2017 Volvo S90 review

Volvo S90

Don’t expect to see many on the roads, but the S90 is a huge step forward for Volvo’s large luxury sedan.

The replacement for the Volvo S80. It’s the largest, most luxurious Volvo sedan on sale and sits on an all-new platform and brings new active safety technology.

To see if the Volvo S90 is up to the fast-moving pace of the large luxury-car market. It’s just gone on sale in Australia and arrives with big expectations as a flag-waver for the growing Swedish brand.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Lexus GS.

Volvo -S90-front -drivingTHE WHEELS VERDICT
Elegant inside and out and with punchy four-cylinder engines that are also respectably fuel efficient. Volvo’s latest luxury flagship doesn’t move the dynamic game along, but it fights admirably with the big boys while bringing a strong suite of active safety features to the table.

PLUS: Elegant and functional interior; safety credentials; flexible four-cylinder engines
MINUS: Technology pack should be standard; initial suspension sharpness; higher price

FROM the driver’s seat it would be easy to dismiss Volvo’s latest flagship as undernourished.

Aside from the 9.0-inch pinch-and-squeeze touchscreen and the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the dashboard is somewhat sparse. Yet it’s sparse in an elegant way, with wood and metal in abundance and a small cluster of buttons and knobs easy to hand.

Volvo -S90-rear -side -drivingYet the technology is cleverly concealed in various menus and screens. Stability control and the engine’s stop-start system are controlled through the central screen, as is anything to do with a phone, tablet or song.

There are some classy touches such as a louvered sliding door that covers the cupholders (in matte wood, if you like) and a twisting start button with a dimpled metallic finish.

The elegance continues in the rear with well-positioned air vents controlled by a smaller monochrome touchscreen. The back seat is configured to make two comfy but will deal with three, albeit with the centre occupant perched higher and dealing with a sizeable transmission tunnel; otherwise there’s plenty of space for feet and legs.

2017-Volvo -S90-headlightYet it’s beneath the skin where the biggest story lurks. Sitting on Volvo’s SPA architecture (shared with the Volvo XC90), the S90 exclusively employs four-cylinder engines.

There are four 2.0-litre units to choose from for now; D4 and D5 turbo-diesels (the latter with PowerPulse to reduce lag), and T5 and T6 petrols (both use turbochargers, the latter also has a supercharger). The D5 is also available with a Polestar tune that ups outputs from 173kW/480Nm to 177kW/500Nm.

In 2017 there will be a T8 (combining the T6 engine with a hybrid system).

The diesel’s PowerPulse technology delivers impressive low-rev muscle that translates to great throttle response, adding predictability to take-offs. And it’s a muscular unit, with 480Nm coming on strong from 1750rpm.

2017-Volvo -S90-interiorThe eight-speed auto teams nicely with the diesel thanks to generous low-rev torque, which is transmitted faithfully to the road via an all-wheel drive (D4 and T5 are the only front-drivers).

The T6's supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol is the sweeter engine, though, revving freely and with ample (400Nm) mid-rev meat. Spin it out and it occasionally tickles beyond 6000rpm – having punched out its 235kW peak – before slinking into the next gear. The auto is also a happy pairing, although it shuffles between gears more than the diesel while chasing power.

Dynamically the S90 is a massive step up on previous big Volvos (the S80 in particular), albeit one cruelled slightly by initial firmness over sharp edges, something not helped by the 20-inch low-profile tyres on our cars. Thankfully the Pirelli P Zeros grip well and provide accurate turn-in. There's also satisfying weight to the steering and good control when settling off larger bumps, adding to the dynamic nous.

Volvo -S90-interiorOn well-marked freeways with gentle curves and predictable traffic, the semi-autonomous drive system that’s part of the IntelliSafe active safety suite is assertive and intelligent, only running slightly close to a car on one occasion.

On a country road it's far less useful, struggling to determine broken road edges and reacting late or with not enough steering to round a bend. The run-off-road function eventually kicks in, grabbing brakes and counter-steering, but it's not something you would want to rely on.

Yet the safety suite is generally brilliant, encompassing everything from blind-spot warning and auto braking to City Safety that now responds to horses and cows (Volvo is still refining its kangaroo-detection tech).

2017-Volvo -S90-rear -seatThe rest of the equipment package is expansive. Base Momentum models get leather, electric front seats, 18-inch alloys and a classy metal interior trim. Inscription trim (on D5 and T6) adds Nappa leather, 19s, wood trim, ambient lighting and smart-key entry.

It’s a shame Apple CarPlay (and, soon, Android Auto) is only part of a $3000 tech pack that also includes digital radio and head-up display.

The S90 is a huge leap forward, with plenty of impressive credentials, but it doesn’t reset the benchmark. Rather, it merely ensures Volvo has a seat at the table so long dominated by the Germans.

Model: Volvo S90 T6 Inscription
Engine: 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + supercharger
Max power: 235kW @ 5700rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 2200-5400rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Weight: 1915kg
0-100km/h: 5.8sec
Fuel economy: 7.2L /100km
Price: $98,900
On sale: November 2016

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