Review and road test of the Volvo 900 Series [940/960/S90/V90] (1990 - 1998)
LUXURY LOAD CARRIER
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Volvo's everlasting 700 flowered into the 900-series in late 1990. The name remained until spring 1997, denoting 940 four-cylinder and 960 six-cylinder series cars. The 940 changed little in this period but the 960 became a far more modern executive saloon and estate, thanks to the addition of new engines and an extensive facelift in 1994.
In fact, the origin of these cars went all the way back to March 1982, when the original 760 GLE was launched. However, a series of revisions meant that later cars shared almost nothing with the original V6-engined saloon. Like the 700 series range they replaced, the 900 series cars were very successful, especially as estates, making great family cars and load carriers. There are still a large number of well looked-after examples on the used market.
4-door saloon, 5-door estate 2.0, 2.3, 2.3 turbo, 2.5, 2.9V6, 2.4 turbo diesel [S, GL, GLE, SE, SE Turbo, Wentworth, GLE Turbo, Lpt, Lpt S, Lpt Classic, Lpt SE, Lpt CD, SE Turbo, Lpt GLE, D, S, CD, Lux]
The 900 series range was launched in September 1990 as two separate models, though they shared the same basic structure and shape.
The 940 was available with 2.0 and 2.3-litre four-cylinder engines and a six-cylinder 2.4-litre turbo diesel. Volvo pitched the 940 models downmarket of the 960 and the engine and trim levels reflected this. The 2.5 and 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines, for example, were reserved for the 960. Apart from a small run of 'H' and 'J' registration 2.3-litre turbo estates, the six-cylinder engines powered all 960s.
In the 940 range, the base model was initially the GL, though this later changed to the S. These cars have a five-speed manual transmission as standard and a four-speed automatic was optional. Equipment included power steering, central locking, heated electric mirrors, electric front windows, heated front seats, a four-speaker stereo and a 'ski flap' on the saloons that allowed long objects to project from the boot into the middle of the back seat. Cars in SE-spec also had an electrically powered sunroof, aerial and rear windows. There was also a turbo version of the 2.0-litre.
The 2.3 GLE had either eight or 16-valve engines. Both had alloy wheels and ABS. Above these two was the 940 turbo which had a turbocharged version of the 2.3-litre engine. This engine was the same as that in the 960 turbo estate. These cars had an electrically adjustable driver's seat and climate control. The top-model 960 2.9 (some sellers call them 3.0-litre) had cruise control as well as most of the features of the lesser cars.
Volvo changed the name of its biggest car early in 1997 but left virtually everything else alone. In line with its new policy, the saloon was now known as the 'S90' while the estate became the (versatile, according to Volvo marketing) 'V90'. The S90 was replaced in October 1998 by the new S80 saloon (no estate equivalent). A 'replacement' for the V90 didn't appear until early 2000 when the all-new, larger V70 estate (no saloon equivalent) was billed as its successor as well as replacing the previous V70.
What You Get
A big, safe and softly sprung cruise-mobile. The 960s are the real mile-eaters with their heavier weight (due to extra equipment) and smooth, six-cylinder engines. The estates are the definitive cars for those who need a prestige car that still looks good after frequent trips up and down slushy lanes with dogs and children on board. An alternative Range Rover perhaps?
What to Look For
The 960's engines have proven very reliable, as have the 940's four-cylinder units. High mileage is something most models take in their stride but be extra careful with the turbo cars. Check that the service stamps are all present, as this will give peace of mind that the engine has been looked after. Irregular servicing can lead to a build-up of sludge so if the car's blowing smoke, best avoid it.
Interiors are very hard-wearing but listen for rattles as some cars suffered slightly poor assembly, though most of these should have been put right by now. Check that all the electrics work - especially things like cruise control and seat adjustment, as repairs are tricky and expensive.
If you're looking at 2.9-litre cars, be sure you won't be surprised by the cost of regular fill-ups. The engine is no thirstier than similarly sized rivals but remember these are big cars and, heavily laden, they drink accordingly.
(Based on a 1991 940 2.3) The full exhaust system is roughly £300. The catalyst will be about £650 to replace and brake pads are approx £60 for the front and £40 for the rear. A front wing is about £140 and a tail-lamp close to £35. A new headlight is about £160, as is a radiator and a replacement windscreen is roughly £190. A major service will cost between £350 and £460 while a minor one will be about £130.
On the Road
Not really the kind of cars you tend to hustle along a winding B road but should you wish to, no 940 or 960 will disgrace itself. Their forte is motorway cruising, though, so if that's your typical commute, then these cars should be on your shortlist. The ride is excellent yet the handling doesn't suffer too badly. As for road-holding, remember Swedish drivers know all about icy roads, so the 940 and 960 are well set-up for panic-free direction-changes and grip is very good.
Any of these cars will suit you down to the ground if practicality, safety and a dose of luxury are high on your list of needs. They're reliable and dependable, but only the later 960s were really good, rather than dependable, to drive. If solid dependability is what you need however, look no further.
Volvo 900 Series [940/960/S90/V90] (1990 - 1998) review by JONATHAN CROUCH