We road test Volvo’s new S90 luxury saloon car and discover whether it’s as good as its rivals
I’ve always had a soft spot for Volvos. Call me crazy – and potentially you’re right – but I used to own a turbocharged C30 and it remains to this day one of my favourites. I miss it. There’s just something eminently driveable about Volvo’s plucky little cars.
Not so little any longer, though, if you glance through Volvo’s most recent additions. The behemoth XC90 is still proving incredibly popular and one of the latest updates to the brand’s range, the S90 (replacing the older S70 and S80 models) is equally statuesque. Unsurprising since it makes use of the same Scalable Platform Architecture [SPA], meaning the S90 shares all of the XC90’s safety tech. And it feels big. I mean, really big.
You’re not going to struggle for leg space in the S90. The seating manages to retain the same comfort and cushioning you’d expect from a Volvo while offering a serious upgrade in interior spec. Even the entry-level Momentum interior trim offers a Scandi-chic mixture of leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, viewed on a nine-inch touch screen. Upgrade to the high-spec Inscription trim (which was included on the model we tested) and you’re looking at Nappa leather and a bigger instrument display (not to mention diamond-cut alloys to bling up the exterior). Sinking into the driver’s seat of the S90, I certainly felt as though I were driving a luxury saloon car. So far, so good.
The downside to all this interior square footage? This is not the easiest of cars to manoeuvre. Perfectly designed to cocoon you from the stress of long motorway journeys, the S90 is a bit of a pain when it comes to tight spaces. Think multiple-point turns getting in and out of spaces in your average cosy multi-storey car park. In hindsight, taking it to a tiny Cotswold townl with many one-way streets and a snug car park was probably not the best idea I’ve had all year. Thankfully the excellent 360° camera and park assist pilot were on-hand to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble.
So, we’ve established that it can be a bear to park, unless you only choose valet. But what is it like to drive? First things first: setting up my driving position was a pleasantly hassle-free operation – not always the case even in luxury saloon cars. I did find the angle of the pedals slightly different from most other cars I’ve driven; not a negative point, but it did take some getting used to.
Setting up the sat-nav was easy, too; thanks to Volvo including Apple Connected Car in the S90, synching my phone to the car was simple, allowing me to set my destination and favourite music at the touch of a few buttons. Points to Volvo for this, as I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wanted to put my fist through a sat-nav screen after fifteen minutes of endlessly twiddling knobs. Pet peeve? Damn straight.
Out on the open road, the S90 was in its element. Our model had the top-of-the-range D5 Diesel engine, producing 235bhp, a top speed of 149mph and a respectable 0-60 time of seven seconds. Not bad for a car that weighs more than 2,000kg. The S90 puts that power to the road through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all four wheels, thanks to the four-wheel drive system. Yes, this does mean your carbon emission figures take a bit of a hit [as does your wallet], but you might consider it worth it for the extra stability the D5’s four-wheel drive offers over the smaller-engined models’ front-wheel drive set-up.
Cruising through the countryside late on a Friday night, listening to my favourite podcast, I felt safe and comfortable watching the S90’s LED lighting illuminate the winding Cotswold roads and hearing the reassuring hum of the S90’s four-cylinder engine. It might not be as quiet as some of its six-cylinder rivals, but you only really notice the difference when you’re accelerating briskly.
This does feel like a big car; I found myself breathing in when approaching oncoming traffic on narrow country lanes. It’s only about 20-25cm wider than its main rivals, the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes E-Class, but it feels miles bigger. I guess this can be a positive or a negative; you most definitely feel like you’re getting a lot more car for your money – but I wouldn’t want to navigate it down too many one-track lanes.
Speaking of rivals, how does the S90 measure up? Price wise, it’s on par with the entry model 5-Series, and a few thousand cheaper than the E-Class. On value for money though, it’s got to be my pick, particularly since you get an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard on all models – not something offered by rivals BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Volvo has taken strides with the exterior design of its new models, and the S90 presents a sleek and sophisticated face. There are a few visibility issues thanks to the wider window frames, but all in all the S90 is a pretty good-looking saloon. Inside, you won’t find much to match it until you work up through the Mercedes spec levels, by which point you’ll be parting with rather more of your hard-earned cash than you perhaps intended.
On the road, the D5 engine is even and powerful, and while it might lack the ‘va-va-voom’ of the top-line 5-Series, it handles very well at both low and high speeds. Steady and reliable rather than edge-of-your-seat, but if you spend half your life on the British motorways having a car you can trust to surge along smoothly is a big bonus.
Despite its heavy four-wheel drive system, the D5 version of the S90 compares favourably to its two-wheel drive rivals; though the smaller engine models are slightly less economical. On a safety front, too, choosing a Volvo means you’re at the front line of safety technology. Thanks to the car’s Intellisafe system, you’ve got access to sophisticated sensors which constantly monitor the world around you, detecting when you’re in danger of crashing and automatically applying the breaks, seeing when you’re about to drive off the road and steering you back onto it. It also includes a whole bunch of other important safety stuff which I won’t list here but which you get as standard in all S90 models. You’d have to pay through the nose for the equivalent from Volvo’s rivals.
My conclusion? If you spend a lot of time on the road, you could do a lot worse than the S90. Relatively economical, spacious, comfortable and reliable, Volvo has certainly ticked all the boxes with its new luxury saloon car. So perhaps it’s time to reassess your opinion of the brand and embrace a little Scandi engineering in your motoring life.