EL SEGUNDO, California — Drive any of the current Volvos, and while there are hints of that old school Swedish charm, you might also get the impression that these cars are from an entirely different company—thanks to all-new exterior designs, interior treatments, tech features, and advanced powertrains. We’ve liked what we’ve seen from the new Volvo so much that one of its vehicles has taken home an All-Stars award in each of the past three years, with the Volvo V90 wagon being the latest honoree.
The wagon form itself also holds some added significance to the staff. Though only a few of us are old enough to remember when they ruled the American road, the vast majority of the Automobile team loves us some wagon primarily because it serves as the enthusiast’s anecdote to the high-riding crossover. That’s part of the reason why we named the V90 a 2018 All-Star, and a lot of the reason why we’ve added a 2019 Volvo V90 to our Four Seasons fleet.
We’re also no strangers to getting extended seat time in a Volvo wagon, as we conducted a Four Seasons evaluation of a V60 T5 back in 2015. Among the many things we’re eager to find out: Is Volvo still making the wagons we’ve come to know and love?
Not that sentiment is the sole reason for having a V90 in for a long term test; we’re also mindful of the fact that a big wagon is a good thing to have in our line of work. The V90’s cargo measurements (19.8 cu-ft expanding to 69 cubes with the rear seats folded down) don’t sound like monster numbers, but a wagon orients its cargo volume horizontally rather than vertically. With the seats down, the Volvo’s load floor is 6.5 feet long and 3.6 feet between the wheel wells, and it’s just two feet off the ground. We took the Volvo up to Lone Pine, California, for its first photo shoot, with a ladder for high-angle shots and camping equipment for props, and it proved more adept at carrying the gear than the SUV we’d brought along as a support vehicle. When we talked to another photographer about using a Four Seasons car to accompany an upcoming road-trip article, his eyes lit up: “Can I take the Volvo?”
If you’re in the market for one, obtaining a straight-up V90 wagon isn’t the easiest thing to do. Volvo is pushing its V90 Cross Country, the SUV-ized version of the V90 that is slightly taller, more butch, and (of course) more expensive. Officially, the V90 is only available by special order. Still, from what we’ve seen, plenty of dealers are ordering regular V90s for stock—a nice reminder that we’re doing the right thing by opting for the purist’s version of Volvo’s big wagon.
And big it is—big, black, and imposing. And quick. We opted for the top-of-the-line Inscription version with the 316 hp T6 engine. For those unfamiliar, Volvo has turned its back on the century-old tradition of using different-sized engines for different sized cars, and instead offers (in North America, at least) a single 2.0-liter four-cylinder powertrain with different power outputs. The T6 is unusual in that it uses both a supercharger and a turbocharger*, the former to provide low-end torque and the latter to generate more high-rpm power. A clutch decouples the supercharger from the engine at higher speeds, and fancy intake plumbing provides a smooth transition from blower to turbo. We’ve been impressed thus far by how well the modestly-sized engine motivates this two-ton wagon. But we imagine it has to work its little heart out to do so, and we’re interested to see how it will hold up to a year of thrashing.
* Yes, yes, techies, we know—technically, turbocharging is a form of supercharging. For the sake of brevity—the soul of wit, after all—we’ll refer to an engine-driven supercharger simply as a supercharger.
Because the V90 represents of a new generation of Volvo luxury, we opted to indulge. The Inscription model, priced at $60,445 (including $995 destination fee), is already quite posh: Its 10-way power front seats are slathered in perforated Nappa leather and the driver’s seat has a power-extendable thigh cushion (very helpful as our staffers range in height by a good foot). Other standard equipment includes four-zone climate control, a kick-to-open power tailgate, and auto-dimming mirrors all around. And because it’s a Volvo, the V90 comes with a long list of safety and driver-assistance equipment, including Pilot Assist, which uses adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance to offer semi-autonomous driving. All-wheel-drive comes as part and parcel of the T6 powertrain.
What about options? While we didn’t check all of the option boxes, we sure as hell didn’t leave many of ’em blank. We started with the $2,500 Advance package, which includes a head-up display, LED headlights with washers, semi-automated parking for when we feel lazy, and a 360-degree parking camera for when we don’t. The V90 offers several stand-alone options, and we sampled heavily: Active suspension with rear air springs ($1,200), massaging front seats ($600), a heated steering wheel ($300), and a charcoal-colored headliner ($200).
We thought the $150 110-volt outlet might come in handy, and the 20-inch wheel upgrade seemed like a good deal at $800. And we couldn’t see getting a wagon without load bars for the roof rack ($250), though they’ll probably spend most of their time in the office as they interrupt the V90s slick roofline. We’d like to say the piéce de rèsistance is the $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins stereo, but in truth it’s probably the extra-cost ($645) metallic black paint—because the no-cost gloss black paint wasn’t good enough. Total list price for our oblong obsidian opus: $70,290.
Our first week with the Volvo reminded us of the royal pain black cars can be. Though the fires raging in the Los Angeles area were far from our offices, apparently there was ash in the air. We know because our V90 was covered by it, and it wasn’t showing on the other cars in the parking lot. Something tells us we’re going to be spending a lot of time and money at the car wash to keep our V90 looking good.
Other than that, though, first impressions have been mostly favorable—and not just from our staff. “I park a lot of new cars in front of my house, but surprisingly few merit comment from neighbors and friends,” notes senior editor Nelson Ireson. “The V90, however, earned praise from gardeners, neighbors, and passersby, all of whom stopped me to ask what it was. After a deeply perplexed look—the liftgate has ‘VOLVO’ written across it in 2.0-inch-high letters—I smiled and told each of them, ‘It’s a Volvo.’ Each admirer was surprised, and, it appeared, pleased.”
Online editor Ed Tahaney adds, “I’ve driven some cool wagons here at Automobile, but the V90 is the only one I’d actually want to buy. It’s a solid ride overall and the black paint and chocolate leather interior combo really works for me.”
The V90 is already proving to be one of our more popular Four Seasons cars—we don’t expect the grass to grow under its tires. But can it last? Will this new-generation Volvo please us as much as the Volvos we’ve run in the past? A year of driving will tell us. Let the wagoning begin!
Our 2019 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription
$60,445/$70,290 (base/as tested)
2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,400 rpm
4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD station wagon
Electric power assisted rack and pinion
Double wishbone with coil springs/Integral axle with air springs
Vented disc/vented disc
Pirelli Cinturato P7, P235/35 ZR20
L X W X H
194.3 x 74.0 x 58.1 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R
CARGO CAPACITY (SEATS UP/DOWN)
19.8/69.0 cu ft
WEIGHT DIST F/R
5.8 sec (manf. est.)
Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance
Collision detection and mitigation with automatic braking
Aluminum roof rails
Nappa leather trim
10-way power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats w/ adjustable thigh and side bolsters
Driver’s seat memory
WiFi hot spot
Harmon-Kardon premium audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Keyless entry and ignition
Rear view camera
Rear parking assistance
Hands-free power tailgate
Advanced Package (head-up display, active LED headlights with washers, semi-automatic self-parking, 360-degree parking camera, front parking assistance), $2,500
20” Inscription wheels, $800
Massaging front seats, $600
Bowers and Wilkins premium audio, $3,200
Heated steering wheel, $300
115-volg outlet, $150
Rear air suspension, $1,200
Charcoal headliner, $200
Roof load bars, $250
Metallic paint, $645