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2021 Volvo V90 Test Drive Review

The Volvo V90's performance and style make a strong argument for this wagon over an SUV.

8.2 /10
Overall Score

There was a time when Volvo wagons were regarded as nerdy professor cars. The type of car that might come with a tweed jacket with elbow patches. In the decades since that reputation took root, nerdy became cool, and Volvo took notice. Today, its entire lineup of sedans, crossovers, and SUVs is among the most sharply-styled on the market today. Chief among them is the V90, the Swedish automaker’s range-topping wagon. And like nerds and Volvo, the V90 has shown the wagon can be cool as well.

But wagons are still relegated to a niche, representing less than 2 percent of the new-car market. And yet, the V90 shows that you don’t need an SUV to get a supremely versatile vehicle. This is especially true of the rugged-yet-posh V90 Cross Country, which has very few rivals. The Audi A6 Allroad, and to a lesser extent the Subaru Outback, represent the only 1-to-1 competition to the Volvo V90 Cross Country. Read on to learn about the 2021 Volvo V90 wagon and we’ll see if it can supplant the SUV as your de facto family vehicle.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

The V90 stands out with a fantastic exterior design. Its dramatic styling is characterized by long, unbroken lines, and strong edges and fenders. The upright, muscular grille harkens back to the Volvo P1800, which is one of the more beautiful classic car designs. This commitment to stunning design is amped up in the interior. Most of the controls are hidden within the massive center touchscreen, resulting in a clean dash design. As we’ll later learn, function takes a bit of a backseat to achieve this form.

The V90 wagon is available in R-Design or Inscription trim. Both cost the same, making the trim selection a pure matter of preference. The R-Design comes equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a hands-free power liftgate, and a panoramic sunroof. It also features four-zone climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, and power-adjustable heated front seats with memory presets. Other standard features include remote keyless entry, rear window sunshades, and a cooled glovebox. A Climate Package is available for $750. It adds heated windshield washers, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. At $1,500 the Advance Package adds a head-up display and surround-view parking. An adaptive air suspension can be had for $1,200.

The Inscription trim removes the sport-tuned chassis for a more comfort-oriented ride. It also swaps out the R-Design's metallic cabin accents for Pitched Oak, and adds heated-and-cooled front seats with adjustable side bolsters. Massaging capability can be added to the Inscription for another $500.

The Cross Country gets a raised right height and additional body cladding around the lower front fascia and wheel arches. Despite costing more than the R-Design or Inscription, the Cross County has fewer standard features (these can be added back to the mix as options). The Cross Country more than makes up for it, however, with its increased ground clearance and other performance upgrades. It still comes standard with leather upholstery (Not Nappa leather, sorry), LED headlights that can bend with the road, 19-inch alloy wheels, a high-performance sound system, and the massive Sensus touchscreen found in all versions of the V90.

Our test model came equipped with optional Nappa perforated leather seats, heated-and-cooled seats, and a heated steering wheel. It also came equipped with the Climate Package and the Advance Package, as well as the impressive Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker premium stereo system.

Performance

8/ 10

The V90 is available with T5 and T6 powertrains. The T5 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (FWD).

The T6 powertrain comes standard on the all-wheel-drive (AWD) V90 and the V90 Cross Country. It is a “twin-charged” 2.0-liter four-cylinder, meaning that it is both turbocharged and supercharged. This setup is rare among new cars, althoughVolkswagen utilized it for a number of vehicles in the past, and it is common in the aftermarket tuning world.

The V90 T6 generates 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and uses the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the T5 version. In the Cross Country, the T6 powertrain provides brisk, confident acceleration. It’s never going to whip your neck back, but in our week behind the wheel, we were never once wanting for more power.

Thanks in part to its wide stance, the V90 feels planted in corners. The steering is well-weighted and even the more rugged Cross Country is as good as any luxury coupe or sedan. The V90 R-Design comes with a sport-tuned chassis as standard equipment, while the Inscription removes that suspension in favor of a softer setup.

The V90 Cross Country boasts 8.3 inches of ground clearance, which rivals that of some SUVs. It also features hill-descent control, as well as an Off-Road drive mode (which operates at speeds below 25 mph), alongside the Eco, Comfort, and Dynamic drive modes that all V90 models get.

