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First drive: Volvo S90 sizes up

New beginnings: The Volvo S90 will arrive in Australia in October but the V90 wagon is not coming until midway through 2017.

Volvo gets set to take on the BMW 5 Series with the all-new S90 and V90 twins


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12 Jul 2016


VOLVO’S new-model onslaught continues with the rollout from October of the critical BMW 5 Series-fighting S90 sedan, which the company believes will be the safest passenger vehicle ever sold in Australia.

The S80-replacing S90, and its V90 wagon twin that will arrive next year, follow on from the mechanically related XC90 SUV that effectively relaunched the Volvo brand globally last year and introduced a suite of new safety technology.

Speaking to Australian journalists at the company’s global headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, following a media drive in Spain, Volvo Cars director and senior technical adviser on safety, Jan Ivarsson, said the S90 and V90 feature pioneering collision avoidance and mitigation systems designed to minimise occupant harm that no other car can match.

“Volvo puts in countermeasures to avoid exposure as well as risk reduction in the driving sequences of an accident,” he said.

“In 2007 we revealed that our vision is that by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car. It’s not the target, but a vision. It is the guiding direction for people working in the company, and everybody knows about this.

“It’s a way of thinking, a mind model we share – everybody shares – inside the company.”

Aimed directly at the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Infiniti Q70, Jaguar XF and Lexus GS, the 541-series S90 will be followed by the 542-series V90 wagon version in the middle of next year.

Not long after there will also be a V90 Cross Country, with a ride height boost and the usual crossover accoutrements such as extended wheelarches and extra black cladding.

Pricing and specifications for both wagons will not be revealed until closer to their respective 2017 launch dates.

Standard in all models, starting with the entry-level S90 T5 Momentum from $79,900 plus on-road costs, is the IntelliSafe Pilot Assist – a semi-autonomous driving system that uses radar at up to 130km/h to maintain speed, lane discipline and safe distance using the lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control systems.

There is also the world-first application of the latest version of Volvo’s Run-Off Road Mitigation, which detects the edge of the road as well as painted lines to help keep the vehicle from spearing off the bitumen at speeds between 65km/h and 140km/h.

In its first iteration in the XC90, the system only detected the white lines of the road.

More technology making its debut in the S90 is an enhanced version of the City Safety autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system that now includes large animal detection via camera radar functionality. It is designed specifically to avoid big creatures such as a horse or cow if the driver does not do so first.

Testing for kangaroo identification is currently underway.

All safety items are also being rolled out into the current XC90, highlighting the shared Scalable Product Architecture developed from scratch for all medium and large-sized Volvos.

Despite the large luxury SUV beating it to market by more than a year, the S90 was actually the first of the so-called Cluster 90 vehicles off the SPA platform when engineering work commenced as far back as 2008 – during the dying days of Ford ownership, before China’s Geely bought the company two years later – as Volvo was determined to get the basics right.

The sedan’s design features a short front overhang, a cab-backward silhouette and an extended dash-to-axle ratio to provide athletic proportions. Volvo expects that the sedan will be most popular in North America and Asia.

The wagon, on the other hand, is more Euro-centric, but the boxy shape loved by the Swedes has been banished for a more rakish style that ought to broaden the V90’s international appeal.

Volvo wagons typically account for 70 per cent of total sales in Europe compared with their sedan siblings. The concave-effect grille pays homage to Volvo’s famous P1800 coupe of the 1960s.

As with the XC90, the vehicles are built around a transverse-mounted all-turbo, all-aluminium, four-cylinder powerplant, with 2.0 litres determined by the car-maker to be the optimal size. This in turn dictated a host of items, including the suspension set-up.

For the time being, the entry-level petrol engine in the S90 T5 develops 187kW of power at 5500rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1500-4800rpm. Driving the front wheels via an Aisin-built eight-speed automatic transmission, it can hit 100km/h in 6.8 seconds, reach a top speed of 230km/h and consume 6.5 litres per 100km of fuel on the combined cycle.

