Don’t expect to see many on the roads, but the S90 is a huge step forward for Volvo’s large luxury sedan.
WHAT IS IT?
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.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
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.
THE 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
THE WHEELS REVIEW
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.
Yet 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.
Yet 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.
The 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.
On 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).
The 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
Fuel economy: 7.2L /100km
On sale: November 2016