Car reviews - Volvo - S90 - range
Rear seat space, silky smooth ride, cabin design, terrific turbo-diesel engine, Swedish-ness
Room for improvement
Minimal toe room for rear-seat passengers, front seat comfort, active safety tech needs some work
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12 Oct 2016
BUYERS after a premium executive express have, in the past at least, had few options, and almost all of them are German – Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Then in 2008, Jaguar blew them all out of the water with its seriously impressive XF sedan, while Maserati threw its hat in to the ring a couple of years ago with the Ghibli.
Japanese marques Lexus and Infiniti are also in the mix with their GS and Q70 respectively.
It is fair to say Volvo’s S80 sedan did not set the sales charts alight in Australia, and while the car-maker is expecting modest volume for its all-new S90 sedan – 15 to 20 a month – it sees the car as a brand builder that showcases its tech and safety know-how.
It is clear that Volvo is a lot more serious about the segment now that it has ever been and the company is confident the S90 – and its V90 wagon sibling that arrives next year – is more than a match for its various rivals.
We spent some time in the first two variants to launch in Australia – the well-specified D5 and T6 Inscription, both fitted with all-wheel drive.
More variants including R Design spec and the T8 plug-in hybrid are all set to lob next year, while the entry level T5 and D4 Momentum land next month.
In the metal, the S90 is a handsome beast, with a sleek and modern shape and the now signature Thor’s hammer LED headlights and re-imagined Volvo grille giving the car a classy, almost aggressive look.
From the rear, it is clear how wide the S90 is – 2019mm to be exact, which is wider than the E-Class and 5 Series but narrower than the XF – but the tail-light design is polarising. We prefer the look of the forthcoming V90 wagon’s rear, but it comes down to personal taste of course.
That width makes for a spacious and comfortable cabin, particularly in the second row, where passengers have ample head and legroom on well designed, deep, supportive and luxurious seats. The only niggle would be that the front sets sit so low that rear toe room is tight. As we said, just a niggle really.
Boot space is 500 litres and while it is less than its major rivals by between 20 and 40 litres, it would easily take enough luggage for a weekend away, a couple of golf bags or whatever else you can shove in there.
The boot is long but shallow, with the full-sized spare likely impacting the space. A nifty lever at the top of the rear seat-back flicks the headrests down to more easily lower the 60/40 split-fold rear seats.
Back up the front, the seats look the part and help add to the high-end ambience of the Inscription’s cabin, but the centre padding felt intrusive, was difficult to adjust and left us with the feeling that after a long-distance trip you would be happy to get out of the seat. Not great for a car that is built for cruising.
Thankfully there is a lot to like about the rest of the S90’s cabin. Audi is often cited as the clear leader when it comes to cabin and dash design – and that reputation is justified – while modern Mercedes’ and BMW, and Jags for that matter are now off the pace with sometimes clunky designs and placements.
Volvo has gone the minimalist route with the S90, mirroring its XC90 sibling with very few buttons, a massive 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen and a distinct lack of plastic panels. Finally Volvo is embracing its Swedish-ness.
Granted this is the top-spec – for now – variant, but the use of high-end materials, including hand-stitched leathers, a mesh-like metal panels and contrasting colours, not to mention the high-quality feel of the steering wheel and seats, makes for a luxurious cabin experience. Top job Swedes.
Under the bonnet of the T6 Inscription is a 235kW/400Nm four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, which delivers instant throttle response for good acceleration from a standing start without forcing occupants back in their seats.
The straight line performance is more than adequate, but we might have to wait for the more performance oriented T8 plug-in for more brutal acceleration.
The all-wheel-drive traction keeps the S90 nice on loser surfaces and there was no noticeable skipping. The drive route did not allow for a lot of fast corner testing , but the S90 exhibited no bodyroll and pitched around bends in an appropriate fashion for a large luxury sedan, given its dynamically capable competitors.
Tyre roar is noticeable on coarser surfaces but on the whole the S90 is quiet.
What is surprising is just how composed the S90 is when faced with corrugations, tram and train tracks and potholes.
The suspension setup has been tuned more for comfort it seems and we support that because the super smooth ride of the S90 puts some of the other contenders in the segment to shame.
In both the T6 and D5, the Pilot Assist lane keeping aid was somewhat overzealous and while we might get used to the constant tugging of the wheel every time you go anywhere near a white line, we were concerned about how it pushed us too close to the other side of the road in the process.
Volvo’s semi-autonomous is very impressive in many ways and it has been a focus for them longer than other car-makers, but clearly the lane-keeping aid needs more work before it is flawless. Many of Volvo’s rivals have similar quirks with their own systems too.
Performance in the 173kW/480Nm D5 turbo-diesel as pretty sprightly, thanks in part to its PowerPulse technology that helps reduce lag in diesel engines.
Off the line the D5 is quick and it picks up beautifully, offering more linear acceleration than the T6 petrol.
There is some lag when accelerating from low speeds but it is not terrible.
At idle it is clear the engine is a diesel, but once you take off it is difficult to tell. Very smooth.
Another thing Volvo does well is idle-stop. It is intuitive and unlike many systems, there is no need to switch it off.
There is a lot to like about the S90. High end safety features, a gorgeous interior, unique design, solid performance, good fuel economy figures and relatively high levels of standard specification, especially when compared with the German and British rivals.
Dynamically, it is hard to beat the impressive new E-Class and Jaguar’s new XF, but the S90 is mighty close.
One thing it offers is a point of difference. If you are bored by the usual suspects in the segment, the S90 is one very Swedish way to stand out.
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