The base D4 twin-turbo diesel, meanwhile, is also 2.0 litres in capacity but pumps out 140kW at 4250rpm and 400Nm from 1750-2500rpm, for 8.2s 0-100km/h acceleration on the way to a 230km/h top speed, and fuel use of 4.4L/100km.

We will have to take Volvo’s word that these engines are strong and energetic performers, because none were available for us to sample at the recent international drive event in Spain.

Instead, the Swedes furnished the world’s press with the T6 AWD supercharged and turbocharged all-wheel-drive petrol number, in up-spec Inscription garb that will sell in Australia from $98,900.

It ups the ante to 235kW at 5700rpm, and 400Nm from 2200-5400rpm, for a 5.9s 0-100km/h dash, 250km/h V-max and 7.2L/100km fuel consumption.

Expected to be a sales mainstay in Australia, this revvy little unit is surprisingly quick off the mark, punchy through the mid-range and pleasingly smooth, but it works hard to provide so much performance, and can sound a bit shrill at speed.

All cars came with a Drive Select mode offering Comfort, Dynamic or Eco settings in Dynamic, the T6 AWD also had a propensity to hang on to a lower gear too long.

The opposite is true for the D5 AWD twin-turbo diesel, also assessed in Inscription guise (and to be priced from $96,900). Offering 173kW at 4000rpm, 480Nm from 1750-2250rpm, 7.0s to 100km/h, a 240km/h maximum speed and 4.8L/100km, it benefits from Volvo’s patented PowerPulse turbo lag reduction device.

It blasts compressed air into the turbo to boost turbine speeds dramatically, resulting in punchier acceleration across the range. Muscular pretty much everywhere you would want it to be, this is much more in keeping with the S90’s character, providing effortless oomph. This is currently the pick of the pack.

Topping the range later in 2017 will be the 304kW/640Nm T8 Twin Engine petrol-electric plug-in AWD flagship, using a rear-mounted electric motor to drive the back axle, while a 235kW/400Nm 2.0-litre petrol unit takes care of the front. Unfortunately, none were available for us to sample.

Besides achieving world-beating safety and efficiency, the Swedes are keen for the S/V90 cars to be viewed as driver’s machines, so the front suspension is a double-wishbone design, while the rear is an integral link independent system with a leaf spring on all models except those featuring a rear air-suspension system – like all the launch vehicles.

Frankly, we didn’t expect the chassis to feel so agile, thanks to quick, reactive steering that is leagues ahead of any previous Volvo in terms of alacrity, linearity, and feel. The driver actually feels connected to the car.

Furthermore, that air-sprung back end really cossets and cocoons its human cargo, adding a level of comfort and refinement that most current German rivals will struggle to equal.

We don’t know whether you’d use the term ‘sporty’ to describe how they drive, but enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy here regardless. “Relaxed Confidence” is the catchcry, and in the high-spec T6 and D5 Inscription cars as sampled, we reckon that’s about right.

Yet perhaps the most impressive thing about the new Volvo is just how smart the cabin design and presentation is, thanks to an appealingly simple design, beautiful materials, and lush, high-quality fittings.

Though reminiscent of the XC90’s layout, the S/V90 gels a whole lot better, and looks even more upmarket. The detailing is superb – from the invitingly supportive front seats to the tablet-style central touchscreen.

There’s also acres of space in either row, underlining the occupant friendly engineering that has gone into these cars, as well as the Volvo-typical massive boot. We ought to add that all the cars were heaving with optional equipment like double glazing, so things may not translate as glowingly on Australian roads.

Downsides include the Drive Mode switch’s odd placement, down near the driver’s elbow, so accessing it is distracting. Also, items such as the digital radio, surround-view reversing camera, a head-up display, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto cost $3000 more. They ought to be standard in luxury cars costing close to $100K.

Still, the bottom line is, both the S90 and V90 are more than just convincing large luxury cars. They can run with the better German and Japanese competition, while still exuding a uniquely Swedish personality that is a breath of fresh air. Volvo has arrived.

2016 Volvo S90 pricing*
T5 Momentum (a)$79,900
D4 Momentum (a)$82,400
D5 Inscription AWD (a)$96,900
T6 Inscription AWD (a)$98,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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