Tuesday 12 December 2017

The highs and lows with Volvo's new saloon and estate

First Drive in Estepona: Volvo S90, V90

Volvo S90 and V90.
Volvo S90 and V90.
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Rarely have two cars cut from the same cloth felt so different. The new Volvo S90 saloon diesel disappointed a bit on my first drive. Yes, there were all the things they said, but it hadn't the life to its drive that I'd anticipated and that had been promised.

Up through hills, down hollows and sweeping motorways I - and subsequently my co-driver - came to similar conclusions. This would not have the intended targets of BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF quaking in their boots.

But I know that those who love the safety, the technology, breadth of standard equipment (worth a lot of money), roominess and newness of this car would buy it.

Me? I wasn't so sure. Then we got into the estate - the V90 - and it was so different, so much better, I started to ask all sorts of silly questions. Like was it a more powerful engine? No.

Were the wheels and tyres different (such items can make a massive difference)? No, same tyres, Pirelli, on 20ins alloys.

The steering wheel was a bit different. There was much nicer cream upholstery, but such matters are peripheral.

Volvo interior
Volvo interior

The same answers came with queries on gearbox, settings and everything else. It is only a little longer and whatever minor adjustments were made were negligible to suspension settings or to take account of the roof line stretching further or accommodating bigger loads.

The cars had air suspension and had All-Wheel-Drive so other than their shape they were virtually identical.

By the way, the cargo area in the V90 is substantial with an under-floor slot instead of a spare wheel - the saloon's is only moderately roomy.

Legroom is good at the rear of both - the use of thin, but strong, seats gave more space. So how could they explain how I went from disappointment with the S90 to embracing the V90 as a proper challenge to the German makers and Jaguar?

I nabbed a couple of the experts and picked their brains. Nothing. We took out the T6 petrol versions the next morning (also air suspension). There was a definite narrowing of the gap; the saloon felt more crisp but still the V came out on top.

And that's where I must leave it until I get a D4 (not a D5 as we had on test) on Irish roads. The story could be different.

The other thing to remember is that air suspension is only going to be optional (€2,600 extra) so it will be interesting to see how the cars do with a conventional one and with the D4 diesel (unavailable for the international drive sadly). The engines we had were the 2-litre 235bhp D5 diesels and 320bhp T6 petrols (not going to be bought by too many).

The bad news is you won't be able to get your hands on a V90 until January. The S80 is open for orders now.

Volvo interior
Volvo interior

One thing worth noting about the 2-litre D5 (not on D4) is PowerPulse. This does away with turbo lag. A small tank of compressed air feeds into the turbos from the start which means you get a power boost without waiting for engine revs.

We tried it out on a short improvised course with the tank deactivated in one car but not the another. The one with PowerPulse was quickest each time. The new cars are built on the same SPA platform that underpins the XC90. But they have an improved 130kmh Pilot Assist (semi autonomous driving) that now works up to 130kmh (up to 135kmh on my drive).

The semi autonomous drive element is another stage along the way to the company fulfilling its aspiration that no one will be killed or injured in a Volvo by 2020.

The S90/V90's new suspension and chassis give them a solid base, no doubt about that. Volvo say the challenge was to make it a handler. Well the jury is out, as I've outlined, on the S90; not the V90.

Connectivity is of course big too. They are promising to expand it even more.

The cabin was grand; reminiscent of the XC90 but the dash is quite high so we had to hike up our seats.

I wouldn't like the walnut veneer insets and dark upholstery at all. The car felt better and airier with cream leather upholstery.

Prices start at €48,400 for the D4 Momentum Geartronic diesel. That engine has emissions of just 116g/km so the road tax is €200.

The D5 PowerPulse AWD 235hp version (€270 road tax) costs from €56,400

Higher spec (Inscription) versions cost from €52,900 (D4 front wheel drive) and €60,400 for the D5 PowerPulse AWD (€270 road tax).

Among the standard high - and it is high - level of spec are, as I've said, Pilot Assist. It maintains a set speed or distance from the vehicle in front and will brake or accelerate with the flow of traffic.

They make the point that, unlike previous versions, it no longer needs to follow another car.

The latest version of City Safety is also standard; it includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and 'large animal' detection.

Standard (Momentum) spec also includes leather upholstery, LED headlights, electric seats, two-zone climate control, Sensus infotainment/nav system, access to Net and cloud-based apps such as TuneIn, Stitcher and Yelp and DAB, 17ins wheels.

Inscription adds Nappa leather upholstery, electric front seats, 12.3ins TFT driver's information display (8ins on Momentum), 18in diamond-cut/silver alloys, walnut interior inlays, full LED with high beam/bending lights.

Options include Park Assist Pilot (€950) and Apple CarPlay.

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