Volvo has a long history of executive sedans, stretching back to the 940 introduced in 1990. But it's the iconic wagons that stand out as the highlights of Volvo’s range.
That could all change in 2017 though, with the Volvo S90 - blending Volvo’s handsome squared off styling with fit, finish, and features the equal of long-running prestige rivals.
The S90 arrived in Australia late last year with the upscale Inscription variants, and now the more accessible Momentum models are available for delivery with lower powered engines and front wheel drive but plenty of premium touches to tackle the large luxury class.
Vehicle Style: Prestige large sedan
Price: $82,400 (plus on-roads) $87,950 (as tested)
Engine/trans: 140kW/400Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.7 l/100km | Tested: 6.2 l/100km
Four models currently make up the S90 range, the Inscription models that arrived last year with D5 diesel and T6 petrol variants paired with all wheel drive and the new Momentum D4 diesel and T5 petrol, linked to front wheel drive.
The Momentum models shave almost $15,000 off the price of entry compared to the more lavish Inscription trim, though opting for the D4 diesel over the T5 petrol does add $2500 to the pricetag leaving the D4 Momentum tested here with a starting price of $82,400 before options and on-road costs.
That puts Volvo’s big new sedan into a serious market segment against stalwarts like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series. And it's a legitimate rival as, unlike the previous S80 flagship, this Volvo isn’t an almost-there attempt at prestige, but a properly developed luxury saloon.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats, 12.3-inch digital instrument display, four-zone climate control with CleanZone air quality system, keyless entry and start, distance-keeping cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 9.0-inch Sensus Connect infotainment, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, AM/FM radio, satellite navigation, USB and Aux inputs, internet connectivity w/in-car web apps, 10-speaker audio
- Options Fitted: Heated front seats $650, metallic paint $1,900, Technology Package (head-up display, 360 degree camera, digital radio, Apple CarPlay with additional USB port) $3000
- Cargo Volume: 500 litres
Perhaps as a sign of modern trends outside of the automotive realm, the interior of the S90 blends essenstial modern automotive features and fittings with a design theme inspired by on-trend mid-century-modern Scandinavian design.
To that end, there’s a high and upright dashboard that spans the cabin with a tall central tablet for almost all control functions bordered by slender vertical air vents and trimmed with horizontal brushed metal highlights.
The look borrows heavily from the appeal of Sweden’s iconic furniture designs, yet thanks to modern finishes and the seamless integration of new technologies there’s no tacky retro-kitsch at play.
The S90 is also quite a roomy car. Although its wheelbase is just a hair length longer (3mm) than that of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class it feels more spacious and better packaged inside, particularly in the rear with more room for knees and feet, though the low-slung roofline doesn’t offer quite as much rear headroom.
Of course Volvo being Volvo, the rear seats feature built-in two stage child booster seats.
Standard leather seat trim, powered front seats and four-zone climate control make up a compelling standard features list, but oddly seat heating is an extra charge and features like digital radio and smartphone connectivity (Apple CarPlay) are also on the options list.
The portrait-oriented 9.0-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash replaces almost all physical buttons on the dash, and the tall display allows a main function to be displayed while all other functions remain in a scaled-down tab view for easier access.
As with other all-touch systems, getting the hang of Volvo’s infotainment, called Sensus, can take some adjusting to, but the menus and layout are still simpler and quicker to use than those offered by either Lexus or Mercedes-Benz and not far behind the class-leading Audi and BMW systems.
Volvo also uses a 12.3-inch display in place of regular instruments allowing more detailed information to be displayed in front of the driver including navigation maps or infotainment information, backed up by a head-up display.
Seating comfort proved decent after a few solid hours behind the wheel, though some passengers noted that the low seating position could make getting in and out slightly more difficult, particularly in the rear seat.
Storage space in the boot should cover enough luggage for four people with 500 litres, though the boot area itself is quite shallow, but long enough to compensate, and the power-opening bootlid can be opened and closed from inside the vehicle for convenience.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 140kW/400Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, Multi-link integral axle with transverse composite leaf spring rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted rack and pinion,
- Towing Capacity: 1800kg braked, 750kg braked
Beneath the svelte sheet metal the Volvo S90 shares its engine and chassis with the XC90 SUV, and the two have a similar feel in the way they drive though the lower suspension and centre of gravity of the S90 alters the overall character slightly.
Volvo has gone after rivals like the Jaguar XF and tried to create a more relaxed ambience from behind the wheel rather than a sports luxury sedan such as the BMW 5-Series, which is not not to say the S90 is lacking in any way, it’s just a fraction less sharp in its steering and a little more comfortable on the open road.
