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Review of: 2017 Volvo S90 4dr Sdn T6 Inscription
2017 Volvo S90: Welcome to the new Volvo
By Dan Heyman
Jan. 27, 2017
We all like surprises. Birthday surprises. Flowers awaiting your arrival after a long day’s work. A picture drawn by your son or daughter that goes beyond any colour-by-numbers endeavour they’ve embarked on previously.
A car that blew you away upon seeing for the first time, then again once you opened the door, then again once you fired the engine. Well, that’s not quite accurate; more accurate is just how well that engine works, how far it punches above its pay grade.
It’s not so often that something like this happens in the automotive world; if I’m honest, most new cars sold today are pretty good, but they tend to be on the dull side, too. That’s a characteristic that Volvo kind of started, really, with its steel-cut oat models of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which were then followed by a string of Ford-based mishaps later in the decade.
The S90, however, with its new semi-bespoke platform (it shares its body and chassis architecture with the XC90 SUV – which, by the way, is no bad thing) and high focus on tech and efficiency will make you forget the dreary nineties and aughts and bring you squarely into the present.
Pros & Cons
- + Smooth, strong engine
- + Comfortable, spacious interior
- + Usable technology
- - Not big on driver involvement
- - Parking
- - Passing speed
The S90 succeeds the S80 as Volvo’s flagship, a car that followed up the 900 Series, a car I will admit will admit will always have its followers. People liked that basic, three-box layout because somehow, it suggested to that this was a basic vehicle that would always be there for you. Kind of like a mule. Or a favorite afghan quilt.
This? This is more like that way-cool spaceship you built, or perhaps a favorite movie car from some futuristic sci-fi flick like I, Robot or Minority Report. This would not look out of place on either of those movie sets.
It’s a trend that Volvo kind of started with the XC90, but they’ve gone a little further this time ‘round, exemplified by the C-shaped taillight lenses (they are an evolution of those Volvos prior, but you have to look pretty closely), double hockey stick LED daytime running lights and even the rims. The latter look a little tame at first, but as you look closer and notice the 3D effect provided by the ribbing on each wheel spoke. Even the chrome stripping that spans the length of the front and rear doors somehow looks more modern here than it typically would. It’s probably because instead of just being a simple strip, even these get a nicely beveled finish. Chrome also graces the grille and foglight surrounds, and it’s all done so very well.
No way this could match up with that ultramodern exterior, right? Nope. Not at all.
Really, when the centerpiece of your dash is a massive display screen rivaled only by Tesla, any thoughts of Volvos of old parked in old musty barns or on greasy suburban streets go right out the window. It’s your window to many controls, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
That screen is matched by the display that serves as your gauge cluster, which is a completely digital affair on the Inscription model.
Luckily, though, Volvo’s interior designers have managed to ensure that the techy stuff doesn’t take away from the tangible stuff. Stuff like the supple, baseball glove-coloured leather that graces the seats and door panels, gorgeous open-pore wood inserts, chrome trim around the engine start joystick, door pulls and Bowers & Wilkins speakers. It’s a sensory delight, really and while a lot of this has to do with my car’s top-spec Inscription trim, the basic bones of the S90’s interior can be respected by everyone.
Volvo is known for building great seats – “chairs”, as they’re often called by myself and my colleagues – and at first blush, this holds true in the S90. They’re supple yet supportive with neat-o perforation and contrasting stitching. All good.
They’re also adjustable eight ways (standard in both S90 trims), which includes adjustable thigh support. Again, that’s all good, but when you adjust the leading edge of that bottom cushion, the gap between the adjustable portion and the rest of the seat can really be felt. It’s a strange sensation that definitely takes some getting used to.
The rear seats aren’t as adjustable, of course but the seating area remains almost limo-like in its roominess, with some 915 mm or legroom. The seats also split 60/40, making the already big (382 L) trunk even more so. Don’t know how often a feature like that is actually going to be used in a luxury sedan like this, but it’s good to have.
As mentioned before, that big display screen is how you access everything from your climate controls to infotainment and navigation. It’s responsive and very Apple iPad-like in its nature, making it a little easier to accept for anti all-touch folks like myself. Plus, if you still like the tactile feel of an actual button set, there’s a set of controls for your defrost and play/skip buttons.
The S90 also features an auto-park feature for both parallel and perpendicular parking. To activate, you have to get to the “apps” menu in the infotainment system. Once activated, simply slow down as you arrive to where you want to park, and the system essentially does the rest, leaving you to modulate the brake and throttle. It’s mostly a good system, although I did find that it left the S90 a little far from the curb on more than one occasion.
This is where the real surprise comes in. Power comes from a – wait for it – turbocharged four-cylinder. Granted, engines like this are all the rage these days, but with the exception of a few models they remain most common under the hoods of compact hatches and crossovers, not top-flight, full-size flagship sedans like this. Except, this particular four-pot gets an extra party trick: not only is it turbocharged, but supercharged, too.
The supercharger is on hand to provide boost at low revs – as soon as you dip the throttle, for example – while the turbo then takes over once the exhaust gasses required to spool it have built up. As a result, it acts more like a proper V6 than a little four-banger. At 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, power is good but it’s the way it’s delivered that really matters. It’s smooth, bereft of any real turbo lag and not spiky at all. Indeed, a car like this has to be able to cruise comfortably and efficiently, and a whizz-pop-bang turbo mill simply wouldn’t do.
Instead, what you have is a buttery smooth, very grown up powerplant that only starts to lose any of its oomph once you start trying to make high-speed passes on steep inclines. One of my favorite mountain test roads features a good many of these, and if you really push it on them, you will feel it straining.
You can also flip between preset drive modes, or modify specific settings for your steering and throttle via the main display screen, or a nifty scroll wheel on the centre console. The real standouts here are the steering adjustments, whose weight and responsiveness can be individually modified to surprisingly tangible levels.
You won’t feel much else, though. Whatever Volvos of late have been about, one constant remains: they provide one of the most insulating drive experiences out there. It starts with smart chassis tuning, followed by good aerodynamics, regular use of sound deadening materials and now, active noise cancellation. The result? A smooth, quiet ride that remains pretty much constant whether you’re on broken city concrete or a fast, smooth stretch of highway.
Would I have liked a little more interaction between car and river? A little more steering feel, perhaps? What about a pair of paddles for the new eight-speed automatic? Maybe, and that’s a pretty big maybe. Volvo has found a fine balance of performance and luxury with the S90, I would hate to see them compromise that with an overly-heavy steering rack, for example.
The S90 starts at $56,900 in standard “T6 AWD” spec, a number that increases to $63,000 before freight and PDI once you add the Inscription spec. If I’m honest, the S90 provides a good value in both trims; you get that great twin-charge engine on both, as well as AWD and the eight-speed automatic.
The stuff the Inscription adds is good – fancy audio, better leather, digital gauge cluster, more – and both trims undercut similarly-equipped version of the competition from the likes of BMW and Mercedes. Or, you can look the other way to the luxury-lite segment inhabited by the likes of the Buick Lacrosse and Genesis G90, and the Volvo stands out there, too, thanks to its being a cut above in the luxury department.
Really, there’s nothing much else here to say than “bravo, Volvo” for shedding their somewhat oatmeal image and building something that’s exciting to look at, but manages no-compromise performance – that engine is a gem – or luxuries that many are looking for when they consider the Volvo brand. There’s a new luxury player in town, folks, and we can’t wait to see the trickle down effect this new paradigm will have on Volvo’s more bread-and-butter models such as the S60 midsize sedan, and XC60 compact ‘ute.