Mirabel, QUEBEC — It’s the smell that hits you first, the richness of Nappa leather wafting throughout the cabin of the 2017 Volvo V90 R-Design. The sumptuousness continues throughout the interior, designed by Robin Page, the man responsible for those beautiful interiors in the Bentley Continental and Mulsanne. Even the ignition switch and dash vents look and feel special.
And so they should, as Volvo continues its ambitious revival to rebuild its lustre — and product portfolio — that went dormant in the wake of Ford’s sale of Volvo to China’s Geely.
But Volvo is doing anything but standing still, and Geely is investing billions, already yielding such fruit as a new, more flexible platform, a new family of turbocharged and supercharged engines, full redesigns of its four core vehicles, and a new factory in South Carolina to open next year where the S60 will be built. In Canada, Volvo sales were up 27.5 per cent last year.
The V90 — a wagon with a long and loyal following — benefits from that new architecture. The vehicle itself is equally long, at 4,936 millimetres from tip to tail. But short overhangs in front and rear disguise the fact, and in R-Design trim, which gets a sports chassis that sits 20 millimetres lower, the look can only rekindle the love for estates. Volvo says as many as 50 per cent of V90 buyers will come from Quebec, and most are expected to be former Volvo owners who don’t want to follow the herd of SUV buyers. Wagon lovers also get ample rear-seat leg room plus a decent amount of usable cargo room too — 851 litres with the rear seats up, 1,953 with them down. That’s only slightly less than the cargo space in an Audi Q7.
With a base MSRP of $59,900, and the top line Inscription model registering at $66,050, the V90 R-Design hits a sweeter note at $64,450 before options, one of which will be a must considering the price and resulting performance: “Polestar Optimization,” for less than $1,500, is basically a factory computer chip combined with gearing that boosts horsepower and torque in the 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged inline four-cylinder from a stock 316 and 295 lb.-ft. to 330 hp and 325 lb.-ft.
Which might not sound like a huge jump, but our Polestar-tuned V90 R-Design was not lacking whatsoever in acceleration. Power is plentiful, pouring out smoothly and continuously, feeding the eight-speed automatic that can be controlled via paddle shifters. Overtaking slower cars is a snap, and pulling away from a stop can be accomplished with real urgency. Handling, especially with the optional air-suspension, is firm yet generously forgiving.
Despite the power and full-time AWD system, fuel economy is highly laudable at 9.3 L/100 km average, scoring 7.6 highway and 10.6 city. Sure, there’s some engine noise under that long hood, but it’s a welcome presence, a source of feedback in an otherwise heavily insulated cabin meant to stamp out road noise.
That interior is definitely quiet and feels especially opulent, from metal mesh inlays and leather sport seats, to controls dominated by the iPad-like, 9.3-inch Volvo Sensus touchscreen infotainment system. While the screen is mostly logical and quick to react to touch commands, it is not as simple to use as an iPad, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. The instrument cluster employs an Audi-like 12.3-inch display with sharp, colourful graphics that are easy to see. The optional heads up display is excellent, part of the “Climate Package II” that includes a heated rear seat, heated steering wheel and heated washer nozzles — more or less a basic necessity for Canada. The seats are spectacularly comfortable, eminently adjustable, and excellent for long drives.
The V90 R-Design is no slouch either when it comes to standard features, especially, of course, on the safety front. Volvo’s “City Safety” works in daylight or the dark to detect other vehicles, pedestrian, cyclists, large animals and will give an audible and visual warning should the system suspect an impact is imminent, even applying the brakes and stopping the vehicle at speeds of up to 60 km/h. Various lane control systems keep the car from wandering into the oncoming lane or into the ditch. The list goes on. The list of other standard equipment is long, too, from park assist to navigation to four-zone auto climate control and 19-inch R-Design alloy wheels.
All of which is wrapped in a pretty darned sexy skin that can be had in one of seven colours. With those looks, plus AWD, ample cargo space and excellent driving dynamics, the V90 R-Design and its reputation for safety suddenly makes many an SUV seem so passé.