Standard suspension is via conventional fixed-rate dampers, with what Volvo calls its Dynamic Chassis tune, while adaptive air suspension is an option. Even with the conventional set-up, bump absorbency is a highlight, with only the harshest-edged potholes rattling through to the cabin.
Under the long bonnet lives a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 140kW at 4250rpm and 400Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm. The engine is the lower-output of the two available diesel engines, though both share their basic design, twin-turbo layout, and 2.0-litre capacity.
It’s no slouch, as engine outputs and vehicle weight are close to those of its competitors, and like other Euro diesels the low down torque sees the S90 D4 easily able to pile on speed once underway.
Refinement is also impressive. Despite the diesel engine up front the S90 is quiet and composed on the open road, although cold starts reveal a little diesel clatter.
Volvo’s impressive suite of standard safety equipment also impacts on the driving experience. Intellisafe Assist, a package of driver assist technologies that includes Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving, still stands out as cutting edge technology in the luxury car segment.
With Pilot Assist engaged, the S90 can steer itself within a lane, match the speed of surrounding traffic, and come to a complete standstill in queueing traffic without driver intervention, and it does so quite competently with almost human-like reactions to braking, accelerating and steering.
Other technologies include traffic sign recognition which uses onboard cameras to read traffic signs and can be linked to the speed limiter function to automatically limit top speed to the posted limit.
It’s a handy function to have, but testing it out on Melbourne roads revealed that the system seems unable to read overhead highway signs, it misread illuminated 80 km/h signs as 60 km/h limits, and adopts time-restricted speed limits like 40 km/h school zones as the limited speed, so not ideal in every situation.
Park Assist Pilot, another semi-automated system to take the pain out of parking, also failed to react as expected. On five successive occasions the system identified an available car space, began to move in, then cancelled the operation for some unknown reason. On the sixth try the system worked only to then have it fail to ‘Park Out’, or leave the space it entered.
In both issues, software is the key, and Volvo has previously stated that it is working to develop solutions better suited to Australian conditions (including a Kangaroo detection function for the autonomous braking system,) though end results of such programs remain to be seen.
ANCAP Rating: The S90 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee) ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, Electronic stability and traction control, and seatbelts with load limiters and pretensioners on all outboard seats make up the S90’s passive safety features but it’s active safety - or preventing an accident - where Volvo excells.
City Safe autonomous braking can detect vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and large animals, Intellisafe Assist includes adaptive cruise control with Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving with lane keeping aid, and distance alert. Intellisafe Surround consists of technologies including blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, rear collision warning and run-off road protection.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are set at 15,000km or 12 months (whichever occurs first) with Volvo SmartCare servicing packages ranging in price from $2095 for three years or 45,000 kilometres for basic SmartCare, up to $6925 for five years and 75,000 kilometres of coverage under the more comprehensive SmartCare Plus Program. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply - contact your Volvo dealer for full details.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class includes one of the segment’s best interiors though it does without valuable features like four-zone climate control in lieu of a dual widescreen instrument cluster and multi-hue LED ambient lighting.
BMW’s all-new 5 Series is just around the corner, promising advanced new technology and driver assistance systems to bring it up to speed. As always the 5 Series maintains a dynamic handling feel, but entry level pricing pushes it further upmarket.
As an alternative to traditional European offers the Lexus GS is a fresh approach to the large luxury sedan, and Lexus even goes without a diesel variant, putting forward a petrol-electric hybrid variant instead. Inside the GS range can’t match the polished look and feel of traditional rivals ut this generation is closer than ever.
Beautiful on-road and minimalist but contemporary inside, the Jaguar XF puts a modern spin on British luxury, though the all-new family of diesel engines can’t match the Volvo’s refinement.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Volvo S90 is not an also-ran in a strong segment like its predecessor, the S80, was. Even in its most basic form the S90 looks and feels like a big prestige sedan, it has genuine street presence and a level of quality the equal of its rivals.
Instead of a focus on knife-edge dynamics, the S90’s more comfort-biased handling is also a refreshing change from manufacturers that equate punishing ride with prestige. For Australia’s often less than wonderful road surfaces the balance proves just right.
In fact it’s only minor touches that may need further development, and even then that’s a matter of personal opinion. If you don’t think a car should park itself or tell you the speed limit because that’s a driver’s responsibility, then no problem.
There’s little doubt that Volvo has stumbled on the recipe for success, and to the end of 2016 the brand was the world’s fastest growing prestige automaker. Much of that success comes from international markets including China, but after a test drive of the new S90 the reason behind that growth will be apparent.