Volvo is back in the big luxury sedan game with the S90 Inscription AWD, the launch model’s all-wheel drive range topper, offering the Swedish brand’s all-new SPA modular chassis, strong 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol and diesel choices, cutting-edge safety, an interior that’s as spacious as it is elegant, and – at last – decent handling and ride characteristics.
Somewhat larger than the unloved S80 it replaces, the Volvo S90 ushers in a renewed era of passenger cars for the Geely-owned Volvo, challenging Germany’s hegemony of the market head-on, but with a more typical Scandinavian safety, design, and comfort focus. “Relaxed Confidence” is the mantra.
To that end, a massive emphasis has been made to elevate the S90 dynamically, with the front or optional all-wheel drive platform tuned for steering, handling, and ride quality enjoyment. Volvo says breakthrough technologies make the newcomer one of the safest sedans ever. A wagon version known as the V90 arrives in mid-2017.
Sweden, it seems, is no longer neutral then. Germany, Japan, England, Korea, and Italy have quite a fight on their hands.
- Progressive safety. Volvo’s time-honoured obsession with safety means the S90 debuts key fresh tech like ‘Run-Off Road Mitigation’ that senses the edge of the road as well as painted lines to help keep the car on track and ‘City Safety Large Animal Detection’ (mainly to avoid hitting moose!), while improved driver-assist systems help prevent or mitigate the chances of a crash. The body is also extremely strong.
- Lush, long cabin. The S90 is properly large, so five adults should fit in quite comfortably. But it is the sumptuous seat support, lovely materials, and elegant layout that ought to have Audi worried, though we only sampled the top-spec Inscription versions. And though the touchscreen interface does take a moment to acclimatise with, it works a treat. The Swedes sure do take their ergonomics seriously.
- Comfortable yet capable chassis. Sharing about 60 percent of its parts with the lauded XC90 launched in 2015, the S90 takes things one step further with properly connected steering feel (in Dynamic mode – in Comfort it feels too light), and advanced chassis tuning, to make this the best-driving and comfiest Volvo ever. Note, however, that all test cars featured the more powerful T6 petrol and D5 diesel powertrains, as well as optional rear air suspension and double-glazing glass, so a final verdict must wait until it’s driven on Aussie roads.
- Vocal engine. While the S90’s D5 diesel debuts impressive enhanced-turbo tech for fast and effortless performance, the smooth and speedy T6 petrol does have to work hard at high revs to deliver its prodigious punch, sounding strained doing so. This is exacerbated in Dynamic mode, because the eight-speed auto holds on to each ratio up to the red line, instead of upshifting to a quieter gear.
- Drive selector position. The one fly in an otherwise shining ergonomic ointment is the awkwardly placed Drive Mode selector positioned near the driver’s elbow, requiring eyes off the road to operate. Additionally, the system needs a few seconds to execute a change, extending the period of this potentially dangerous driving distraction.
- Stingy pricing. Yes, the S90 Inscription AWD (as tested) looks and feels like a luxury sedan starting from $96,900, with the safety and driveability to match, but Volvo has a big task convincing the public that its newcomer now is good enough to play in the big league. So why then, does it insist on charging $3000 extra for the Technology Pack items that most others already include? This means that expected features like digital radio, a 360-degree camera view, a head-up display, and Apple CarPlay cost extra. Boo!
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
Perhaps the Volvo’s biggest challenger is the much-praised 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, that also promises to push safety, refinement, and advanced technologies to greater heights. And the second-gen Jaguar XF brings a more athletic attitude in an equally-new but rear-drive set-up that is more in the BMW and Benz mould than the front-drive/AWD Swede. Speaking of which, the Audi A6, as well as the current segment-defining BMW 5 Series, are both in their twilight years, so here’s a chance for Volvo to make hay while the Bavarian sun isn’t shining as brightly as usual.