Volvo Estate. Few phrases, at least so far as cars are concerned, are so redolent of middle class values, and have been so for so long. I’m trying to recall when this utilitarian sort of vehicle first made its way into the affections of the British middle classes as the outward and mobile symbol of their values. It was a very long time ago. Back in the 1960s, before we joined the European Union, we had a nice free trade agreement with Sweden (those were the days), which made selling Volvos over here a little easier for them.
There was a version of the sturdy Amazon model that came in estate form, but the real take-off was in the 1970s, when the 140-series and 240-series versions caught on. Margo and Jerry (I think that’s the appropriate way round) Leadbetter had one in The Good Life and the SDP’s conference car park was always full of them (the SDP were the Liberal Democrats of their day, in case you’re unfamiliar with the heyday of social democracy). My GP had one. The Volvo was durable – it had an average lifespan of 17 years or so, far in advance of almost anything else in its resistance to rust; it was, famously, safe, it was European and, even better, Scandinavian. But not cool. (That was Saab, RIP).
So it is that Volvo presents it new model, the V90, as it “reinventing a classic”. That is certainly true. For one thing this is a much more rakish sort of a Volvo than the old boxy crates. As is so popular these days among the “premium” brands, the estate has a sporty fastback treatment, and almost a coupe treatment for the waist and roofline. The muscular trademark “shoulder” runs along the middle, incorporating the high-set tail lights (for safety’s sake, by the way), and the blend of older design cues and modern fashions in styling is well executed.
On the road the V90 has a certain “tank” quality that you look for in this sort of car; well, at least some of its customers do. It has a long-legged, unstoppable quality that gives you every confidence that it can devour the miles just as well as its long distinguished line of predecessors, but this time with more direct steering, relatively economical diesel power (no petrol or hybrid option) and, again like its close competitors from Audi and BMW, say, you can choose an overall style of drive form economy through comfort (the compromise) through to sporty.
Price: £37,555 (£40,730 as tested)
Engine capacity: 2 litre 4-cyl diesel
Power output (hp @ rpm): 190@4,250
Top speed (mph): 140
0-62 mph (seconds): 8.5
Fuel economy (mpg): 62.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 119
Indoors this Volvo shares with Range Rovers, and surprisngly few other makes, a refreshingly contemporary approach to interior design, using lighter woods and leathers to create a very airy space indeed. It may not be the most meticulously crafted environment or as ergonomically sound as the some, but it is certainly competitive. The only substantial flaw is the central control panel, which, in its modish way, is a sort of dashboard iPad. I’m not sure if it is more or less distracting than the various comparable efforts by BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and others to use, but it’s fair to say that as cars have become more complicated and competent, and become more like computers on wheels, no one has yet nailed the “interface” between idiot human and brainy automobile. It used to be the other way round, you know, when all the driver had to play with was a heater and a radio (if he or she was lucky).
One trivial detail caught my eye about this attractive, likeable car, and that was its grille. The Volvo V90 features a curious concave arrangement, reminiscent of 1950s Americana such as Buicks and Corvettes. Once upon a time they were angled back so they looked like snow ploughs. Even in recent times they were straight-cut and rather bluff. So the new look is quite a statement. Then again, the original modern-era Volvo, the Amazon, was consciously styled like an American car as the Swedes wanted so badly to break into the lucrative US car market (and where they also succeeded in attracting a steady New England/Californian following among the professional types who wanted to demonstrate a little European good taste).
So yes, reinventing a classic is exactly what they’ve done. I’m not especially bothered that they make is now owned by giant Chinese corporation (Geely). Why would I anyway? The Volvo V90 is a great, distinctive car that adds much-needed alternatives to the usual German stuff, now that Peugeot and Citroen have given up on big cars, and Rover and Saab have gone forever. Sorry to be so positive about a Volvo, a make I used to revile in the days of The Good Life: must be getting old and bourgeois in my tastes.Reuse content