Road test: Volvo V90 D4

Estate cars were once the Swedish firm’s forte, but is that still the case?

Last month I put the new Mercedes-Benz E-class estate through its paces on this page, and now it’s time to do the same with the car whose ancestral home has now been taken over by that Benz. 

Remember the Volvo estates of our youths? Vast, hulking beasts that seemed to offer no limit to the amount of children, pets, luggage, white goods and everyday detritus they could swallow. But Volvo abandoned that territory 20 years ago in an attempt to define its brand as something young, hip and cool.

It’s still trying. For an estate, this new V90 is a very cool-looking car indeed. Far better looking than any German rival, all it had, will be restored.

The cabin looks more promising still. Its interior design is clean and considered, and manages to use traditional materials like wood and leather in ways that appear modern yet not in the least contrived. There’s a vast standard central touchscreen with pages you can swipe with a swish of a finger.

Fire it up and ease away and there’s more good news still: the 2-litre diesel engine is smooth and quiet, the ride generously absorbent. If first impressions count – and they do – it would be hard to imagine how the V90 could be more promising.

But second and third impressions count too. And these reveal a car already far off the pace now established by Mercedes. It might matter little that it’s less accelerative and has a lower top speed. You might even happily wear its poorer fuel consumption and greater CO2 emissions. What might be harder for traditional Volvo customers to stomach is that it seems scarcely any quicker than the ancient V70 it replaces and actually uses more fuel too. Still not bothered? Then how to do you feel about the fact that its boot is smaller than the V70’s and its maximum carrying capacity dwarfed not just by the monster Mercedes, but the Audi A6 and BMW 5-series estates too, both of which are not far off replacement. Indeed, would you be surprised to learn that a common-or-garden VW Golf estate carries more, seats up or down, than this Volvo?

In reality, I quite liked the V90 estate. It’s a pleasure to sit in and operate and the fact it has nothing to offer the driver should be seen in the context of the kind of car it is trying to be.

I find the fact it has nothing to offer someone looking for a truly effective estate car far more troubling. I just don’t believe that giving a decent-sized boot would have robbed it of its looks or character or that there is insufficient demand for a Volvo estate that’s traditional in its configuration but state of the art in its engineering. As it stands I wonder if, in the face of such capable German opposition, this undeniably good car is actually good enough.