We’ve had the new Volvo V90 with the D5 PowerPulse engine, AWD and sporty R-Design trim in for review. Does the V90 make a ‘Sporty’ estate?
Instead of trying to compete with the leading German Premium Brands and their ethos of making their cars as dynamic as possible, even to the detriment of passenger comfort at times, Volvo has taken a different, very Swedish, route.
The new 90 Series cars do handle and are dynamic enough to please even eager drivers, but Volvo has chosen to make their new cars more comfortable, more elegant and far less boastful than Teutonic rivals.
That led us, and may others, to declare the XC90 as the most rounded premium SUV you can buy, and we were equally impressed with both the V90 D5 Inscription and S90 D4 when they were in for review a few months ago.
But what happens when Volvo tries to make their delightful V90 in to a sporty estate? Well, we had a week and a lot of miles to find out in this 2017 Volvo V90 D5 AWD R-Design.
V90 D5 R-Design Inside and out
What makes the Volvo V90 special is its understated elegance, cleverly redefining what we think of as a luxury interior with its Swedish simplicity, lovely materials and clever touches, and an exterior which manages to look both elegant and premium without resorting to garish embellishments to make a statement.
So the thought of compromising the V90’s exterior with ‘Sporty’ add-ons almost seems like a daft thing to do. But the R-Design trim certainly works visually.
The lowered suspension (more on that later), styling modifications and added black bits do all conspire to make the V90 look more purposeful. In fact, we’d venture to suggest it looks at its best in R-Design trim.
When it comes to the inside, Volvo clearly follows the lead of other premium car makers by making you have black trim in their sporty versions, complete with Volvo’s more bolstered Sports Seats in leather and Nubuck which, although firmer feeling and more supportive, are still very comfortable.
All the design elements of the other V90 trims are present and correct, with Volvo’s tablet infotainment screen doing its thing remarkably well, but the cool woods are replaced by metal trim and there’s a glass roof to light what could have been a bit of a dark cabin.
If sporty black and Swedish cool design float your boat, the interior of the V90 R-Design will be very appealing.
V90 D5 R-Design Performance
Although Volvo offer Polestar tweaks for the 90 Series, they’re not really about much more than fiddling with the concept rather than adding any extra useful power. And that’s really what R-Design is about too.
There is no additional power in the R-Design V90, but it’s D5 Powerpulse engine is a very decent lump with 235bhp and healthy torque, and that Powerpulse compressed air system does make it get up and go earlier than before.
Yes, you do get the odd time when its paltry four-cylinders make their presence felt, but on the whole it’s as serene and fit for purpose as any six-cylinder engine the competition offers.
But as this is the sporty V90, Volvo has dropped the suspension by 15mm and made the steering a bit more responsive in an effort to inject a sportier feel.
The steering changes do work and it does seem to have more feel, but we’re not completely convinced the stiffer suspension works.
True, it does mean a bit less roll in bends – although the regular V90 hardly falls over in protest when asked to go round the twisty bits – but it does mean the ride is a bit more jarring than in non-R-Design models.
One plus of the lower suspension is that the standard 18″ wheels manage to fill the wheel arches and look good, but we’d guess going for bigger alloys would make the already less appealing ride worse still, so it’s a good job.
V90 D5 R-Design Verdict
We love the Volvo V90, offering as it does a remarkable combination of elegance, comfort, load-lugging and space, and it’s as convincing a big estate car as the XC90 is an SUV.
Even in R-Design spec it still feels elegant, and the sporty bits are nicely understated, and there’s clearly a market for cars, even elegant Volvos, which look the part, even if they go no quicker. Just ask BMW and Mercedes.
The trouble is, for us, the R-Design changes to the suspension take away one of the the V90’s major USPs – its comfortable, soothing, calming cabin and ride.
That’s one of the main reasons buyers are flocking to the new 90 Series cars, and it’s something none of the German premium competition (or even Jaguar, once famed for its ride) can manage, so it seems a real shame to lose a chunk of Volvo’s uniqueness for the sake of a sportier ride.
We wonder of there’s a better route to offer what Volvo buyers really want?
Perhaps, instead of having a dedicated R-Design trim level, would it be an idea to offer a few R-Design packs which could be added to the Inscription trim cars?
Then you could opt for the R-Design exterior pack and get all the good looks it brings, but keep the light, cool and hugely appealing cabin of the Inscription models, with their light leather and light wood? And you’d keep the ride of the Inscription models too.
Of course, Volvo could also add the option of an R-Design interior pack for those who want dark interiors and metal trim, and even an R-Design suspension pack for those who really want it.
Or maybe we’ve got it completely wrong, and lots of Volvo buyers are very happy with the firmer suspension and dark interiors of the R-Design?
Volvo V90 D5 R-Design Review Photos
2017 Volvo V90 D5 R-Design Review Quick Specs
- Engine: 1969cc, 232bhp
- Performance: 0-62mph 7.2 seconds / Top Speed 140mph
- Economy: 57.6mpg – Official / 35.2mpg – Test
- Emissions: 129g/km
- Price: £43,955 / Price as tested £55,005
- Test car supplied by Volvo UK
Test car options
Intellisafe Surround – £600
- BLIS With Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Collision Mitigation
- Auto Dimming Exterior Mirrors
Xenium – £2,000
- Power Glass Tilt & Slide Sunroof
- Parking Camera 360º Surround View
- Park Assist Pilot – Automatic Parallel and 90º Parking (includes Front and Rear Park Assist)
- Smartphone Integration with 2 x USB/1 x Aux. Input £300
- Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins £3,000
- Laminated Side and Rear Windows £750
- Metallic Paint (Bright Silver) £700
- 4-Zone Electronic Climate Control and cooled Glovebox £550
- Power Driver Seat with Memory £600
- Power Passenger Seat £400
- Dark Tinted Windows – Rear side window and cargo area £400
- Keyless Drive (Includes keyless entry and keyless start) with remote tag plus handsfree tailgate Opening/closing £575
- CD Player £100
- Volvo on Call with app £550