When trying to describe Volvo, you may use terms such as sensible, anonymous, or different. The Swedish automaker has always gone down a different road than everyone else and at times it has proved to be a success. But at other times, it has put the automaker behind the pack. Currently, Volvo is on the upswing with the XC90 SUV that shocked everyone with its handsome looks, polished interior, and a comfortable drive. This has garnered a lot of attention from the press as the XC90 walked away with numerous awards.
But it has also put the next 90 Series model, the S90 in a tough spot. It already finds itself in a tough position competing in the midsize luxury sedan class where there are plenty of models to draw people away. Now, the S90 faces a tough yardstick in the form of the XC90. Can the S90 meet these high expectations put upon it?
Restraint is the key word when it comes the S90’s exterior design. Volvo could have gone ahead and go all out with the latest design trends, but instead their designers went with something simple and it works beautifully for the most part. You can tell Volvo is paying homage to their older models as the profile is somewhat boxy, but the corners have been rounded to give a sleek appearance. The front end comes with a large concave grille and headlights featuring the distinctive ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime-running lights. For the back, Volvo fitted a set of C-shaped taillights and a peculiar trunk lid design. However, the design choices made here don’t fully mesh with the rest of the S90.
Step inside and the S90 becomes a feast for the eyes. Our Inscription tester came with elegant materials such as matte wood trim, Nappa leather, and metal surrounds for the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system. There is also a lot of minimalism in the S90’s interior with many of the vehicle’s functions being controlled through a nine-inch touchscreen featuring Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. Using this system is a bit of a hit and miss. The pluses are how simple it is to use Sensus thanks to an easy to understand interface and the ability to use gestures like on a smartphone such as swiping left to right. A downside to Sensus is how long it takes to boot-up when you first start the vehicle (on average, we found it took about a minute before we could fully use the system). The system also becomes somewhat distracting to use when you’re on the move. There were times where I found myself wishing for an extra knob or button to control the climate system for example.
One area Volvo didn’t skimp on was comfort. Up front, both driver and passenger get 10-way power adjustments with the option of adjustable side and thigh bolstering. It is easy to find a position that will work for you and the seats provide excellent support for the long distance. Those sitting in the back will be happy with the extensive amount of head and legroom on offer. Plus, passengers sitting in the back get their own set of climate controls and manual window shades.
Volvo differs from the rest of competition by only offering four-cylinder engines in the S90. Our test S90 came with T6 which is a 2.0L four-cylinder with super and turbocharging. Output stands at 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. While the T6 engine may not offer thrilling acceleration, what it does offer is a smooth and steady stream of power. Plus, the supercharger makes turbo lag nonexistent on the low end of the rpm band. Volvo also deserves a lot of credit for the amount of work done in the refinement department. Those who went for a ride in the S90 thought it was powered by a V6 because of how smooth and quiet it was. Imagine the look of surprise when I told them that it was a twin-charged four-cylinder.
EPA Fuel Economy figures for the S90 T6 is rated at 22 City/31 Highway/25 Combined. My average for the week landed around 23.2 mpg with most of the time being spent in urban areas.
The S90’s ride is almost like the one you would find in a proper luxury sedan. Most bumps and imperfections are smoothed over by the S90’s compliant suspension. We say most because of one feature fitted to our tester; the optional 20-inch wheels made the ride a little bit harsher than if we had the standard 19-inch wheels. The larger wheels also cause more tire noise to come inside the cabin. Volvo does offer an optional air suspension which should solve this issue. But for our money, we would recommend skipping both the larger wheels and air suspension. Wind noise is kept to almost near silent levels.
Where the Volvo S90 will fall apart for some is in the handling. Compared to some of the competition, the S90 doesn’t feel as athletic when going around a corner. The suspension does a decent job of keeping body roll in place, but the steering doesn’t quite have the feel you would want in these situations. Also, we found the steering to be slightly too heavy for the daily grind.
One feature that may surprise people on the S90 is Volvo’s Pilot Assist system. Standard across the board, Pilot Assist is a semi-autonomous driving system that can drive the vehicle at speeds up to 80 mph on the freeway. I tried this system out and found to be somewhat disconcerting to use. The main reason for this was the vehicle automatically making small steering adjustments to keep it in the lane. One thing you cannot do with Pilot Assist is to take your hands off the steering wheel. The system will detect this and flash warning to put your hands on the wheel. If you don’t, Pilot Assist will automatically turn off.
The Volvo S90 may not be exciting to look at or drive, but that might its greatest strength. The understated look of the exterior hides one of the best interiors not only in the class but in the industry as a whole. It is also nice to be in a vehicle that cares more about providing a comfortable ride than sharp handling.
The XC90 set a high bar for future Volvo models and the good news is that S90 was able to clear it.
Disclaimer: Volvo Provided the S90, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Trim: T6 Inscription
Engine: Super & Turbocharged 2.0L DI Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 316 @ 5,700
Torque @ RPM: 295 @ 2200–5400
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/31/25
Curb Weight: 4,080 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Gothenburg, Sweden
Base Price: $52,950
As Tested Price: $66,365 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
Inscription Package - $3,300.00
Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound - $2,650.00
Climate Package with HUD - $1,950.00
Vision Package - $1,950.00
20" Inscription Alloy Wheels - $1,010.00
Convenience Package - $1,000.00
Metallic Paint - $560.00