2019 Volvo V90 Four Seasons Wrap-Up: Our V90 Was Cursed, But We Liked It Anyway
Despite the misfortune that plagued it, our Volvo reminded us why we still love wagons.
Our Four Seasons test of Volvo's beautiful V90 wagon has to have been one of the most stressful in Automobile history—not for us, but for the car.
Less than two weeks after it arrived, and as senior editor Nelson Ireson watched helplessly, a Toyota Camry backed into the Volvo in a crowed parking lot and drove off. Days later, a door ding mysteriously appeared on the left quarter panel. And on the way home from its initial photo shoot, a stray rock took out the windshield.
This, as it turned out, was only the beginning.
Over the course of its 12 months and 17,351 miles in our care—a term we really do use with a straight face—the Volvo continued to suffer: Two bent wheels (no one owned up to that one), another parking-lot hit that took out the left-side headlight washer, and a scrape against a pole by a driver who ignored the backup warning beepers. One staffer scored a record $190 worth of parking tickets over a holiday break. Our other Four Seasons cars remained incident free, and the V90 became known as the cursed car. We joked about having an exorcism for it, except we weren't entirely joking.
Finally—mercifully—social media editor Billy Rehbock managed to hit a runaway tire with our Four Seasons Infiniti QX50, and that was enough to break the curse. Bad things stopped happening to and around the Volvo, and staffers who had been reluctant to take it on long trips began once again to pile on the miles.
We began our year with the V90 hoping to learn if Volvo's newest wagon was as good as the boxy Volvo estates we remember from our youth. We knew it had talent—the V90 was one of our 2018 All-Stars—but we wanted to know if it had staying power. Since Volvo is promoting itself as a luxury brand, we indulged ourselves on creature comforts, opting for the top-of-the-line Inscription model and adding some $9,845 worth of extras to the Inscription's $60,445 base price.
We chose the extra-cost Onyx Black Metallic paint with some trepidation, as we know how difficult it is to keep a black car clean, but once we saw the car in person we were smitten. As was the rest of our office—we got a surprising number of requests from our colleagues next door at MotorTrend to drive the car. (We said yes after warning them about the curse.) Still, we'd advise anyone who asks to budget for extra car washes if they want the Darth Wagon look.
But if the outside of the car turned people's heads, it was the V90's interior that won their hearts. The logbook is full of compliments for the cabin. The V90's interior was an oasis of brown leather and wood, a serene environment in which to while away those hours stuck in Los Angeles' infamous traffic jams, aided by the careful guiding hand of Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driver assistance system. The portrait-style infotainment screen, if not as intuitive as we expected, certainly looked nice.
Old Volvo wagons generally drive like the bricks they are, and we were hoping the V90's sporty styling represented some sort of a promise. We were continuously amazed by the T6 engine, which draws 316 lag-free hp and 275 lb-ft from a mere 2.0 liters of displacement, thanks to the one-two punch of a supercharger and a turbocharger. The V90 moved with an authority that made it almost impossible to believe it came courtesy of only four cylinders.
Fuel economy was something of a disappointment, though: Our Volvo averaged 20.5 mpg, well short of the EPA's 25 mpg combined rating, and this on pricey premium gas. You can blame some of this on the staff's reluctance to travel far in the V90; the EPA gives the V90 a city rating of 21 mpg, and most of our in-town tanks yielded 19 to 20. But our road trips yielded fuel economy in the 24-to-26 range, well short of the EPA's 31-mpg highway estimate. It's more proof of our notion that turbocharged cars deliver good EPA figures but not such great real-world mileage.
On the other hand, money is only money, and we'd rather have a thirsty car than a slow one.
Handling-wise, though, the V90 left a little to be desired. It's responsive enough, but it doesn't like to be pushed too hard, and it's just too big for the narrow canyon roads we like. We appreciated that if we have to make a sudden swerve, the V90 would be right there with us, but we left the best roads to our Four Seasons Veloster N.
