At some point in the not too distant past, there must have been a meeting where everything at Volvo began to click. A meeting where they decided on a radical departure from the design language they’d only just gotten comfortable with, where they decided to ditch anything they’d inherited from their time under Ford, and go forward with a properly blank piece of paper. That meeting, is now what is propelling the brand firmly into the future.
The XC90 was the first offering to adhere to the Swedish firm’s new disciplines, and once that had won significant awards and praise from around the world, Volvo decided upon its next recipient of its newfound confidence: The S90. Killing the S80 nameplate and bringing back a brand that’s been absent for two decades, the S90 takes all that we loved from the XC90 and thrown in some new innovations to keep critics, fans, and observers amazed. But is it really any good?
“The S90 exemplifies Volvo’s new design language, the upright grille and ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlights characterising a confident, expansive front end, while the broad shoulder line hints at the Peter Horbury-designed models of the recent past.” - AutoCar
Volvo’s designers are genuinely going from strength to strength. Having first created the imposing-yet-elegant XC90, they applied the same basic design principles to achieve the stunning S90. They’ve got it down to a science, in some aspects: The firm talks at length about the distance between the front axel and the dashboard, achieving the automotive equivalent of the ‘Golden Ratio.’ The unexplainable witchcraft that goes into the design clearly pays dividends though, with the S90 managing to look restrained, elegant, and imposing all at once. One could even call it cool.
Up front, there’s an imposing concave grille, with Volvo’s ‘Iron Mark’ stretching across it. Full-LED headlights flank the wide grille, replete with ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running lights emphasising the width of the mid-size saloon. The profile of the car sees the end of big Volvo saloons looking like bricks, with sleek lines linking the nose to the tail. The tail, by Volvo’s own admission, polarises opinion: The large rear lights do emphasise the width of the car, though it can be argued that there were better ways to have gone about that. Overall though, you cannot deny that the S90 is a real looker, from every angle.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The T6 has more power than the D5 so is slightly quicker when accelerating. It’s also even quieter. The penalty is you’ll use about 40 per cent more fuel than in the diesel.” - WhichCar
Presently, the S90 is offered with two petrol and two diesel powertrain options. Top-drawer diesel and petrol powertrains also gain all-wheel drive, while lesser variants make do with just front-wheel drive. The diesels are of particular note, with the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder oil burner offered in two states of tune: D4 offering 140kW/400Nm, and D5 which packs 173kW/480Nm. The D5 also gains ‘PowerPulse’ anti-turbolag technology, which pumps compressed air into the turbochargers to eliminate turbo lag entirely. It’s very convincing, with linear power delivery and torque through the rev range. Definitely the way to go for motorway cruisers, with rated fuel consumption at 4.7l/100km and 5.1l/100km for the D4 and D5 respectively.
The petrol lineup on the other hand comes in the T5 and T6. Again, they use the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder power plant, with the T5 offering 187kW/350Nm, and the T6 managing 235kW/400Nm. While the T5 is merely turbocharged, the T6 bolts on a supercharger for added shove, and the result is a torque band that is so incredibly linear, you’d think it was a V6. Which is why, we’re guessing, Volvo didn’t bother designing a 6-cylinder engine at all.
All S90s are fitted as standard with a silky-smooth, well-calibrated eight-speed automatic transmission.
2017 will see the introduction of the S90 T8 plug-in hybrid, as well as an estate variant, called the V90. Drivetrains are identical.
“The key, wrapped in leather that matches the car’s interior, immediately feels special and, as with the XC90, offers access to an interior that feels plucked from an industrial design textbook.” - CarAdvice
If you’ve been in an XC90, the S90 will not surprise you too much. If you haven’t yet sampled a modern Volvo interior, then be prepared to have your breath taken away swiftly. The S90 offers a cabin that is like no other, with luxury embellishments and touches that you’d be hard-pressed to find so elegantly executed in anything else in its segment. Even base-model Momentum cars enjoy full leather interiors, while Inscription cars gain ultra-soft Nappa leather.
The S90’s cabin is designed to soothe and calm, rather than necessarily excite. So while driving enthusiasts may crave something more visually engaging, Volvo’s interiors are targeted squarely at the customer who wants serenity over adrenaline. The supportive seats are perfect for even the longest of drives, while the ergonomics are right on the mark. It’s a Volvo for the 21st century.