We were lucky enough to receive 18 inches of snow during our time with the Cross Country. It was an absolute beast in the white stuff, seldom ever searching for traction. This makes the V90 Cross Country an ideal vehicle for ski country.

Form and Function

7/ 10

Despite looking like it’s over 20 feet long, the V90 is a bit disappointing on cargo space. It has just 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and with the rear seats folded, that number grows to just 53.9 cubic feet. For reference, the Subaru Outback has more than 75 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. Perhaps the underwhelming cargo space is why Volvo sent this V90 Cross Country to New England with a roof-top cargo carrier. Either way, the standard hands-free power liftgate made us forget about those cargo stats.

The V90 has two-rows of impressively spacious seating. The rear seats provide plenty of headroom and it is not necessary to slide the seats forward to gain adult-friendly legroom. But the real place to sit is up front. The V90’s wide stance makes for a spacious cockpit with a wide center console. The center tray and cupholders elegantly hide behind retractable panels. There are deep pockets in the driver and front-passenger doors as well.

Tech Level

9/ 10

Every V90 comes with a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, wireless device charging, and the 9-inch Sensus Touchscreen infotainment system. It controls pretty much everything cabin-related in the V90. Radio, navigation, climate controls, vehicle settings, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Having reviewed a few Volvo vehicles over the past two years, we’ve gotten a bit used to Sensus. This acclimation perhaps resembles the onboarding process of an actual owner. The process is made easier by the tactile home button directly below the touchscreen. The home screen has large areas for major functions such as the radio, climate controls, navigation, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. You can also swipe left for safety functions and swipe right for vehicle settings. And if you ever get lost in the menus, that home button is a savior. The fact that most vehicle functions are baked into the screen means that simple actions like changing the temperature or operating the heated seats require extra keystrokes, but we expect owners will become used to it over time.

The V90 also comes standard with advanced voice recognition, Bluetooth, navigation, and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. It’s pretty impressive when your standard stereo is a signature-name system, but our test model came with the upgraded 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium stereo system, which made incredible sound. Finally, our test vehicle came with the available head-up display. It has crisp graphics and the content of the display can be customized.

Safety

10/ 10

The V90 comes exceptionally well equipped from a safety standpoint. Standard features include adaptive headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front-and-rear parking sensors, and a full array of front- and side-impact airbags. Standard driver-assistance features include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Available safety features include a 360-degree surround-view parking system and automatic self-parking capability.

These features are found standard or optional on many new cars. What sets Volvo apart is how seamlessly they features work. They are active and accurate, but are not intrusive. We spent time with a new Mercedes-Benz GLC, and it was reading false positives that were constantly setting off beeps and alerts. Not so with the V90.

Cost-Effectiveness

6/ 10

The most efficient version of the V90 is the FWD T5. It returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined. The AWD T6 returns 21 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. In the Cross Country, fuel economy falls to 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined.

Base MSRP for the 2021 Volvo V90 is $51,800. That’s for a T5 in either R-Design or Inscription guise. The T6 AWD starts at $54,900, while the T6 AWD R-Design starts at $57,900. The V90 Cross Country starts at $54,900. With options like the $4,000 Bowers & Wilkins stereo, $1,360 Volvo Roof Carrier, and more, our Cross Country test car came in at $67,800.

There are few wagons left on the market, and the V90 is decidedly one of the most expensive entrants in the segment. Only the Audi A6 Allroad is more expensive. The Subaru Outback costs thousands less and is more versatile. The V90 is a lifestyle vehicle, with the term “lifestyle” being somewhat interchangeable with “superfluous.”

The real competition for these wagons are SUVs, and it’s not as one-sided as you might expect. Many luxury SUVs have about the same cargo space, so what are you really paying for? And sure, the Outback has more room than the V90, but its cargo space also rivals that of even larger SUVs. The V90 has just as much versatility as many upscale crossovers, and the V90 Cross Country can go toe-to-toe on soft-roading capability. It then comes down to a question of style…and the V90 has that for days.

Updated by George Kennedy

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