Volvo's V90 is a large luxury estate every bit as good as anything the German brands can bring you. It's the most sophisticated station wagon we've seen from the brand for a couple of decades, efficient, spacious and stylish. If you're shopping in this segment, you need to consider it.
Unlike older V70 models, this V90's more sophisticated underpinnings can accommodate a complete range of the brand's 'Drive-E' engines, 2.0-litre units that are impressively efficient. Mainstream buyers are being offered the choice between two units: either the 190PS D4 powerplant borrowed from Volvo's smaller S60 and V60 models. Or the 235PS D5 twin turbodiesel, also with four cylinders, this matched with the security of AWD. All V90s come with smooth 8-speed auto transmission. Go for the Cross-Country body style and you can have AWD with either engine.
The 235bhp D5 variant utilises an innovative technology called PowerPulse to boost responsiveness. This uses compressed air, which is stored in a tank in the engine bay and refilled automatically, to spool up the turbo at low revs. This helps to overcome turbo lag, which is the short delay in the power delivery you experience in traditional turbocharged engines.
With both diesel engines, there's also the option of 'Cross Country'-spec models that have AWD, a 65mm higher ride height and a wider track. At the top of the range sits the T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model. This delivers a combined 412PS output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatched in under 6s. There's also the option of a four-cylinder petrol-powered 2.0-litre T6 variant which puts out a potent 320PS. Plus there's also a more conventional T4 190bhp four-cylinder petrol turbo unit.
This is certainly a more credible full-sized executive estate than anything Volvo has brought us to date. The V90 has a proud yet non-aggressive face, characterised by a concave grille - apparently a homage to the Volvo P1800 - that's home to the brand's distinctive 'Iron Mark' logo. The T-shaped 'Thor's Hammer' lights are recognisable from the XC90 and deliver a powerful sense of direction that makes this car unmistakable on the road.
Inside, you'll find basically the same interior as the S90, with beautiful finishing and plenty of leather, classy wood and glass. At the rear, there's up 1526-litres of boot space (including underfloor storage). That's a useful figure, though is a little bit less than you'd get with rival BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class estate competitors. That's probably down to the stylish sloping rear glass.
As with the XC90 luxury SUV, the dash features a massive tablet-like touch screen that plays a key role in creating an interior that is modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this V90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control.
This is the classiest Volvo estate ever - and a really credible rival for its German competitors. No, it won't threaten the Teutonic brands overnight, but that's only because Volvo won't initially be importing the kind of volumes that would do that. On merit though, this is a car you need to consider if you're fortunate enough to be buying in the top echelon of the large luxury estate segment.
We think that many business buyers currently purchasing large luxury SUV would actually be more comfortable in something like this V90. Try one and you'll understand why.Click here to find out more about our Volvo V90 range
BMW 5 Series Touring
The seventh generation BMW 5 Series Touring is a good example of just how far this segment has progressed. Air suspension at the rear offers composure with a big load onboard and you'll be able to fit plenty in one in thanks to a 570-litre capacity. The engine range is now even more efficient and the smartened styling, though formulaic, has definite elegance. It may even be sharper than the saloon's.
The main news on the engine front concerns petrol power. There's a fresh 252bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit in the 530i that's 7bhp up on the old 528i or alternatively, there's a 340bhp 540i variant which needs xDrive 4WD to control its prodigious 450Nm of torque. Most 5 Series buyers though, will continue to want a diesel, probably the familiar 190bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit used in the 520d, which in a 5 Series must be mated to an 8-speed Steptronic auto gearbox. The alternative is the six-cylinder 265bhp 530d which has 620Nm of pulling power. Both these variants are available with optional xDrive if you want it. For the first time, BMW xDrive can be combined with Integral Active Steering, as well as lowered sports suspension.
As for handling, well a step forward was needed here with many commentators reckoning that the previous generation model was too comfort-orientated in its standard guises. This time round, BMW's engineers reckon they've achieved a much better balance of performance and luxury thanks to reductions in weight, revised steering and new double-wishbone kinematics in the front axle.
This Touring model is styled the way you would expect it to look. So, from the B-pillar forwards, the front is identical to the saloon, but at the rear end, there are enlarged LED tail-lights and there's a sleeker roofline than was offered by the previous generation model. This time round, the car is 36mm longer too - though it's no longer than the current saloon variant. Get out the tape measure and you'll find that it's 8mm wider and 10mm taller than the previous car, while the wheelbase has increased by 7mm. Boot capacity is up to 570-litres, which is 10 litres more than before and 40 litres larger than the saloon. The rival Mercedes E-Class betters that though, with its 640-litre capacity.
In response, BMW says the boot can expand to 1,700-litres with the rear seats down - that's 30 litres more than the old car. Those seats, which fold in a 40:20:40 split, can be released remotely from the boot and have electrically folding backrests. All models get an electric tailgate, while the unique opening rear window is retained from the previous model. As with the saloon, 'Professional' navigation, telephone, entertainment features and vehicle functions can be visualised on the standard high-resolution 10.25-inch screen and controlled not just in the usual manner using the iDrive Controller, but also by means of gestures, voice commands or simply touching the buttons on the touch-sensitive display.
