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Volvo drives style wagon



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In less than a decade the estate car has shifted from utilitarian load-lugger to upmarket 'lifestyle' choice.

The genre will take another big step up the social scale, according to sources at Volvo, with a new flagship under the V90 moniker. It's essentially an S80 estate with unique styling, but in production practice its under-pinnings are some way from being fixed.

Among its clever features are: variable seating for four to seven passengers; a motorized load deck which can be raised and lowered for easier access; dual electric sunroof with glass panels; retractable rear window and double-hinged tailgate; and a transparent cargo deck divider to keep draughts from the passenger cell when the hatch is open (an idea also used in the Citroen XM).

Like all future Volvos, the V90 will, if confirmed by the new top management, be available in front-wheel drive or AWD/four-wheel drive guise. It is still unclear, however, on which platform the new model is going to be based. Four alternatives are under discussion.

First is the current S80/P2 platform - as seen under the new XC90. This may be readily available, but is said to be inflexible and expensive. Second, a next-generation S80/P2 platform, but it still needs engineering work. Third, a joint components set for both the V90 and next Jaguar S-type could be cooked up, but it would need to incorporate front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

The final option - and least appealing - is a common components matrix for the V90 and the upcoming Ford Cross-Trainer SUV and big Ford 500 saloon. A handy solution and affordable, but rather heavy, low-tech, and driven by the US market.

The V90 will be powered by the compact 300bhp 4.0-litre 32-valve V8 being co-developed with Yamaha. This engine will also appear in the XC90 next year and, hopefully in a face-lifted, all-wheel drive revamp of the slow-selling S80.

According to the internal plans, Volvo's V90 will arrive in 2006, only six months after the (equally tentative) S80 MkII. New PAG and Volvo boss Mark Fields will have the final say.

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