The wagon. It’s a car that hasn’t found much appreciation in North America for several decades now, apart from versions jacked up several inches and laden with plastic body cladding for the rugged, SUV-like look. Yet in Europe, the wagon is still the preferred vehicle for those seeking extra carrying capacity — CUV lovers, think of it as a CUV with more style and better handling. So while travelling though Europe for ten days with three people and their luggage, I couldn’t have thought of a more appropriate type of vehicle for the task.
Having had a good taste from my short solo trip spanning three days in Alsace and one day in Bavaria last September, I was eager to return to see more of Bavaria, the region where part of my German ancestors came from, as well as bordering Austria, a picturesque country I’ve always dreamed of seeing.
The start, finish, and majority of my trip would be in Germany, so I anticipated either an Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring, or Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate as the most likely of vehicles presented to my by Sixt in their LWAR class. Yet when given the keys to a Volvo V90 Inscription, I hardly complained, content with experiencing one of Sweden’s stateliest luxury vehicles — one available in the United States by special order only and not in this one’s plug-in hybrid T8 configuration at all.
Our itinerary went as followed: three nights in Munich, three in Berchtesgaden, one in Padua, one in Innsbruck, and a final night in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. With a driving distance of over 1,400 kilometers (close to 900 miles) and most of the driving done by me, I was able to get a good feel of the V90 and its abilities over this incredible Alpine journey.
Having driven very few recent Volvos, I found settling in a fairly easy transition, with gearshift, navigation, media, and climate controls a bit different from what I’m used to, yet nonetheless intuitive despite some of the multi-touchscreen commands needed to operate.
What took me longest to figure out were the advanced seat controls. Beyond the basic and familiar eight-way power seat controls mounted on the sides of the front seats, there’s an additional, rather foreign control that activates the advanced settings to adjust lumbar support, thigh cushion extender, side bolster width, and massage function.
After about a day or two, I realized that you just need to move the part of the control jutting out up or down to engage a new menu on the infotainment screen, then you can select which function you want, and either use the directional arrows on the seat control or use the touchscreen to proceed with selecting your adjustments. Heated/cooled seats and heated steering wheel controls are also on the touchscreen, but apart from that I found the V90 relatively easy to operate.
As the luxury-oriented Inscription, our V90 included upgraded Nappa leather, 19-inch 10-spoke diamond cut wheels, additional exterior chrome trim, linear walnut interior trim, gearshift lever made from Swedish crystal glass from Orrefors, selectable driving modes, rear window shades, and the superb Comfort seats. Featuring no less than 16 power adjustments, heating, cooling, and multiple massage settings for type of massage, speed, and intensity these Comfort seats held true to the longstanding Volvo tradition of incredibly comfortable and supportive seats.
While the equipment levels vary market-to-market, our V90 also included the following German-spec packages: Business Pro package (Sensus navigation, smartphone integration, front and rear parking sensors, intelligent parking, Bowers & Wilkins premium sound), Cargo Pro package (power folding rear seats/headrests, various cargo solution aids), Winter Pro package (heated rear seats, heated steering wheel), “Xenium” package (panoramic moonroof, head-up display).
It also included á la carte options such as 360-degree surround view cameras, charcoal headliner, and the premium air suspension, that latter which automatically raised the rear of the vehicle by several inches whenever the power tailgate was activated for easier load-height.
As expected, our V90 also included all the expected active safety features including blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, plus adaptive cruise control (which I never used).
To make a long story short, this V90 was equipped with seemingly every option Volvo makes available. Indeed we were travelling across Europe in luxury and style, in the historically understated Volvo way, none of which I had any complaints about.
As for the V90’s ride and handling, I also had little to complain about. The key with judging a car’s abilities and capabilities is to set an expectation based on the car’s and brand’s merits. Getting handed the keys to a modern executive-class Volvo, I was expecting a silky smooth yet not floaty ride, adequate power delivery, and precise yet not overly sporty handling. I’m happy to say that the V90 surpassed my expectations.
Naturally the V90 Inscription has a somewhat softer feel than my near identically-sized BMW 540 with its upgraded M Sport suspension. But in the V90’s case, softer isn’t a detriment, as its fabulous air suspension delivers a ride that’s superbly comfortable, yet one that retains remarkable composure even during sharp turns. Quite honestly, it felt a lot like driving a Range Rover in pure car form.
Steering is expectedly light, with little feedback, but admittedly the V90 is a luxury car and one that makes little sporting aspirations, at least in Inscription trim. Importantly though, especially considering we drove many miles on Germany’s mostly speed limit-less autobahns, was the V90’s performance when it came to acceleration and high-speed travel.
As the T8 Twin Engine model, our V90 featured a 2.0-liter engine that’s compound charged (both turbocharged and supercharged), plus a rear electric motor for a combined output of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft torque. Unsurprisingly, this Volvo wagon had plenty of get up and go, even with three adults and about nine items of luggage, all of which fit neatly in the V90’s massive trunk.
By choice, I did roughly 80% of the overall driving, and some 95% of that was done in the V90’s selectable Power mode, which generates the maximum amount of available power from both the gas and electric engines, plus the firmest suspension setting. With a 0-60 time of under 5 seconds, the V90 seamlessly merged onto the autobahns, while also effortlessly cruising at around 120 mph. Needless to say, I was content and impressed.
Among the most appreciated features of the V90 was the Incription’s standard 12.3-inch Digital Driver Display. Popular in higher-end automobiles within the last year or two, the Digital Driver Display in layman’s terms is a fully digital screen in place of the traditional gauge cluster, with a display between the tachometer and speedometer that can be configured to become a full-3D navigation map with directions, speed limit info, and traffic signs, just as in the large center stack screen.
Especially when driving in an unfamiliar place, let alone the twisty Alpine mountain roads in a foreign country, the less having to divert my eyes’ focus off of what was directly in front of me was extremely beneficial for safety and stress levels. I’ve experienced similar full-screen digital gauge cluster displays in recent Audis and the many Land Rovers I’ve driven, and find it far more useful than head-up display. For what it’s worth, our car did have the customary head-up display, but personally, that’s something I’ve always found rather distracting. Wearing polarized sunglasses 99% of the time makes it extremely difficult to see too.
Speaking of those twisty Alpine roads, words and even pictures can’t even convey how exhilarating it is to drive on them, and how incredible the scenery is. Not only are the roads meticulously maintained, lacking the slightest pothole or imperfection, but they flow with the land, making for driving that is more engaging and more entertaining.
A sharp contrast to many in the United States, all tunnels and bridges feel structurally safe and secure, with ongoing maintenance and construction prevalent throughout both large autobahns and smaller routes, taking place in highly efficient manner.
Indeed, the backdrop of the Alps never gets old. I’ve seen many impressive mountains on both the United States’ East and West Coasts, yet in my opinion nothing is quite as picturesque and stunning as the Austrian and German Alps.
In summary, the Volvo V90 T8 was a phenomenal rental car for 10 days in the German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. It was the perfect vehicle to have for a 10-day road trip, providing maximum utility, comfort, and luxury. Volvo has always done wagons really well, and the 2018 V90 is no exception.