I’ve driven – conservatively – at least 3,000 different vehicles in my 40-year career as an automotive writer.
You name it, I’ve probably driven it: high-end sports cars, luxury sedans, wild and woolly four-by-fours, motorcycles, formula race cars, big rigs, forklifts, race-prepared rally cars, vintage saloons, hot rods, one-off prototypes, experimental alternate fuel cars, one-off concept cars, on and on and on.
But Volvo’s new V90 marks the first time I couldn’t find reverse gear. There I was, stuck in a parking garage, trying to back out and I couldn’t find reverse. I tugged, cajoled, cursed, and prodded – nothing.
That’s embarrassing – I’m supposed to know about these things. But I had to get in touch with the manufacturers’ representative to get instructions on how to back the car up – definitely a first.
But it was indicative of the overall flavour and vibe of this car. It’s almost as if Volvo has decided to remove the driver from the driving experience and make things as difficult and awkward as possible. Everything about the V90 is annoying and counter-intuitive and, quite honestly, I couldn’t take it back fast enough.
Power is provided by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 295 horsepower. The V90 – there’s but one model now, the Cross Country – is all-wheel drive and the transmission is an eight-speed automatic only. This gearbox is Volvo’s Geartronic unit and, aside from the shifter, does the job nicely.
It turns out that reverse is found by tapping the shift knob twice forward and drive by tapping twice backwards. Seems straightforward enough but, at the time, I couldn’t find it to save my life. And when I finally did work it out, I found that this set-up is absolutely pointless and self-defeating.
It makes parallel parking more difficult than it should be and, in combination with the V90’s clumsy auto stop/start feature, makes driving the V90 a bit of an ordeal. The problem with the auto-stop/start feature is that it shuts the engine off at intersections and stoplights and so on but doesn’t restart the car until you depress the throttle pedal.
Virtually every other manufacturer utilizes a system that reactivates the drivetrain as soon as you take your foot off the brake pedal, but not the V90. That results in delayed takeoffs and clumsy parking.
But there’s more. Changing the seat warmth or heating and air conditioning settings is a three-step process that involves pressing buttons and scrolling through the monitor to find what you want. That’s fine and dandy when you’re motionless, but in motion and surrounded by traffic, it’s just stupid, not to mention unsafe. Fortunately, Volvo’s ability to manufacture comfy seats has not gone away but it’s a bit of a chore to get things right.
And if you like AM radio, you’re out of luck with the V90 – at least, I couldn’t find it. Sirius radio and the FM band seem to be there, but the band that offers the most information quickly delivered – AM radio – is missing in action.
Last but not least, price: The V90 Cross Country, before taxes, levies and extras, is approaching $80,000. By the time the dust settles, you’re in the $100,000 neighbourhood and that’s a lot of scratch to pay for a car that’s as frustrating as it is technologically sophisticated.
For me, the V90 represents an automobile that puts itself first – it drives you, rather than the other way around. My inability to find reverse could be put down to a momentary brain fart or stupidity, but I have never felt so alienated from an automobile as I did with the V90. And I say this as someone who has owned several Volvo models over the years.
Volvo has managed to almost completely eliminate the driver from the equation with the V90, and the result is not a better automobile but a car that’s actually a bit of a bully and pushes its weight around.
2022 Volvo V90
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Horsepower: 295 at 5,400 rpm
Torque: 310 foot pounds at 2,100 to 4,800 rpm
Base price: $77,450
Fuel economy (litres.100 km): 10.6 city and 8.1 highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Audi A4/A6 All Road, Mercedes C-Class, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Alltrack, BMW 330i, Cadillac CT5
Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.
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