MALAGA, Spain—When Chinese automaker Geely bought Volvo, the rules were simple. The parent company would be hands-off, contributing nothing but cash, providing the Swedish automaker turned out an all-new model that was worthy. If it didn’t, the Chinese would step in.
They never had to, as the resulting vehicle was the very-well-received XC90. And now Volvo spins two more models off its scalable architecture: the S90 sedan and V90 wagon.
The sedan arrives in Canada in September, while the V90 wagon is expected in the first quarter of next year, both of them as 2017 models. A V90 Cross Country version, with more ground clearance and unique cladding, should come out alongside the wagon. Pricing for the S90 sedan in Momentum trim will start at $56,900, while the upper-line Inscription trim begins at $63,000, with packages and stand-alone options available on top of those.
Both the sedan and wagon will initially carry the XC90’s T6 engine, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that’s both turbocharged and supercharged. While the U.S. and other markets will get a front-wheel-drive version, ours will exclusively be all-wheel. And while the company is tight-lipped about future products, there’s a chance we’ll later see a turbo-only T5 version, and possibly a T8 plug-in hybrid.
That T6, part of Volvo’s new four-cylinder-only policy, sets down 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the latter peaking at 2,200 rpm. Premium fuel is recommended. The power winds through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the drive modes can be toggled between comfort, eco, and dynamic.
Of course, these two models could have hamster wheels under their hoods, and you’d still want to be seen in ’em. Stunningly styled, they feature a concave grille that pays homage to the famous P1800, along with LED headlamps, a sleek side profile, and taillights that wrap around the sculpted trunk lid or hatch.
The interior is equally inviting, with straightforward Scandinavian design that was accented with Nappa leather seats and wood accents in my Inscription-trimmed tester.
The cabin focus is the 9.3-inch centre screen, which works like a tablet with swipe functions to move from one set of functions to another. There are a few tasks that I’d rather see handled by buttons than by a screen, such as the cabin temperature, which requires a couple of taps and a corresponding amount of eye-time away from the road.
Overall, though, once you swipe a few times and figure out where everything is, the system is fairly easy to use. And you do get a dial for the radio volume, which is always a bonus.
The seats are very supportive, although it’s a multi-task effort to adjust the cushion length or the lumbar, requiring you to spin a dial on the side of the seat and look at the corresponding graphic on the centre screen.
The car’s sleek profile doesn’t detract from rear-seat headroom, and on both models, the rear seats fold flat for extra cargo space. Overall the cabin is quiet, but the car does produce a fair bit of wind noise on the highway when it’s breezy outside.
Wedging both a turbocharger and a supercharger to this little engine ensures that any time you put your foot down, you get impressive power right away with no lag—zero to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds, according to the specs.
The transmission is smooth when the drive mode is set to Comfort, while the car’s more fun in Dynamic, although the downshifts can be harshly abrupt. Manual shift mode is available only through the gearshift lever, although paddle shifters may show up on later models.
The all-wheel system runs in front-wheel drive but can transfer up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels if a front one loses traction. Still, it doesn’t feel like a front-driver, and overall, it’s light and agile, driving much smaller than it is. At the same time, Volvo makes no bones about its target audience: this is a luxury machine, not a sports sedan.
The steering is a bit stiff, without the crispness and lively feedback that marks some of the competitors the company has in its sights, such as Audi or BMW. But it’s a serene cruiser, and Volvo expects to conquest buyers who want the looks and the comfort, but don’t necessarily feel the need to carve canyons with their cars.
The S90 also marks the debut of three new safety upgrades. City Safety, the car’s ability to detect potential collisions with vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians and brake if the driver does not, can now also identify and stop for large animals such as deer or moose. A new run-off-road mitigation system will brake and steer to help bring the vehicle back if necessary.
Finally, the lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control combination, called Pilot Assist, can now operate at speeds of up to 130 km/h, up from about 55 km/h on the current system, and doesn’t need to follow a car in front. It’s not meant to be autonomous driving, and its ability to stay within the lanes will shut off after a few seconds if you don’t have your hands on the wheel.
Instead, it’s intended as an assist function, primarily during highway driving. It will also come to a complete stop if the car ahead does, and start up again if that vehicle moves within a few seconds.
All models will include such features as navigation, leather chairs, sunroof, City Safety, rearview camera and power trunk or hatch. But as often happens with premium vehicles, there are a couple of curious omissions on the list: for example, you’ll pay $400 to add Apple Car Play to the lower-level Momentum trim.
It’s also extra-cost to factor in such items as a HomeLink garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, and one that I would have expected as standard on a Volvo, a blind spot monitoring system.
But overall, even though it’s playing in a limited market — Canadians are fonder of luxury SUVs and crossovers than they are of sedans — I think you’ll still see more than a few of these in daily traffic. It’s gorgeous, it’s comfortable, and best of all, there’s a wagon, a rarity in the premium market in Canada. That’s the part I like the best.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.