With classic luxury sedan proportions, a modern yet familiar chiselled face, and unmistakable 'Thor's hammer' LED headlights, the new Volvo S90 looks every part the premium executive sedan.
It certainly won't be mistaken for anything else.
Helping it to stand apart from key rivals from BMW or Audi is that it sidelines the conservatism that afflicts those familiar premium competitors.
But some aspects of the new S90 are familiar - to the Volvo faithful at least - with the new sedan sharing its underpinnings, engines, and transmissions with the XC90 SUV that introduced Volvo’s modular architecture to Australian customers this time last year.
Vehicle Style: Prestige large sedan
Price: D5 Inscription $96,900, T6 Inscription $98,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 173kW/480Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo diesel, 235kW/400Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.1 l/100km (D5), 7.3 l/100km (T6)
Right now Volvo has the S90 Inscription ready to roll out of showrooms, with either a petrol or diesel engine, but there are other models coming - a pair of cheaper S90 Momentum models, plus R-Design editions next year.
But right now we’re behind the wheel of the S90 Inscription for the first time on Australian roads to see where Volvo’s new large sedan fits on the executive sedan hierarchy.
- Standard Equipment: Nappa leather seat trim, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, power adjustable front seats, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 9.0-inch touchscreen multimedia screen, navigation with voice control, Bluetooth and WiFi tethering, Aux and USB connectivity. Optional Bowers & Wilkins high performance audio with subwoofer.
On the inside, the S90 follows in the footsteps of the XC90 SUV with a beautifully executed and typically Scandinavian cabin. The interior space is clean, with an emphasis on sweeping lines designed to enhance the airy feeling of the cabin.
The car we tested featured a mix of light and dark leather, brushed metal, and matte-finished open-pore wood that wouldn’t look out of place in a car twice the price of the S90.
The same goes for its technology package including the 12.3-inch widescreen digital instrument cluster and nine-inch, portrait-oriented, pinch-and-swipe display in the centre console that operates just like your tablet computer at home.
The sympathetic cabin layout gives the screen a better-integrated look than massive glass monolith you’ll find in a Tesla Model S, or the double-wide plank of the newest Mercedes-Benz E-Class dashboard.
Getting the hang of how to operate the system, and where every menu and feature might be hidden can take a little patience and practice, but its logic isn’t as indecipherable as some more complex systems.
Volvo’s design excellence carries over to the rear, where back seat occupants are given their own elegant, touch-sensitive climate controls while relaxing in comfortable, well-bolstered seats.
Even with the expansive footprint of the S90, rear seat space is probably best described as adequate if not luxuriant, and it loses points for a sunroof that doesn't extend beyond the front headrests.
The Inscription trim tested here is Volvo’s mid-range model and goes beyond the entry level Momentum with features like four-zone climate control, the aforementioned digital dashboard, Nappa leather interior, walnut wood trim, smart keys and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Those looking to put their own touch to an S90 can add 18-speaker Bowers and Wilkins Audio for $4500, leather dashboard covering for $2500 or a $3000 Tech-pack including digital radio, a 360-degree camera, Apple CarPlay and a head-up display - amongst other options.
ON THE ROAD
- D5: 173kW/480Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- T6: 235kW/400Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo and supercharged petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, integral axle with transverse composite leaf spring rear, optional air suspension
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted ranck and pinion, 11.4-11.8m turning circle
Volvo is launching its mid-spec S90 Inscription models first, with entry-level Momentum models to follow closer to Christmas.
The S90 Inscription offers two engine choices, either the 173kW/480Nm D5 diesel, or the 235kW/400Nm T6 petrol. Both come with an eight-speed automatic, and feature the secure road-holding of all wheel drive.
For now the range kicks-off with the $96,900 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel D5 which is able to move itself from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds or, in mixed driving can consume as little as 5.1 l/100km of fuel.
