I have always sung the praises of Volvo. And it would appear that over the last year or so, people are starting to realise why. They offer innovative technology, and are at the forefront of automotive safety. But where they have previously struggled is in making desirable cars. People still have it in their head that a Volvo is a big, boxy estate car; and that couldn’t be much further than the truth. If you read my review of the XC90 a few months ago, you’ll see what I mean. Continuing with the ‘90s’ I grabbed an S90 for a week. This is Volvo’s executive saloon, rival to the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. So can the Swede defeat the Germans in the battle of the businessman? Time to find out…
Looks – 10/10
The newest generation of Volvo is without doubt the best looking yet. It started with the XC90, and now the S90 saloon and V90 estate. These have been followed by the new XC60, which I will be testing later in the year. Pride of place up front are the Thor hammer LED daytime running lights: creating a unique and recognisable image in the rear-view mirror of other motorists. The lines are sleek and executive. The Inscription model gets 18-inch alloy wheels, and at the back you get twin exhaust pipes and the Volvo letters sunken in the middle of the tailgate. The tail lights are ‘C’ shaped and a bit space age, and the whole car has a modern executive feel to it. The S90 looks great wherever you park it, from the office to the supermarket, and will easily pass the shop window style test. And if, like me, you like a bit of sportiness in your car, then you should opt for the R-Design, which adds some bigger bumpers and wheels to give a more aggressive stance.
Inside the S90 is every bit as luxurious as the XC90 I previously tested. The cabin is filled with materials from the far end of the periodic table, and every last detail has been finished to the highest quality. The leather is soft and opulent. The linear walnut inlays are very luxurious, and complimented the Blond/Charcoal interior combination. The carpet is higher quality than you would find in most houses. The centrepiece of the dashboard is the 9-inch touch screen display, which looks like a tablet thanks to its portrait orientation. The instrument cluster is an 8-inch TFT display, which can be customised to provide the right ambiance for you. Then you get down to the smallest of details that make the S90 look great: from the slim, rimless rear-view mirror to the engine starter which is a twist knob as opposed to the common button. I said it with the XC90, and I’ll say it again: you’d have to look hard to find a nicer interior in any car currently on sale.
There are a three engine choices for the S90- from the 190PS D4 diesel engine to the 407PS of the T8 twin-engine hybrid. Mine had the one in the middle: the 2.0-litre D5 PowerPulse diesel engine. It offers a respectable 235PS and 480Nm of torque. This is sent to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. And because the S90 is relatively light for its size (kerb weight of 1,763kg) that makes it reasonably sprightly. 0-62mph takes 7.0 seconds and the top speed is 145mph. Motorway cruising is bliss thanks to that 8th gear and the quietness of the cabin: you can converse with fellow passengers at the volume of a whisper. Power delivery is constant thanks to that superb gearbox, and the AWD system means you can use all that power, all the time. Volvo has claimed that all its cars will have an electric motor of sorts by 2020, so the next few years will be interesting to see what they’ve got up their sleeves!
Be under no illusions, the S90 is a big car. It’s the length of a cruise liner and the width of an American, so you would be forgiven for expecting it have the cornering ability of a conservatory. But that’s not the case. The AWD system provides grip through all corners, at rather brisk speeds, whatever the weather. And underneath the large saloon body is a car designed with the driver in mind. So the steering is nicely weighted, and responsive. And my car had been specified with the Active Four-C Chassis (£1,500). It comprises four corner adaptive damping with rear air suspension. This makes the S90 versatile. In ‘Comfort’ mode, it is especially comfortable. But in ‘Dynamic’ mode it firms up and ensures the S90 doesn’t wallow around on a B-road. Sure, this isn’t as agile as a hot hatch, but it does pretty well.
Economy – 10/10
Although I loved the old Volvo 5-cylinder diesel engines, and I miss that characteristic ‘warble’, the new D5 PowerPulse unit is enough to make me get over it. As well as the power described above, you will be pleased to know that they are surprisingly efficient too.Combined fuel consumption is 58.9mpg: impressive for a nigh-on 5metre long executive saloon car. Start stop technology and the 8-speed gearbox help matters for sure. CO2 emissions from the 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder D5 engine are 127g/km. Under the new road tax regime the first year rate will be £160, and £140 thereafter. Be aware though, there will be a £310 surcharge due to the car costing more than £40,000. We can grumble about the new regime all we want: it is what it is. And if you choose a 5 Series over the S90 you’ll have the same issue.
Practicality – 10/10
The S90, thanks to its sizeable exterior dimensions, has a rather spacious cabin. Rear seat passengers can be on the bean-pole side of 6ft tall and still be comfortable. And because Volvo want the ‘90’ series to be synonymous with luxury, they’ve made sure to equip the S90 with an impressive list of standard equipment. Even the ‘base’ models- if you can call them that- get the 9-inch centre console touch screen, City Safety including pedestrian and large animal detection, PilotAssist semi-autonomous driving for the motorway, LED headlights with active high beam, power tailgate and leather upholstery. My car had the Xenium pack which includes the 360-degree parking camera and Park Assist Pilot: automatic parallel and perpendicular parking. Front seat massage function is £650, but is worth every penny: it makes motorway traffic bearable.
Fun – 10/10
The most expensive option on my test car was the premium sound by Bowers & Wilkins. It costs £3,000 which, I admit, is a lot. But the ambiance it creates in the cabin is astounding. You think you know your favourite songs, but this stereo brings them to the next level, you hear sounds and beats you’ve never noticed before. The driving dynamics of the S90 also make it a great car to head out and enjoy your favourite roads. Picture this: your favourite country road, your favourite song playing out through the B&W stereo, and the sculpted seat caressing and massaging your back as you go. Do you need more to make you want to grab the keys and go for a drive? I also enjoyed the looks on people’s faces when they experienced the S90. And a few actually said it was the best car they’d ever been in. The fact that this came from a BMW driver, in my mind, speaks volumes.
My week with the S90 came and went rather quickly. Throughout that time I covered many miles, on many different roads. And what resonated with me is just how well the S90 coped with them all. It is, in my eyes, perfect. From the sleek, sculpted lines of the exterior, to every last piece of plastic and walnut in the cabin, the S90 oozes quality. The engines are great: balancing performance with efficiency in delightful harmony, and offering AWD capability and composure. The optional active chassis is a great option: with 4-corner adaptive dampers and rear air suspension making the S90 versatile, whatever the road conditions. And lastly, the S90 is excellent value for money. The range starts at under £34,000. For more information head to your local dealer or log on to the Volvo website. The D5 Inscription I tested that becomes £43,000 and with a few options my test car was around £55,000. That makes it quite a bit cheaper than a 5 Series with a similar specification, and when you consider features such as PilotAssist, the Volvo almost becomes the obvious choice. Now there’s a bold conclusion.
Total Score – 50/50