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. Initially, 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.
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 are also more conventional four cylinder petrol turbo units, a T4 with 190bhp and a T5 with 250bhp.
On to design. 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 bootspace (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
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
The Mercedes E-Class Estate has always been a very classy way to carry rather a lot. These days though, it's cleverer and more efficient than ever. A focus on downsized engines will be a big draw, there's a frugal base diesel, a plug-in hybrid and fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG models add some excitement. Overall, the whole range just feels slicker and more desirable than ever. It's all very impressive, particularly as you can carry up to 1,820-litres.
On the move, you quickly find that Mercedes has achieved an excellent balance between comfort, refinement and agility with this E-Class Estate. It's as happy easing through town as it is covering great highway distances - but then you'd expect that. More surprising is how at home it feels on twistier roads, particularly if you've got a model fitted with the impressive 'AIR BODY CONTROL' pneumatic suspension that can be fine-tuned with the 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes controller. More technology is provided by the optional 'DRIVE PILOT' system that when activated, allows the car to pretty much drive itself, working with the adaptive cruise control and active steering systems to keep the E-Class rolling in its chosen lane at any chosen speed up to 130mph.
Engine-wise, there's a base 184hp E200 petrol variant if you want it but almost all E-Class Estate buyers select a diesel, probably the four cylinder 2.0-litre 194hp biturbo unit you'll find in the E220d most customers are going to choose. The gearbox it comes mated to is 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. Those in search of more diesel performance are offered a 3.0-litre six cylinder unit in the E400d putting out 340hp and capable of rest to 62mph in 4.9s. E400d variants come only with 4MATIC 4WD. There's also an 'EQ Power' Plug-in hybrid E300 de diesel derivative, which mates a 2.0-litre combustion engine with a 122hp electric motor.
Further up the range, there are various Mercedes-AMG petrol performance variants. The E 53 4MATIC+ derivative uises a 3.0-litre biturbo inline six cylinder engine using the brand's latest EQ boost technology and putting out 435hp. Beyond that, there's the 4.0-litre V8 E 63 4MATIC+ models.
Despite this model's sleek looks, with a capacity of 670 to 1820-litres, the E-Class Estate's load compartment is one of the biggest in the segment. As standard, the rear bench seat has new cargo-related functionality: it is possible to position the backrest at an approximately 10-degree steeper angle. This creates an additional 30 litres of cargo volume while continuing to enable full use to be made of five seats. In addition, the rear seat backrest folds down in a 40:20:40 split as standard, opening up plenty of potential configurations between transport capacity and seats. To release the backrests, there are electric switches located in the load compartment and to the right and left next to the backrests.
The developers paid particular attention to practical dimensions and innovative management of the load space: for instance, the new E-Class Estate is one of the few car models that can accommodate a Europallet. With a minimum load compartment width between the wheel arches of 1100 millimetres, it was possible to retain the preceding model's very good measurement. If you want to carry extra people, there's the option of a rear-facing folding bench seat for children that makes this car into a full seven-seater. The proven combined cargo cover and net is back, offering both security from prying eyes and safety. The EASY-PACK tailgate provided as part of the standard equipment can be opened and closed very easily at the touch of a button for comfortable loading and unloading. Operation is electromechanical. We'd also want the optional EASY-PACK load-securing kit which allows the load compartment to be used in a versatile and safe manner.
Before this tenth generation E-Class Estate appeared, the Mercedes of executive station wagons was perceived as a practical but slightly over-sensible choice in this sector. These days though, it's a much smarter choice - in more ways than one.
Today, it feels like a car 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 this Mercedes is 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.
If you want to carry properly hefty loads in a car of this kind yet want to do so with more than a modicum of style, this is one to place right up there with its premium rivals. Better by design.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate range
BMW 5 Series Touring
Big estate cars have come a long way from their utilitarian roots and the seventh generation BMW 5 Series Touring is a good example of just how far. 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