Although the Volvo was a magnet for trouble due to circumstances outside its control, it did generate a few problems of its own. At 1,780 miles, on a trip to San Francisco, the car went silent—no sound from the stereo, the warning beepers, or the turn signals. Power-cycling the car didn't help, and after a 20-minute search for the cabin fuse box—which we never did find, by the way—we powered up the car only to find the sound was back. On the return trip, the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) sounded an alert that all four tires were low. A check with a cheap pressure gauge revealed that the tires were just fine. We reset the TPMS ourselves. Neither glitch ever showed up again.
Audiophile Rehbock noticed a buzzing noise from the driver-side speaker, and when the check engine light lit up at 9,250 miles, we decided on an early visit to Galpin Volvo in Van Nuys for Volvo's 10,000-mile service. Our tech couldn't re-create the audio problem—it only happened at certain frequencies, and Billy's music is buzzier than most—but they traced the light to a defective fuel-filler neck, which was replaced under warranty. The service, which consisted of an oil and filter change and general inspection, was covered for free under Volvo's 3 year/36,000 mile complimentary maintenance plan.
800 miles later, one of our staffers noticed a shimmy from the front end, along with noise from the brakes. Our first thought was that we'd bent another wheel (can they possibly be that fragile?), so back to Galpin we went. They found a service bulletin with the description "Front brakes coming apart." Yikes! The tech explained that bits of the pads were coming off and adhering to the rotors. Both pads and rotors were replaced. They remembered our stereo complaint and endeavored to chase the problem down, replacing the driver-door speaker under warranty. We were supplied with a free rental (a Lincoln MKZ) for the overnight repair.
All good—or so it seemed. One week later the brake noise returned, this time a little quieter and coming from the back of the car. Turns out that although there was no service bulletin, the rear brakes had the exact same problem as the fronts. They, too, were replaced under warranty.
It's nice to know that the Volvo would not have cost us any money for repairs or service, and would have been a very affordable car to own … had we not spent $1,547.42 to replace the windshield, $1,589.11 to replace the wheels, remount the tires, and align the front end, $2,099.56 to repair all of the scuffs and scrapes, and $150 to remove that quarter-panel dent, that is.
But what of the basic question: Is this Volvo wagon as good as its predecessors? After a year, our answer is an unqualified yes. We know the wagon market has been all but eclipsed by SUVs and crossovers, and even the good folks at Volvo urged us to take a Cross Country model as our long-termer. In the end, though, we're glad we stayed the course. The V90 proved to be a great adventure wagon, particularly when the forces that rule the universe weren't aligned against it. Although it wasn't as commodious as the Volvo wagons we remember from our youths, we could accept that it traded space for sexiness. And man, did it look good! We didn't see many other V90s, and we liked the exclusivity. And those that we did see looked just as good as ours. The Cross Country version is handy enough, but the long, low look of the wagon gets us every time.
What our year with the Volvo did best was to reaffirm our notion that the wagon isn't, and shouldn't be, relegated to history. We loved our Four Seasons Volvo V90 and would take another one in a heartbeat … though maybe we'd affix a rabbit's foot to the keychain and a horseshoe to the grille, just in case.
78 mi / 17,437 mi
Gallons of Fuel Used
Observed Fuel Economy
Total Fuel Cost
1x Oil change, inspection
Recalls and TSBs
Front brake pads and rotors replaced
Rear brake pads and rotors replaced
Driver door speaker replaced
Fuel filler neck replaced
Out of Pocket
Windshield replacement, $1,547.42
Dent repair, $150
2x wheel replacement, tire remounting, front-end alignment, $1,589.11
Collision repair, $2,099.56
|Our 2019 Four Seasons Volvo V90 Inscription|
|AS TESTED PRICE||$32,500 (base) (est)|
|ENGINE||2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,400 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD station wagon|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/31/25 (city/hwy/combined)|
|L x W x H||194.3 x 74.0 x 58.1 in|
|CARGO CAPACITY (SEATS UP/DOWN)||19.8/69.0 cu ft|
|0-60 MPH||5.8 sec (mfg. est. )|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|