All-new S90 aims to offer a refreshingly different and very refined and comfortable take on the large executive saloon
It’s said that when you’re house hunting, you know within moments of stepping through the front door whether you want it or not. I reckon that cars evoke an even more instantaneous reaction. After all, plenty of buyers don’t even sit in the model they’re considering before making the final decision.
Which brings us to the new Volvo S90. More than any of its arguably less distinct rivals, this is a car that likely won a huge swathe of buyers the moment its lantern-jawed fascia appeared under the Detroit motor show’s lights. This car wears its heart on the metaphorical sleeve of its fine-knit angora sweater, and you just know it will suit you before you’ve even sampled the faultlessly ergonomic sofa in a Volvo dealership.
And the good news is that, if you’re taken with the S90’s sophisticated yet somehow unpretentious ambience just from the pictures, the reality is going to delight you. The S90 is fractionally longer than a BMW 5 Series and its bluffedged, high-waisted styling makes it look like a big car, even with the camouflage of our prototype test cars. It feels big when you slide into the cabin, too – airy and widebodied, just as you’d hope. The cushy, armchair-like seats are supremely comfortable (they’re the same as those in the XC90), providing a great place from which to enjoy the compelling interior.
Granted, our test cars were high spec, but the mix of textures and the logical, uncluttered layout combine to create that intangible, expensive yet simple feeling which often characterises really top-notch design. Dominating the cabin is the large colour touchscreen, which is standard, complete with sat-nav, on every S90. It’s quick to respond, is easy to navigate, feels appropriately high-end and will come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Maybe some people would like it to be set higher in the cabin, but Volvo is offering a head-up display that will help to getaround that problem.
Another selling point will be the rear accommodation, which is more spacious than that ofits key rivals. There’s masses of room, with a laidback backrest and deep squab for impressive lounging ability. The 500-litre boot looks to be roughly on a par with the competition, and the golf clubs or big suitcase will fit easily. We drove the 232bhp D5, which comes with four-wheel drive and is the higher-powered of two four-pot diesels on offer. The front-wheeldrive 188bhp D4 is likely to be the biggest-seller and will go head to head with the might of the BMW 520d in the company car stakes.
The only other engine on offer is the T8 – a 402bhp plug-in hybrid, which uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor to achieve CO2 emissions of just 44g/km. One for the CEO, perhaps. All come with the eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard and a full suite of active safety aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking (which now senses pedestrians, cyclists, deer and oncoming traffic at intersections).
It’s the most standard-fit safety equipment you’ll find in the class. Set off in the D5 and it’s instantly obvious that refinement is one of this car’s chief talents. There’s none of the gritty-sounding engine dirge common to many four-cylinder diesels. The engine revs smoothly and, provided you don’t push it to unnecessarily peaky revs, remains remarkably quiet. It’s about the most hushed in this class, even more so than the seriously quiet Audi A6 Ultra.
Wind also slides calmly and quietly over the Volvo’s A-pillars, and although it’s hard to comment on tyre noise given the unusual conditions, the S90 D5 clearly offers refinement levels more akin to the class above. Performance is full of mid-range heartiness, and it responds keenly to a prod of the throttle, even from basement revs. Thank something called PowerPulse for that. It may sound like a next-gen defibrillator but it is actually a compressed air system fitted only to the D5.
The system spins the turbo up before the exhaust gases can get to work, reducing lag. It’s subtle, but pays off in very sprightly initial response to any pressure on the throttle, and you don’t get any uneven surges in power as you build revs. On top of all that, the eight-speed auto shifts almost imperceptibly just when you want it to, completing the sense that this is a car to sit back in and enjoy the calm, rather than to work hard. Sure, Volvo will tell you that the S90 offers a dynamic edge – not least thanks to the variable drive modes that are standard if you add the optional air suspension that was fitted to our test car.
However, with steering that has good weighting and a soft-edged response on turn-in but little real sense of directness, this has the distinct feel of being a car that’s best off in that satisfying ‘serene yet making progress’ state. Certainly, with the active all-wheel drive serving up secure handling, even on compressed snow, you’ll be able to thread the D5 down a B-road with serious verve and no qualms about whether it’ll grip predictably.
But will it handle with the flair of a 5 Series? No, we’d say not. Will it ride better? Well there’s the killer question, and the answer slightly spoils the otherwise joyous sense of relaxation you get in the S90. In any setting, the air suspension does well over high frequency patina and undulations so this is stacking up to be a flawlessly brilliant motorway cruiser.
But hit a bigger dip or sharper-edged intrusion and you get quite a bit of pitch and dive from the body and a surprisingly heavy thunk through the suspension that suggests a firmer set-up than you might want over the UK’s patchwork roads. Still, overall, the S90 really impressed on this early encounter. Between the lovely cabin, outstanding refinement and unflappable dynamics, there’s a lot to like about this car.
We can hope that the ride comfort in the UK might be better than we experienced over this test track, as that could be the main fly in some otherwise excellent ointment. In time, and with experience of the standard suspension, we’ll find out. Until then, the S90 looks to be highly recommendable on all sorts of levels, and another of the bridges towards what looks to be a very bright future for this characterful-as-ever company.
Price: £36,000 (est)
Engine: 4 cyls in line, 1969cc, diesel
Power: 232bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 354lb at 1750-2250rpm
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 1900kg (est)
Top speed: 149mph
Economy: 58.9mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 127g/km, 23%