• 2018 Volvo V90 R-Design

Review: 2018 Volvo V90 R-Design  

Pretty, Practical, Poised.

Kunal Dsouza By: Kunal Dsouza January 5, 2019


    • What’s Good: Beautiful design, cargo hauler, fun to drive.
    • What’s Bad: The ride is stiffer than expected for a big luxury car.

Ok, first things first, this is a review about a 2018 model and a quick calendar check will show that it is now 2019. So at first glance, this review might seem outdated but rest assured that the 2019 model year V90 soldiers on with almost no changes. Except for the price. That’s gone up by $850.

And if you browse the Volvo dealer lots there will still be “brand new” 2018 V90s kicking about.

Blame this late review on the simple fact that time got the better of me and I wasn’t able to get this out before the calendar year flipped over. And like many people who are recovering from the holiday insanity that can consume us for the better part of a month, I sit here groggy-eyed and a bit dazed as I recount my experience in this, frankly, wonderful wagon.

As North Americans continue to buy SUVs at an unprecedented rate, the humble, practical wagon has all but disappeared from the roads. Even as recently as the early 90s there were still quite a few wood-paneled barges (remember those) lumbering about transporting the whole family including Fido in the back. Over time they were all replaced. First by the minivan and then the SUV.

Manufacturers are introducing so many new crossovers these days it’s become difficult to keep up. Many of them are as forgettable as where you left your keys and have been relegated to the shelves of ubiquity. Have the driving enthusiasts out there been forgotten? Is the joy of driving even a thing anymore? Does anyone care???

Thankfully, a few do and Volvo is one of them. Unlike some other European manufacturers *ahem*, BMW, *ahem* who just don’t see enough of a business case to bring their wagons here, Volvo offers not one but two: the recently introduced V60, and the V90, which is the basis of this review.

Steadfast supporters of wagons for over 60 years, the folks at Volvo are masters of practical design and they get it.

Not only does the V90 look brilliant, but it also has all-wheel drive and all the space and storage potential of an SUV while still retaining the dynamic qualities and low centre of gravity of a car.

2018 Volvo V90 R-design

The S90 sedan is good looking for sure, but this V90 is drop-dead gorgeous. A graceful character line runs from the “Thor’s hammer” headlights all the way to the striking vertical tail lamps forming a ledge that widens over the rear fenders. Neatly integrated roof rails add to the elegance of the long roof design, and satin silver mirror caps are a nice touch. It’s a bit of automotive sculpture in the finest of ways.

The interior manages to be spacious and cozy at the same time. Excellent seats front and rear coddle occupants but aren’t overly soft. The R-Design gets special sport seats wrapped in perforated leather with grippy nubuck inserts. The dashboard is exactly as you would find in the S90 sedan and similar to most new Volvos. And this is no bad thing.

Metal mesh trim takes the place of open pore wood trim but still looks excellent. If you’re unfamiliar with this cabin, you will be shocked by its simplicity. The lack of physical buttons can be off-putting at first, but it works very well and is really quite intuitive. Most functions are accessed through the Sensus Connect 9-inch touchscreen that works like most tablets. So if you can use one of those you will be able to use this system as well.

A press of the home button at any time will take you to the home screen, of course, which displays your navigation, music, and phone information at the same time. Climate controls are accessed through the touchscreen as well and have a dedicated spot at the bottom. While this is one of my favourite touchscreen systems on the market, I still find that I have to take my eyes off the road for longer than I’m comfortable doing. Physical controllers are still better for keeping your attention on the task of driving, where it belongs.

Driver’s instrumentation is provided courtesy of another screen. This one is 12.3-inches and customizable to only display what you need to see.

2018 Volvo V90 R-design interior

2018 Volvo V90 cargo

The main benefit of buying a wagon is the added cargo room it provides and the V90 has 851 litres of it. That more than doubles to almost 2000 litres by folding the back seats down, accomplished electrically at the touch of a button. For context, this is more than you get in many popular midsize SUVs like the new BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, and GMC Terrain.

R-Design trims come with items like illuminated sill plates, those sporty seats, a charcoal headliner, and unique 19-inch 5-spoke rims which my tester eschewed in favour of larger 20-inchers. On the outside, a body kit adds a bit of sporty flair and deletes the chrome trim.

The V90 is based on the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, which also underpins the S90 and all Volvo’s mid-range offerings. I drove the S90 some months back and it had a ride as smooth as silk approaching S-Class levels of comfort and total isolation from the road. In R-design trim, at least, the V90 doesn’t quite deliver the magic carpet ride of its sister. It’s more stiffly sprung and you can feel and hear more of the road. There is an air suspension option, which would help smooth out the ride, but the car I was driving was not equipped with it.

Where the S90 feels a bit like a boat, this V90 wants to go and carve through some esses. Not something you’d expect from a big station wagon, but to me, at least, a pleasant surprise. Quick, light steering coupled with that starchy suspension and an eagerness to turn in mean this Volvo is a lot more fun to drive than you think it is.

Under the hood you’ll find Volvo’s twin-charged 2-litre 4-cylinder engine, sporting both a supercharger and a turbocharger working together to cut turbo lag to a minimum while providing 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The 0-100 km/h time is listed at 6.1 seconds which isn’t really that fast anymore especially in this segment but in the real world, it’s enough.

An Aisin 8-speed automatic delivers the power to all four wheels and shifts are quick and seamless. Only having four cylinders pays dividends at the pump as this large car is rated to do an outstanding 7.6 L/ 100 km on the highway. Most of my time with it was spent on city roads moving at the proverbial snail’s pace but still managing to eke out a decent 11.1 L/100 km. Far better than I have achieved with most SUVs, not counting the plug-ins

2018 Volvo V90 R-design

2018 Volvo V90 R-design

I remember people boasting about the safety and crashworthiness of Volvos when I was a kid, back when they looked like rolling bricks with windows. And while the brick has been streamlined over the years, safety is still at the forefront of Volvo’s mission.

Every V90 comes with collision warning with full automatic braking, lane departure mitigation, and off-road mitigation. It can detect pedestrians and is the only one that can detect animals as well. You also get adaptive cruise control and Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous driving feature that will follow the lines of the road, while you sit back and relax. It works well in stop and go traffic, too, and keeps the car well centered in the lane.

So basically you can’t crash it. And that’s a good thing and also part of Volvo’s plan to prevent anyone from dying or getting seriously injured in one of their cars by the year 2020.

There are so many good reasons to buy this car: looks, space, fuel economy, practicality, safety, even the price is reasonable compared to its competition. The best reason, though, it’s not an SUV.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design

BODY STYLE: 5-door, 5 passenger full-size premium wagon

CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, All-wheel drive

ENGINE: 2.0 L turbocharged and supercharged inline 4 cylinder; Power: 316 hp @ 5700 rpm; Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 2200-5400 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic

FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium gasoline in L/100 km) 10.6 city; 7.6 highway; 9.3 combined


CARGO CAPACITY: 851 litres; 1953 litres with rear seats folded

PRICE: $65,100 (base ); $70,750 (as tested)

WEBSITE: Volvo V90


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