Why would you choose the estate version of an executive car over the saloon? A few years back, you'd have wanted the additional boot space and would have been willing to make some compromises to get it. Today, cars like this much improved BMW 5 Series Touring combine the technology and driving experience of the saloon version with real additional versatility and sharp looks that many will actually find preferable. Whichever way you look at it, the latest 5-Series 5-door has an array of capabilities that few cars of any description can match.
True, it's a pity that to really create 'the ultimate driving machine', you've to spend so much on the options list. But even in standard guise, this is a hugely accomplished car, if one requiring familiarity and plenty of mileage over varying roads before its true qualities really begin to shine through.Click here to find out more about our BMW 5 Series Touring range
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has a reputation for buttoned-down efficiency. It's one continued by this vastly improved tenth generation version which retains a sensible side but dials up the desirability, aiming to offer a smarter, more prestigious approach to Executive class motoring than its closest German rivals. It does so with efficient engines, astonishing technology and comfort that makes you question the need for a larger luxury saloon.
Some full-sized Executive saloons claim to be sporty: BMW's 5 Series, Jaguar's XF. Others, like this one, simply don't feel the need to try that hard - unless an AMG V8 happens to beat beneath the bonnet. Almost all E-Class buyers choose a diesel, so will be particularly interested to hear that there's a new one on offer here, the four cylinder 2.0-litre 195bhp biturbo unit you'll find in the E220d most customers are going to choose. The gearbox it comes mated to is new too, a nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto. Rest to 62mph here occupies 7.3s and there's the option of 4MATIC 4WD if you want it. Diesel buyers wanting less poke get a 150bhp E200d variant. While those in search of more performance are offered a 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit in the E350d putting out 258bhp and capable of rest to 62mph in 5.9s. E350d buyers get the option of 4MATIC 4WD if they want it. As for the petrol alternatives, well there's a 184bhp E200 base variant. And a 279bhp E350e petrol electric Plug-in hybrid derivative.
Handling should be sharper than E-Class buyers are used to, thanks to various 'Direct Control' suspension systems with selective damping. There's also the option of a new 'Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension' set-up offering the kind of pillowy ride that previously, you could only find on a larger Mercedes S-Class-sized Luxury saloon. A 'Dynamic Select' switch in the cockpit enables the driver to select from four 'Air Body Control' modes: 'Comfort', 'ECO', 'Sport' and 'Sport+'. The additional 'Individual' option allows drivers to configure their vehicle to suit their own preferences.
This tenth generation E-Class is slightly larger than its predecessor, its wheelbase having grown by 65mm and its overall length by 43mm. In design, it displays hallmark Mercedes-Benz saloon proportions, the elongated bonnet coupled with a coupe-esque roof that flows into a sensual, broad-shouldered tail. The silhouette is characterised by short overhangs, a long wheelbase, large wheels and taut well-defined flanks displaying a more dynamic feature line. At the rear end, broad shoulders above the rear wheel arches lend the E-Class a more powerful character. As usual, there's the option of an estate variant for those wanting it, this derivative offering a huge 1,820-litre boot.
Inside, the centre of the dash is dominated as usual in this class of car by a colour infotainment display but this one's bigger than normal, 12.3-inches in size, and available in two sophisticated forms. In addition, touch-sensitive control buttons on the steering wheel make their first appearance in a car. Like a smartphone interface, they respond precisely to horizontal and vertical swiping movements, allowing the driver to control the entire infotainment system using finger swipes without having to take their hands off the steering wheel. Further controls for the infotainment system are provided in the shape of a touchpad with controller in the centre console, which can even recognise handwriting, and the Linguatronic voice control system. There are also direct-access buttons for controlling functions such as the air-conditioning system or for convenient activation and deactivation of certain driver assistance systems. Plus of course it all feels suitably premium, with leather-covered doors and subtle ambient lighting. High-quality materials include open-pore woods, wood with what Mercedes calls 'a yachting look' and a novel metal fabric.
The Mercedes E-Class puts in an impressive performance. Beforehand it felt like quite an expensive car. Now it feels like one that's pricey but which offers a compelling value proposition. It drives with genuine polish yet is capable of stepping from cruiser to carouser without breaking a sweat. Operating the car is relatively easy, and you rarely feel as if it's imposing its will on you, unlike certain rivals we could mention. The abiding impression is that this is a very carefully considered vehicle, developed by a company steeped in a proud engineering tradition.
The latest changes future-proof the E-Class' emissions a little against the constant assault from its key rivals. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tenth-generation model though, is the fact that its appeal has broadened so far. It was once hard to see anybody under the age of fifty contemplating an E-Class. A more dynamic image and a focus on sharper design and driving dynamics has seen that demographic become younger. What's more, all this has been achieved diluting this design's Stuttgart DNA - and without alienating its legacy market. That is the mark of a very special car.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate range