2017 Volvo V90 R-Design Review

So many companies seem to be dropping wagons from their lineups in favor of crossovers, so it’s refreshing to get into a proper wagon that lives up to all the clichés we longroof aficionados use to defend them: The 2017 Volvo V90 looks better, drives better, carries as much stuff as any average family needs.

Granted, I did happen to benefit from getting into the hottest V90 trim you can get, and it’s made even hotter by the Polestar performance upgrade we sampled.

Style Profile

We’re driving the 2017 Volvo V90 R-Design T6 AWD, but what does all that mean? R-Design is just Volvo-speak for sporty. The R-Design is the sportiest looking of any Volvo model, and here we have blacked-out grille insert, silk metal trim, and a sporty body kit with a front lip spoiler, dual tailpipes, and 19 or 20-inch wheels. However, R-Design means nothing when it comes to power, as you can still get it in base T5 FWD trim or upgraded T6 AWD. More on that later.

Inside, we have available carbon fiber trim, alloy pedals, perforated leather steering wheel with flappy paddles, and a set of sexy sport seats covered in Nappa Leather with Nubuck inserts and contrasting stitching.

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Since we covered the Sensus interface and interior practicality recently in this V90 Cross Country review, I won’t get into too much detail, but I will add that the cargo space listed on the spec sheet – 33.9 cubic feet in the trunk, 53.9 cu-ft with seats folded (960L/1,526 L) – doesn’t do justice to the actual space available, which is wide and useful for all of a family’s junk and epic Costco runs. However, the Sensus interface can be a bit of a letdown with its odd menu and screen setup and lacks countdown graphics in the route guidance system. But let’s get to the good stuff and why this is the hot wagon in the V90 lineup.

Spicy Swede, Mild Swede

What makes it hotter is this T6 AWD powertrain, which features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged.

The T6 is normally rated at 316 hp and 295 lb-ft, but with a power bump courtesy of Volvo’s Polestar division – much like BMW’s M or Mercedes’ AMG – this V90 gets 330 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, with sharper throttle response and a transmission tuned for sportier driving. The power is plenty for its 4,169 pounds, getting moving with a nice little snarl, then back to quiet composure at any speed when cruising. With all-wheel drive, it hits 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, so it has the speed, but what most impressed me is its dual personality.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country Review

In Dynamic mode, the transmission holds gears and shifts quickly, delivering on that sporty character that the design promises. But it’s not a one-trick pony, and for everyday driving, the transmission’s eight speeds are used wisely with smooth, seamless shifts in Comfort or Eco mode, while the more aggressive behavior is reserved for sport mode. Between Eco mode, engine stop/start and that small, clever engine, the V90 is expected to deliver 22 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway (which we achieved in a similarly equipped S90 sedan), and about 25 mpg in mixed use.

2017 Volvo V90 R-Design AWD

Smooth and Steady When You Want

Another aspect of the car that provides refinement on demand is the optional air suspension paired with front double wishbones and rear integral axle suspension with a composite cross axle leaf spring. Sounds weird, right? However, the rear integral axle is the same suspension design BMW uses to achieve its superb balance and rewarding driving dynamics in many of its cars. Anyhow, the V90 we sampled was also equipped with that air suspension, which can shift from Comfort to Sport at the touch of your finger.

The result is a ride that can handle the broken highway pavement with ease but tightens up when you get out of town and find some corners to carve. In comfort mode, it almost completely smothers out railroad crossings, choppy expansion joints on bridges and other disastrous road conditions without giving up that sporty drive.

Dial up Sport mode on your favorite backroads, and that unusual suspension keeps the car flat while absorbing bumps without upsetting the balance, allowing you to pile on as much speed as you like in ideal conditions, with barely a hint of understeer even when we flogged it through twisting ribbons of tarmac.

And while the gorgeous front seats are fantastic for grip and back comfort, there are little bolsters on the seat extensions that I could do without because they dig into my thighs.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Volvo XC60 Review

The steering might not be sports car sharp, but it is smooth and well weighted, with a heavier feel in Dynamic mode, giving you the confidence to push the car. Like any large car, carrying a lot of speed into corners will eventually degenerate into understeer, but that threshold is beyond what even aggressive drivers will likely reach when packing their kids and heading to the cottage. That being said, it is still fun to hustle up to its reasonable limits, but if you’re looking to take your wagon to the track, get in line for the V60 Polestar.

However, on a daily basis, you are more likely to be stuck in traffic and appreciate the well-executed adaptive cruise and the subtle lane-keep assist, and Volvo’s suite of driving and safety aids is standard in the V90. While those are becoming the norm, Volvo is constantly rolling out new driving aids to make you safer in a Volvo, as well as others around you.

Volvo has stressed that it isn’t racing to deliver autonomous driving prematurely, yet it is committed to eliminating fatalities and serious injury in all Volvo cars by 2020. A couple neat innovations coming in the XC60 are oncoming-traffic-avoidance steering, which guides you back out of danger if you stray towards oncoming traffic, and blind-spot-avoidance steering, which will take over steering to dodge traffic in your blind spot if you fail to heed warnings.

2017 Volvo V90 R-Design AWD

The Verdict: 2017 Volvo V90 R-Design Review

The V90 starts at about $50,000 for a 250-hp front-wheel-drive model, going over $55K for the T6 AWD and closing in on $70K fully loaded. That’s a lot to charge for a niche vehicle that few people are shopping for these days, but Volvo is a brand that seems to have rediscovered its mojo, with a smart, flexible platform that can breed a variety of body styles and sizes, a powerplant that runs from basic to ballistic and some of the best designs on the market.

Volvo is going to sell a bunch more XC90s and S90 sedans, and probably even more Cross Country versions of this V90. Despite the shrinking size of the consumer base, Volvo is staying true to their roots and the small number of remaining wagon loyalists.

This classic V90 wagon delivers exactly what it’s supposed to, all the cargo and passenger space you need paired with a more engaging, sporty drive, especially in this R-Design T6 AWD trim, and that Polestar power bump sure doesn’t hurt either. Long live the wagon.

  • Quailallstar

    Love this car! Just not the cave-like black interior. It would be nice if the R-Design models had the option to at least opt into a brighter interior. See: Saddle Tan

  • K03sport

    Love it, the blue is nice; and I would love to do my part of saving the wagons in this country; however, I’m a few “yes!” shy of 50K to make that happen…the regular V90 is great, the V60 is nice too; sadly, the most I can help them (Volvo) w/is a V40(R) when/if it gets here…but thanks for the new wallpaper(s) or at least going to look for one on the world wide web…Long Live the Wagon!