The S90 D5 is also the first Volvo to use what’s known as ‘PowerPulse’, a system designed to minimise turbo lag by storing compressed air in a tank next to the engine and sending a blast of air into the turbocharger to spool it up more quickly than relying on exhaust gases alone.
Volvo doesn’t quantify the improvement offered by its PowerPulse system, but the seat-of-the-pants impression is that this turbo diesel motor feels reasonably urgent, with decent acceleration for a car of its size.
It's a quiet unit too under most operating conditions, only becoming really vocal at full throttle. The eight-speed auto also plays an important role in keeping everything feeling quick and effortless.
The more powerful (and more expensive) S90 T6 starts at $98,900 and upgrades to a 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine which delivers claimed fuel consumption of 7.3 l/100km and a more spritely 5.8 seconds from 0-100km/h.
The petrol-powered T6 feels nimbler on the road than the D5. Zipping comfortably up to highway speed with a muted burp from the exhaust on full-throttle gear changes, before settling into calm and quiet top gear cruising on the open road.
The S90 offers a classic luxury car experience - it doesn’t attempt to hide its size, using it to its advantage with a stable and planted feel, but forgoing the more sporting balance of some rivals.
Steering may not be as sharp as the best in its class, but it does offer a comfortable ride, particularly when equipped with rear air-suspension, and minimal road noise to help make up for the slightly less-taut body control.
For now the Volvo S90 is pushing its luxury credentials over sporting intent. There are no shift paddles on the steering wheel, nor is there a more assertive sports mode, but with a 300kW/640Nm plug-in hybrid T8 R-Design model arriving next year, expect to see a more sporting character tied to that model.
ANCAP Rating: The Volvo V90 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety Features: All S90 models feature the brand's full suite of active driver aids including basics such as active cruise control, blind spot monitoring and self-parking features.
New features in Volvo’s safety catalog include large animal detection capable of spotting cattle, camels or moose and braking to avoid a crash. While it is innovative the system isn't yet calibrated to work with local fauna such as kangaroos, but Volvo is working towards a solution.
A new run-off road mitigation system, essentially active lane keeping assistance designed to prevent inattentive drivers from running off the road by sounding a chime and helping steer the car back to safety when called upon.
The most impressive new feature is Volvo's semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system, capable of operating at speeds up to 130km/h improving on the 50km/h ceiling of previous versions, maintaining vehicle position within a lane, and behind slower moving traffic for short periods of time without driver intervention.
Though the system is still relatively new, and has some minor imperfections, it’s a clear step towards Volvo’s autonomous future.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Volvo’s SmartCare servicing packages allow pre-paid fixed price intervals ranging in price from $2095 for three years and 45,000 kilometres for a basic SmartCare up to $6925 for five years and 75,000 kilometres of coverage under the more comprehensive SmarCare Plus Program.
Consult your local Volvo dealer for full terms, conditions, and exclusions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With plenty of exciting new technology cloaked in a timeless Mercedes-Benz body, the E-Class could easily be mistaken for the larger S-Class. The BMW 5 Series is a dynamic benchmark in the class, and a new model has ben been revealed overseas, adding a wealth of new technology and a svelte new style.
Buyers looking for something a little less common may be swayed by the Audi A6, and won’t be penalised with any step-down in luxury as a result. And for buyers who care less for luxury and more for sharp handling and the joy of driving, the Jaguar XF is proving to be quite a surprise in the segment.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While premium manufacturers can find it hard to break into the premium large car segment in Australia, the bold styling, strong features list, and high-tech solutions in the Volvo S90 should help it gather attention from prestige buyers.
The S90 does things a little differently compared to more established luxury rivals, but doesn’t skimp on the essential refinement and luxury to keep up with the best in its class.
And Volvo isn’t done yet with the expected 2017 arrival of a road-oriented V90 wagon and its high-riding V90 Cross Country compatriot. There’s also whispers that a proper Polestar-developed performance could also be on the way (meaning that traditional rivals might be kept on their toes once Volvo is in full-swing).
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