“Is it a Jag?” asked a friend as we approached the new Volvo flagship.
Noting the resemblance to the low and wide XF – at least from a distance – I nodded, but pointed him a bit further north than Coventry, England.
“Try Sweden. And no, you probably haven’t seen one on the road yet.”
Indeed, the all-wheel-drive S90 just hit showrooms in September, and at the price of $56,900 for base and $63,000 for the top-trim Inscription model (plus options), they may sell a few.
It’s a large vehicle with a coupe silhouette – long bonnet, short rear deck and steeply-raked (and lowered) roofline – with big wheel openings at all corners.
The upright grille with prominent ironmark logo is reminiscent of the early-sixties P1800 coupe, and it is flanked by narrow-cut headlamps with distinctive “Thor’s Hammer” running lights.
The S90 looks expensive, and that carries on inside. Here, you’ll see and feel premium materials and detailing, like heated leather seating in the base sedan, with leather in the dash and doors of the Inscription model, as tested. This top-trim S90 also receives perforated Nappa skins on the seats, which are cooled as well as heated up front, and as attractive as they are comfortable.
Front occupants also get eight-way power with cushion extenders, adjustments for lumbar and side bolstering, and seat memory for the driver.
Tired of overly-glossed wood that looks like plastic? The “linear walnut” in my ride had that raw, open-grained feel that looks authentic, not stodgy.
New air blades flank the 9.3-inch “Sensus” infotainment screen. Here, you’ll find audio, streaming music, built-in WiFi, navigation, vehicle settings, and the Volvo On Call app that lets you start remotely, lock/unlock the doors, warm or cool the cabin, or call roadside assistance.
A heads-up display is optional, but the road sign information system comes standard and helps avoid that awkward conversation: “Sorry officer, I didn’t see the sign…”
Also useful are power rear headrests that drop at the push of a button, aiding visibility through the S90’s smallish rear window.
As you’d expect in a large sedan, there’s loads of head and leg room in back, along with separate HVAC controls for right and left passenger, and optional heated seats.
Seatbacks also fold to enlarge the 500-litre trunk. There’s a pass-through for longer objects like skis and lumber – and for those who might struggle to close it, a standard power trunk lid.
Although Volvo now punches harder against premium and luxury contenders, it hasn’t wavered on its traditional strengths.
The company’s standard-equipped City Safety is already impressive in its ability to detect people and swerving cyclists – even applying the brakes if you don’t. But that’s now been expanded to large animals, like deer. This may not seem an issue for city dwellers, but where I used to live, nearly every neighbour had at one time nailed or clipped one of our antlered friends. And I’ve had a few close calls.
The S90 also gets Volvo’s full suite of safety and driver aids, including collision warning with full auto brake, distance alert, adaptive cruise control, park assist camera and sensors, and lane departure warning with run-off road mitigation that now works at highway speeds, rather than just 50 km/h.
I know Volvo has put considerable resources into autonomous driving wizardry, and have done their homework on Pilot Assist. But are the lane markings, on which it relies, as good as this tech?
You can feel the system self-correct with a gentle nudge to the steering, should you veer to either side of the lane. And, yes, you do have to keep hands on the wheel. Which is a good thing, as I’m still hesitant to roll the dice on a strip of paint.
Optional on both S90 models is blind spot information with cross-traffic alert – included in the $2,000 Vision Package that also adds power retractable side mirrors and a 360-degree “bird’s eye” monitor with individual front/side/rear views.
With so many of today’s rides using more sheet metal and less glass – which looks great, but sucks for visibility – I’ve grown to appreciate these electronics.
Visual Park Assist & Front “Fisheye” View
With our 360° camera you can see a virtual bird’s eye view of the area surrounding your Volvo. A high-resolution image is shown in the centre display and will be a great help for example when manoeuvring or reversing in tight areas with impaired visibility – you can even see what’s going around the corner at a 180° side view in front or at the rear of your car. The system uses four hidden cameras: two at the door mirrors, one at the front and one at the rear. And by gently touching the camera images on the centre display touch screen, you can get a view from just that camera. The rear camera can also be switched to a zoomed-in view close to the car – very convenient when hitching a trailer, for example.
But Volvo hasn’t left safety to the tech nerds, as the vehicle still relies on the company’s bank-vault build quality. The S90’s safety cage is made of rigid boron and lighter steels, which not only helps hold its shape in an accident, but disperses energy.
Sensible stuff, but to compete against German rivals like Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, not to mention Lexus GS and the previously-mentioned Jag, you need reasonable performance.
Volvo has been moving away from V8s and sixes, replacing them with inline fours – with boost. For the S90, this means a turbocharger and supercharger, giving its 2.0-litre engine the ability to produce 316 hp and 295 lb/ft of torque.
Those are heady numbers, but keep in mind that the S90 is no lightweight at 3,889 lbs (over two tons with passengers). Yet it manages the zero to 100 km/h sprint in under six seconds, and with my less-than-conservative throttle application, still delivered 10.7 litres/100 km for the week.
The driving experience can be tailored, using a knurled chrome roller to select one of three drive modes: Eco, Comfort and Dynamic. These do what you’d expect – slower throttle response and earlier gear changes in Eco; the opposite in Dynamic.
The S90 may not be a high-strung German sports sedan, but it handles the twisty-turnies just fine. Its suspension is more on the comfort side than firm, but body lean is minimal in the corners. A nice balance of Euro and North American tastes – even on the optional 20-inch ‘diamond cut’ alloys and skinny rubber.
S90 is the latest effort in Volvo’s product line renewal, and with the sleek V90 Cross Country coming in 2017, it appears the automaker has finally shed its box-like ways.
SNAPSHOT: 2017 Volvo S90
BODY STYLE: full-size sedan
ENGINE: (as tested) 2.0-litre inline four cylinder with turbocharger and supercharger (316 hp, 295 lb/ft)
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic manual mode, electronically-controlled AWD
FUEL ECONOMY: as tested, 10.8/7.6/9.4 L/100km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 500 litres
PRICING: T6 AWD $56,900; T6 Inscription $63,000 (plus options)