Behind the Wheel
“The S90 has a surprisingly sporty nature that imposes a penalty in ride comfort.” - Car & Driver
The S90 presents itself with a split personality of sorts when it comes to the driving experience. While the XC90 distinguished itself very quickly and decisively as a comfort-oriented long-distance wagon, the S90 heads toward a more engaging experience in some respect. For starters, the 19-inch wheels you find on Inscription cars are known to convey a more brittle ride quality, making bumps and ruts feel sharper than they are, though they offer more grip than its rivals. On the other hand, Momentum models with the smaller wheels feel comfort-oriented entirely, offering next to nothing by way of driver involvement, choosing to (pleasantly) isolate the captain and his passengers from the world at large.
We suspect we’re making a bigger fuss of this than is necessary though, as the S90 is lauded throughout the world for its calm, serene driving experience (matching the interior). It won’t dart like a 5-Series does, and it doesn’t seem to want to; The S90 is about doing things in a sedate fashion. As a driving experience, it feels not too dissimilar to a Rolls-Royce. It doesn’t egg you on, it lowers your pulse. It doesn’t urge you to poke it, it makes you enjoy the calm. Further emphasising this experience is the semi-autonomous tech found across the board, which aim to take the strain out of driving altogether.
Safety & Technology
“Safety has long been a Volvo cornerstone, and it’s no different with the S90. When it went on sale in the third quarter of 2016, it was the most advanced Volvo ever produced in terms of crash avoidance.” - WhichCar
All S90s in Australia come with a raft of standard safety features. The most notable are things like adaptive cruise control (which is capable of braking all the way to a halt), autonomous emergency braking, City Safety (which can apply the brakes or swerve to avoid large animals it recognises, which curiously does not include kangaroos), Lane Keeping Aid (which will keep the car between white motorway lines, but disengages if there is no driver input), roadsign recognition technology, and six airbags.
We’re not done. There’s also a system called IntelliSafe, which packages a raft of safety features together. Chief among which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) up to 130km/h, and semi-autonomous steering. The latter can detect if the vehicle is about to run off the road, and can partially steer and brake the vehicle to reduce any impending impact. Rear cross-traffic alert (which keeps an eye out for you if you’re reversing out of a parking space, into traffic) also comes as standard.
The S90 has not yet been rated by Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) for crashworthiness, but if it scores less than 5-stars, we’ll eat our hats.
The Volvo S90 is a highly accomplished machine. Where its predecessor inhabited an odd semi-premium position in the market, the S90 takes that and pushes the nameplate’s value right up with contemporaries like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Its timeless design, excellent features, and composed ride make it one of the best motorway mile-munchers on sale today. Its calm nature may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you want a car that’ll soothe a furrowed brow at the end of a long day, then the S90 is very difficult to beat.
Our recommendation sits with the S90 D5 Inscription, as we believe that it fits the S90’s personality best. It’s frugal yet powerful, and thanks to PowerPulse anti-turbolag technology, a very smooth operator. The bump in refinement offered by the petrol engines are not nearly significant enough to justify the additional running costs, really. And unless your daily travel involves a lot of short-distance city driving, the incoming T8 plug-in hybrid should be given a miss.
TopGear - 80/100 - “The S90 goes in a different direction to the German alternatives, with convincing success.”
CarsGuide - 75/100 - “Volvo still knows how to build a quality car. The S90 shows its competence in all areas and the fit and finish are hard to fault. It is also priced accordingly, which may deter some prospective owners from taking it for a spin. That will be their loss.”
CarAdvice - 80/100 - “Will Australians part with 5 Series or E-Class money for a Volvo? Doubtful. But as a brand-builder and perception-changer, the proudly different Swedish luxury car stacks up pretty well.”
WhichCar - 80/100 - “The S90 is a large luxury car with a choice of great four-cylinder engines. There’s also excellent active safety features, including advanced technology that can help avoid a crash. It has a very stylish interior that is quite different to those in the predominantly German rivals. There’s also lots of space and it is very comfortable for long drives.”
Car & Driver - 90/100 - “We like the S90’s understated styling and clean interior a lot. Those seeking an alternative to the more in-your-face design statements from other automakers who come to share our regard for the Volvo’s design probably will not be bothered by the car’s dynamic and control quirks.”
WhatCar? - 80/100 - “If you’re bored of big, Germanic executive saloons, the Volvo S90 could be the breath of fresh, Scandinavian air that you’ve been looking for.”
AutoCar - 80/100 - “The S90 provides ample evidence of where a few billion dollars’ worth of investment have been poured. Volvo has built the S90 to its own idea of the standard, making it comfortable, safe, predictable, spacious, efficient, and hushed.””
AutoExpress - 80/100 - “There’s plenty of promise in the S90 package as a whole, and we’re not about to revise the view, gleaned from that winter drive a few months back, that you should give Volvo’s new flagship saloon serious consideration if you’re in the market for a 5 Series, A6 or E-Class.”