With shorter overhangs, strong signature grille and lights and sleek flowing lines, the S90 can hold its own amongst Germany’s best luxury sedans. Photo by Yasuhiko Sato.
If you thought Volvo built nothing but safe, reliable, comfortable, boxy-looking sedans and wagons, think again. With the motoring world still agasp at the stunningly beautiful award-winning XC90 crossover, the Swedish carmaker has just launched the S90, a car that can hold its head high in lofty luxury sedan circles occupied by the likes of Mercedes Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Lexus GS. When it comes to design that is.
As the flagship sedan in Volvo’s line-up, the S90 is the successor to the S80, an offering that was outclassed from the day it was born. The S90, however is a different story. It oozes class and luxury. Where the S80’s underpinnings could be traced to the bread-and-butter Ford Mondeo, the S90 employs Volvo’s latest Scalable Platform Architecture, which means it shares chassis parts and engines with the highly rated XC90.
Eager to test Volvo’s new range-topping sedan, I took the opportunity for a quick drive on a recent visit to Los Angeles where the car is already on sale. In Japan, and other markets in Asia, the S90 lands in showrooms in late February.
The S90 employs Volvo’s latest Scalable Platform Architecture, which means it shares chassis parts and engines with the highly rated XC90. Photo by Yasuhiko Sato.
Gone are the edgy, boxy sheetmetal that characterized the brand. The S90 incorporates sensuous flowing lines and a shorter front overhang, while designers have redefined A and C-pillar angles to give the sedan exceptional proportions and a bold stance. It’s the brand’s best-looking sedan yet.
An evolution of the XC90’s cabin design, the S90 employs high quality materials inside like soft, hand-stitched Nappa leather and linear walnut inlays, as well as a 9-inch touchscreen that controls the four-zone climate control, audio, sat-nav and vehicle settings. Nice touches including the jewel-like, squarish starter switch on the center console elevate the interior ambience. This Volvo will accommodate four adults easily and although the back seats are particularly spacious, some may feel slightly hemmed in due to the slanting roofline.
The S90 employs high quality materials inside like soft, hand-stitched Nappa leather and linear walnut inlays, as well as a 9-inch touchscreen. Photo courtesy Volvo Japan.
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Japan will get three versions of the S90, the 250hp T5, the 316hp T6 AWD R Design and the 316hp T6 AWD Inscription. In LA, I got a chance to steer the latter version, and apart from one or two minor niggles, the car was supremely impressive.
Sitting on an AWD drivetrain and powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit with supercharger and turbocharger, the belt-driven blower is used to bolster low-range torque before the turbocharger is spooled up. This two-pronged approach works superbly and results in 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
While the car delivers brisk acceleration and handled well, I did notice a couple of things they may concern some buyers. Its eight-speed automatic transmission progresses through the ratios with ease and purpose, but some shifts are occasionally harsh or poorly timed which could just be a shift schedule issue.
The chassis setup is good but not quite on a par with the XC90. On 18-in wheels, and even with the optional adaptive dampers all round, the S90 feels harsher over the large bumps than it should. That’s not helped by quick, slightly over-assisted steering, which has a tendency to point the nose of the car into corners instead of guiding it there.
As you’d expect from a Volvo, the S90 gets a long list of safety equipment. Alongside passive aids, which aim to protect you in the event of an accident, there are several new Active systems, which aim to prevent the crash in the first place.
The most eye-opening of these is large animal detection, which warns when deer or bears or boar (yes!) are approaching from the side of a dark road in front of you. Then there’s Volvo’s latest generation of Pilot Assist, which controls acceleration, braking while gentle steering inputs keep you perfectly positioned in your lane at speeds of up to 120km/h. It works well to alleviate the stress of long journeys, although it operates best in stop-start situations such as when you’re stuck in freeway congestion or urban dual carriageways.
Selling over 534,000 units in 2016, Volvo sales are up 6.2% globally. In Japan where models like the XC90 and V40 have found favor, sales have risen by 7.8 percent. The biggest challenge in Japan is to convince buyers of Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Lexuses to swap over to Volvo. With product like the XC90 and S90, Volvo has the chance to extend that growth. But before they do that, perhaps a few minor adjustments to the steering and ride, and the Swedish brand will have yet another winner.