguar F-Pace (reviewed here). The Volvo offers great value when compared to the E400 Wagon and a luxury sedan-like driving experience than any crossovers and SUVs.
The 2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design is a truly special car. It offers families with a unique blend of practicality, winter driving safety, luxury, and a sporty driving experience. In a sea of family cars in every size and shape imaginable as long as it looks like a SUV or crossover, it is the most boring one that garners the most attention.