Wagons have been staged for a comeback for more than a decade. Yet time after time, seemingly splendid, sporty wagons have fizzled in the American market.
Is Volvo being hopelessly optimistic in bringing the V90 wagon to the U.S., where wagon sales barely break a one-percent market share year after year?
After spending a short time with the 2018 Volvo V90 (and some more in depth time for a first drive of the S90 sedan) in Spain, we think this full-size wagon actually stands a chance of winning back hearts and minds in far greater numbers.
But why do we think Volvo can make a go of selling a wagon in the U.S.? First off, wagons have always been a big thing at Volvo. As with Subaru, shoppers look to the brand if they’re considering this shape of vehicle, and Volvo has never entirely given up the format.
Second, from the first glance down to the details, the V90 is beautiful. Third, it packs some world-first safety technology, as you might guess. And finally, it doesn’t pin itself overly dearly to one niche of the luxury market or another. In other words, it can appeal to various types of buyers.
No racy ruse here
The V90 is not trying to be any sort of harsh sport-wagon brute that only appeals to the driver and leaves the passengers wishing they’d gotten that cushy crossover SUV. Volvo calls its target for the on-the-road personality of the S90--and by extension, of the V90--“relaxed confidence.” The term is perfect for describing its ride and handling. It's definitely soft, but its suspension loads up and unloads nicely in corners, without a lot of excess body motion.
The only thing lacking here is road feel from the steering (which should also wind and unwind a little easier), but that's not out of character for a big wagon.
2018 Volvo V90 (Euro-spec prototype) - First Drive, June 2016
Confident, refined, and easy-driving is a good way to sum up how the V90 feels the vast majority of the time. In the T6 model we drove, the combination of the 316-horsepower supercharged-and-turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, a decisive, smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission, and proactive all-wheel drive make this model unflustered in all but the most extreme maneuvers. Full throttle takeoffs on coarse, smooth pavement didn’t produce even a peep from the tires (think 0-60 mph in around 5.5 seconds), and while the engine doesn’t have a lot of grunt for moving this approximately 4,500-pound wagon off a standing start, it never seems to be lacking once underway.
Utilitarian, yes, but not to an extreme
For the most part, the V90 has every bit of the wagon goodness and flexibility you’d expect. There are two exceptions: The rear hatch is angled a bit more than some would want, and the side glass tapers a bit, limiting the size of the aperture for loading larger items. The rear door cuts are also surprisingly narrow. While that limits how convenient it is to load stuff from the side, it also makes entry and exit to the flat-folding back seats a little more difficult than it needs to be.