The train of momentum just keeps chugging along for the folks at Volvo, no pun intended of course. Their seven-seater SUV released for 2016, the XC90, was a smash hit amongst pundits and customers alike, finally putting their Swedish cars on the map not only as the safest vehicles on the planet, but also as desirable, sexy, and emotional automotive choices.
The next train stop is the new S90, Volvo’s mid-size sedan replacement of the aging S80, which aims to compete against the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, and Cadillac CTS. And from first glance, it’s certainly got invigorating and refreshing looks – an inviting change for an automaker once known for bland and conservative designs.
The front end draws inspiration from the XC90 with its radiating shapes, classic vertical-slat grill, long hood, and headlights shaped to mimic Thor’s hammer. But the S90’s rear takes a welcome departure into the unknown with C-shaped taillights and a more symmetrical and perpendicular trunk lid. It looks good in my opinion, and even better from afar (that’s not an insult).
The interior is also familiar XC90 territory, which is a good thing, but with a more three-dimensional design. The dashboard noticeably has more depth and in fact is so flat and expansive that you could fit a dozen bobbleheads without obstructing forward visibility. This large dash sharply flows down into a vertical panel that houses the infotainment screen, vents, and unveneered wood. There’s also a big volume knob right under it because that’s what most customers prefer (taking note, Honda and Cadillac?).
If you’ve ever used a modern day smartphone, then you’ll have no problem operating Volvo’s tablet-like infotainment screen. It responds to swipes, pinches, scrolls, and pushes – anything you would do your iPhone, it works here as well. You can even operate the touchscreen using gloves that don’t have touch sensitive lining – now that’s smart engineering from a company that knows about winter driving.
That being said, there is enough technology and safety equipment here to dazzle most buyers, but it doesn’t move the needle in innovation or automation as much as the Mercedes-Benz E 300. The S90 has automated steering that will keep you in your lane, and it also comes with active cruise control, automated braking, and cross traffic warning systems, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
The rest of the cabin is simplistic and modern, an applaudable revitalization under Chinese ownership. The choices of leather and wood are expansive, though I’m not so sure about this Blond Nappa leather on our S90 – it’s not holding up too well after 8,000 km on the odometer. It surely needs to be well cared for, conditioned, and for heaven’s sakes keep that raw denim off!
There is currently only one engine available for the S90, which is the familiar 2.0-litre turbo- and supercharged four-cylinder T6 motor that is also found in the XC90. We’re expecting a hybrid T8 to be announced for Canada soon but in the mean time, the T6 is all you can get with an 8-speed transmission mated to a BorgWarner all-wheel drive system that can split power 50/50 to the front and rear wheels.
Output is a commendable 316 hp and 295 lb-ft, enough to propel the S90 from 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds. Those are bigger numbers than the equivalent four cylinders from the E 300 and 528i, and is more than enough for the daily grind. Turbo lag is minimal when you step on the gas, and the S90 gets going without much fuss or drama from its two sources of forced induction.
The flow of torque is strong and impressive in the low and mid range, but it is neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. It’s the perfect temperature of porridge. We also averaged an applaudable fuel consumption figure of 10.6 L/100km.
What’s the S90 like to drive? Well the first thing we noticed was how smooth and refined the entire package was. Even with winter tires, road noise is acceptable and errs on the quiet side of the spectrum. We did criticize the XC90’s T6 application for its noisy diesel-like clatter, and the same goes for the S90 but it seems to isolate the rattles out a little better.
Interior insulation from other sources, such as the optional Bowers & Wilkins speakers, are also grand. You can tune these speakers to replicate a famous concert hall in Gothenburg, Sweden too – ultra cool. The ability to see the actual speaker panels behind the mesh on the door panel are also a neat stylistic touch – it better be for $3,250 anyways, but that’s beside the point.
I predict that driving dynamics don’t hold much weight to prospective S90 buyers, or even most mid-size sedan buyers for that matter, but I’m still happy to report that the S90 still feels lithe and agile on its feet. The steering, though pleasant and effortless, comes across as uneven and artificial though.
However even on roads blanketed with snow or freezing rain, the S90 was able to overcome its natural instinct of understeer and find grip where most vehicles would exhibit wheel spin and subsequent expletives from the driver. The S90 is a confident sedan, rain or shine.
Volvo’s next train stop? The V90, then hopefully the replacement of the S60 and V60. But until then, the XC90 and S90 are holding the ranks as two of the most refreshing, safe, and emotional vehicles to ever come out of Sweden. The S90 impresses on all ends, with clean exterior lines and a simplistic cabin. Though its driving dynamics and autonomous capability pale in comparison with other competitors, I’d urge anyone looking for a mid-size sedan to cross-shop with the S90. You may find that safety is now in style.