When I was about five years old, my parents purchased a grey 1991 Volvo 340, a 1.4L compact five-door hatch that was renowned more for its safety than its performance. I remember it because it was one of the first cars to follow our luminous green Ford Fiesta, and because it had wipers on the headlamps. Five-year-old me was quite tickled by this – clearly some sort of mistake had been made at the factory. That marked the last time I was in a Volvo until quite recently, when I sat behind the wheel of the new S90.
To say things have changed in those intervening years would be something of an understatement, though perhaps it’s unfair to compare apples with oranges. These days the 340 has experienced something of a resurgence in the UK, thanks to cheap tax and simple maintenance, with some finding a new home in the world of street drifting. Who’d have thought it? The S90, meanwhile, continues a new era for Volvo that began with the XC90, one in which Sweden goes toe to toe with Germany and comes out on top.
Before you ever step inside, the S90 is a striking car to behold, sleek and muscular with a perfect stance. There’s a weight behind it that you don’t get from, say, the Hyundai i10, or the Volkswagen UP!, one usually reserved for the likes of Audi’s A8 or the Mercedes S Class. Though there are aspects that are unmistakably Volvo, the S90 takes some cues (whether wittingly or unwittingly) from others in the premium segment – there’s a touch of Mercedes around the headlights, and the side profile is evocative of the Jaguar XF. Or maybe that’s all in my head.
That unmistakably premium feel is continued inside, with Volvo opting for a tasteful combination of wood, leather and polished aluminium. Though I’m not usually a fan of the lighter interior (too easy to stain), my particular model came with a tasteful mix of black and tan. For some that won’t evoke pleasant memories of a delicate period in Irish history, though it’s unlikely the Swedes meant any offence. The front seats are quite simply divine and can be adjusted in almost every way, balancing comfort with support. The back seats aren’t half bad either – head and leg room is here in acres. The glovebox is a decent size, and there are a few handy cubbyholes scattered throughout. The boot size, however, isn’t best in class at 500L – although quite long it’s rather shallow, rather than the depth you might find in other brands.
Driving in Style
To say the S90 is a pleasure to drive is an understatement – it’s a fantastic blend of power, comfort and insulation from the world outside. Volvo’s fabulous but optional air suspension (€2,600) means that the S90 doesn’t so much drive over the tarmac as it glides, and it feels solid in the bends, if not entirely sporty. Despite being quite a big beast, measuring almost five metres long and two metres wide, it doesn’t feel quite so large on the road.
The 2.0L D5 PowerPulse engine in my test model, developed by Volvo themselves, hesitates slightly at first, but then the power kicks in and you can feel yourself being pushed back into your seat as it charges forward – rather like the hefty Millennium Falcon suddenly jumping to lightspeed. This particular engine features a nifty piece of engineering from Volvo – compressed air can be injected into the system to reduce turbo lag, which results in much faster acceleration. The more efficient D3 (150hp) or D4 (190hp) blocks with manual or automatic transmission are also available.
With the D5 PowerPulse, I averaged 8.2L/100km (34mpg) during a week’s worth of pottering around the city and surrounding countryside. That’s not fantastic, though a combination of the automatic transmission, 20-inch wheels (optional extra at €2,528) and the sheer bulk of the S90 doesn’t help matters. However, you can reduce that to between 5 and 6L/100km (47 and 56mpg) if you switch from comfort to efficient mode and ease up on the accelerator. Select the third mode – Dynamic – and you’ll discover a much quicker response time on the throttle, with the attendant dip in fuel.
As you might expect from a price tag of €64,000 (as tested, the range begins at €43,900), the S90 comes with quite a few toys, the bulk of which are controlled via a 12.3-inch media centre somewhat reminiscent of what you’ll find in a Tesla, which gives the S90’s dashboard a very minimalist, uncluttered feel. Though the touchscreen media centre can be a little distracting at first, you’ll soon be flicking through the options while keeping both eyes on the road.
Among the features in my test model were heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, an optional extra though well worth it. The boot lid is automatic – a button inside and another on the key fob both open and close it from afar. Other toys include power front seats with two slot memory function for the driver in case someone comes along and mucks up your finely tuned set-up. And, if you’re feeling a little paranoid, the Private Locking feature locks the boot lid and the rear seats when the car is taken in for service, or when you lend it to an untrustworthy family member.
You can also control and view some information and functions through the Volvo On-Call app, which allows you to unlock and lock the car, see where it’s parked, and view fuel consumption figures, among other things, though you will need a personal Volvo ID to use it. The only thing missing was a reversing camera, which I thought might come as standard, though this is available as an optional extra for €575.
Many of the S90’s features cement Volvo’s standing as the world leader in automotive safety – the company has set itself a goal of zero road deaths or serious injuries in new Volvos by 2020. Alongside City Safety which monitors your surroundings in urban environments, the S90 can detect any pedestrians, cyclists or large animals that accidentally wander in front of the bonnet, automatically deploying the brakes to avoid or mitigate the impact. Rear radar detects imminent collisions (the back lights flash to warn the incoming driver), lane-keeping assist does exactly as it says on the tin, and road sign recognition keeps you aware of the current speed limit.
If you want to reassure yourself even more, you can opt for a 360° camera, assisted parking or a traffic alert system. Run-off Road Mitigation also makes its way down from the XC90, using advanced sensors and deploying evasive action to prevent one of the most common type of accidents today. Unsurprising, then, that the S90 scored five stars and received an adult occupation protection score of 95 per cent in the NCAP safety test.
But, at the top of the pile is Volvo’s take on semi-autonomous driving, which comes as standard in the S90 under the rather innocuous pseudonym of Pilot Assist, and augments adaptive cruise control with steering assistance. There’s a feeling of cautious amazement as the system takes over, particularly as you approach the first bend and the steering wheel adjusts without any human input (although you are prompted and encouraged to keep your hands on the wheel). The system – among the best available – keeps you on the road at a certain speed and between the white lines, up to a speed of 130km/h. More of a driver’s aid rather than a replacement, you won’t be napping on your way to work any time soon, but it’s a useful tool, particularly on tedious stretches of road where drivers tend to lose concentration.
Despite the fact that there are so many of these systems at work all of the time, it never feels overwhelming. Each one breaches the surface when required, then returns to the background until it’s needed again.
When it comes down to brass tax, the new S90 is by no means the most expensive proposition on the market. The entry level S90, equipped with a 150hp D3 engine and a manual gearbox, starts at €43,900, competitively priced against the BMW 5-Series (€51,950), Mercedes E-Class (€45,930) and the Jaguar XF (€45,995), though you could argue that the latter three offer a more dynamic driving experience.
The list of standard issue equipment is also quite impressive – the Momentum trim level includes LED headlights, rear park assist, adaptive cruise control and leather seats (Inscription and R-Design add a few more treats). The only option I’d really be tempted to include is the winter pack (€1,517), which adds a heated steering wheel, front windscreen, washer nozzles, and front seats as well as active bending headlights and a headlight cleaning system, though the pricey air suspension is a close second.
The S90 is a bold statement from the Swedes, taking the fight to its German rivals and by no means coming out second best. Combining power, design, technology and luxury in one good-looking package, it’s undoubtedly the best saloon Volvo has ever made.
Volvo S90 AWD Inscription
Engine: D5 PowerPulse (Automatic)
0-100km/h: 7 seconds
Top speed: 240km/h
CO2 emissions: 127g/100km
Annual road tax: €270
Warranty: Three years or 100,000km (whichever comes first)
Price (as tested): €64,744 including €6,872 worth of extras