In 2010, Ford sold Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely for a cool $1.8-billion. Then something remarkable happened.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged four-cylinder
Output: 316 horsepower, 295 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (MPG): 22 city, 31 highway, 25 combined
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 10.8 city, 7.6 highway, 9.4 combined
As-Tested Price: $66,365 including $995 in destination charges (CDN $88,140)
Absolutely nothing. Product development at the fabled Swedish firm seemingly came off the rails once Dearborn’s sticky fingers were out of the lingonberry pie.
However, despite outward appearances, engineers were hard at work laying the foundation for a new generation of vehicles by developing their spiffy new Scalable Product Architecture. Finally, after an agonizing four-ish-year drought, Volvo introduced something fresh, and, boy howdy, was it worth the wait.
The company’s all-new XC90 crossover knocked the global motoring press’ collective socks off, bringing numerous “Utility Vehicle of the Year” awards home to Gothenburg, including highest honors from us here at AutoGuide.com.
For 2017, Volvo is working to ensure this utility vehicle is not some one-hit wonder but the vanguard of a complete range of praise-worthy premium vehicles. Volvo’s new S90 luxury sedan shares the same basic platform and much of the XC90’s technology, so it ought to deliver an equally laudable experience.
Based on looks, this sedan makes a great first impression. Clean and chiseled, the S90 is, at its best, a regal car, handsome and sophisticated without any flash-in-the-pan design fads. At worst, it vaguely resembles an overinflated Passat.
That tasteful restraint continues inside, where our top-of-the-line T6 AWD Inscription model sparkled like a diamond. Creamy leather, sumptuous open-pore wood trim and real metal accents created a gorgeous driving environment, one that wasn’t as stuffy what’s found in German rivals or as robotic as Japanese offerings.
Unfortunately, some of the S90’s interior components are a little creaky. Its air vent controls are fidgety and the sun visors do not extend for taller drivers, an annoying downside. The manually tilting and telescoping steering column is another oddity.
One of this car’s coolest features is the starter switch mounted on the center console. Where other automakers use boring buttons, this Volvo features a small, square nub that you twist like a traditional key. It’s a refreshingly unique touch and something that reminds you you’re not driving something from Mercedes-Benz or Lexus.
Up front, the bucket seats are supremely cushy; nobody should have trouble getting comfortable in the S90, ditto for its rear accommodations. They provide tons of leg- and headroom, with ergonomically friendly cushions.
Gettin’ Touchy Feely
Seats and trimmings aside, the one thing that dominates this Volvo’s interior is its massive infotainment screen. The portrait-mounted 9.3-inch tablet display is home to the company’s Sensus Connect system, which supersedes physical radio and climate controls.
Reasonably swift, this interface is analogous to a modern tablet computer, supporting all sorts of swiping and prodding gestures. Unfortunately, it can be a little hard to navigate, which is distracting. The same is true of the digital instrument cluster, which is bewildering thanks to incomprehensible steering wheel-mounted controls. It’s best to spend a good amount of time familiarizing yourself with the S90’s features before heading out on the road.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription Review
Aside from navigation, telephony and climate functions, Sensus Connect also offers 4G LTE connectivity, in-car wifi and Apple CarPlay. Supported apps include mainstays like Pandora, TuneIn, Glimpse and Yelp, to name a few. Drivers living in frigid climates will appreciate the touchscreen’s infrared technology, which allows you to operate it while wearing gloves.
Safety First, Second and Third
Building on Volvo’s rich heritage of safety, the new S90 is likewise jam-packed with cutting-edge accident-avoidance technology and plenty of good-old-fashioned engineering. Its basic safety cage is stout, with some 35 percent of the body being made from hot-formed boron steel. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like something you’d find in a battle tank.
Aside from this, there’s a phalanx of air bags plus the brand’s City Safety automatic braking system, which prevents costly, low-speed fender-benders.
Beyond all of this, there’s also blind-spot monitoring, road-edge detection with run-off protection, which prevents the car from leaving the road, a situation that can result in serious injuries, there’s adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and even large animal detection with auto brake, which can prevent collisions with deer, moose or similar critters.
Our top-of-the-line test model may have cost $66,365 (USD) out the door, but safety isn’t something you necessarily have to pay extra for. With a base price right around $48,000 (including $995 in destination charges), this Suave Swede comes standard with many of the abovementioned features.
Belt and Suspenders
Fortunately, this little wonder is loaded with technology that makes up for its displacement and cylinder-count shortcomings. In T5 models, which are front-wheel drive, it’s turbocharged, delivering an adequate 250 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Step up to the T6, and you get more than just four-corner traction — the engine also sprouts a supercharger in addition to its turbo. The belt-driven blower is used to bolster low-RPM torque before the turbocharger is spooled up. This two-pronged approach works brilliantly and results in 316 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered in the S90 in North America.
Along with more than 300 horses, T6 models are also unexpectedly efficient, averaging 25 miles per gallon. Around town, they sticker at 22 mpg and on the highway they should return 31. A mostly seamless stop-start system undoubtedly helps bolster those figures.
Despite having only 2.0-liters of lung capacity, the S90’s engine is probably the best part of its driving experience. Smooth and unobtrusive, it behaves like a much larger powerplant. The torque it provides is nearly instantaneous, coming on strong just off idle and sticking around throughout the rev range.
Aided by its ratio-rich gearbox, 60 miles an hour can be yours in a claimed 5.7 seconds, though it feels a bit faster than that, another plus.
In reality, there are only two downsides to this excellent drivetrain. The first is that it still sounds like a four-banger, which is unavoidable since engineers still haven’t figured out how to cheat physics. Second, the transmission isn’t always well behaved. Shifts are occasionally harsher than they should be or ill-timed, which is unfortunate.
Another unexpected aspect of the S90’s driving experience is its suspension. Even in comfort mode, it feels too stiff, pummeling passengers with a starchy ride. Additionally, the cabin gets quite noisy at freeway speeds, with far more wind and road ruckus than should ever be present in a luxury car. Plenty of this sound also seems to emanate from the chassis, something that’s probably not helped by the optional 20-inch rims and low-profile Pirelli P Zero tires our test example rolled on.
Dull to the touch, this Volvo’s steering misses the mark as well. The car tends to wander a bit, something that’s aggravated by lane-keep assist, which bounces it from one line to the other in a sine-wave-like motion. This is one are that stands to be improved.
Even at low speeds the S90 is a bit annoying to drive. An unusually high hood and wide body make visualizing its exterior corners a challenge. Luckily, it has an array of sensors and assistance systems so you don’t have to park by feel, scraping into curbs or ramming into adjacent vehicles.
The Verdict: 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Review
The XC90 was a turn for Volvo, an inflection point that’s helped keep the firm from meeting the same unfortunate fate as Saab. The S90, while a good overall vehicle, isn’t quite as groundbreaking.
Sure, it offers a lavish and comfortable interior, industry-leading safety technology and impressive fuel efficiency for a luxury sedan, but its disinterested driving experience, elevated interior noise levels and stiff ride are inappropriate for the segment. Overall, this sedan is a product that’s easy to like but hard to love.
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