Having a car buying history with Swedish cars, albeit with purchasing a couple of Saab’s & not Volvo’s, I have always had a soft spot for all things Swede. From Henning Mankell’s Wallander, to TV’s The Killing, to Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. ‘Scandic-Noir’ & their attitude to design appeals to my senses. With the demise of Saab, the continuation of Swedish car making has been narrowed down to one brand, Volvo, which despite a few rocky years with Ford, has under Chinese owners Geely, seen the brand re-emerge with some cracking models in the name of the V40, Volvos best selling car in the UK & the XC90, one of my top three cars of 2015. What Volvo has always done well is to build large cars & the latest Volvo model’s to compete with the Germans have just been launched in the guise of the S90 saloon & V90 estate.
Replacing the ageing S80 & V70, the two new models are aimed fairly & squarely at a sector dominated by the Holy Trinity of BMW, Mercedes-Benz & Audi, a sector made even more competitive where both saloon & estate sales are in decline, because of the British obsession with SUV’s. Nonetheless, its an important double launch for Volvo, as it adds two more modes to the 90 range & continues to showcase Volvo’s four-cylinders engines aimed at reducing emissions & increasing fuel economy across all of it’s range.
Volvo’s latest Scalable Platform Architecture chassis (SPA) was first seen on the XC90 & the new models feature ostensibly the same set of underpinnings as the SUV model. Talking of SUV’s, there is also a smaller Volvo SUV promised, the XC40, arriving before the end of 2017, but in the meantime, both the S90 & V90 are already here. CCV got to grips with both recently, with a chance to drive the pair around an area I grew up in, the Berkshire/Surrey borders.
From launch, the S90 is available with just a pair of diesel engines. The two 2.0-litre four-cylinder motors are badged D4 and D5, with 2WD 190bhp & 235bhp AWD versions on offer, with a third engine joining them, a petrol-hybrid due in 2017. The standard gearbox across the range is an eight-speed auto, with Volvo stating that it has no immediate plans to offer a manual gearbox in the UK, which makes an awful lot of sense.
From an aesthetic perspective, the S90 looks fantastic. I had already caught a glimpse of the V90 at Copenhagen Kastrup Airport the weekend prior to the launch, but the S90 in the flesh is actually better looking than it’s estate sibling. The exterior lines are softer than on the old S80 & the overall look is somewhere close to a mix of the Audi A6 crossed with the new Mercedes Benz E Class. Nice touches include the front grille, which is concave & is finished either in silver on Momentum or black on Inscription models . Taking a cue from the revamped V40, Thor Hammer headlights adorn the front lights, whilst the rear lights are typically for a Volvo, expansive & may well split opinion, but they are definitely different.
Taking it’s cue from the XC90 the S90’s interior is another positive step-up for Volvo, with soft touch plastics, supple leather & brushed walnut adorning the dashboard, seats & doors. The dashboard is dominated by the large portrait touchscreen, to such an extent, that all controls are worked from this, meaning that there are now only seven other control buttons on the dash giving the driver a clean, uncluttered instrument board. Most of the touchscreen functions can also be controlled via the steering wheel buttons. The 9” portrait touchscreen does take time to get used to – I certainly didn’t get to grips with it’s finer points in just the 4 hours I spent in the car – & like many others, can prove to be a little infuriating, as you struggle to switch between the radio, phone & SatNav functions & is not as intuitive as perhaps it could have been. But, despite this it’s beautifully presented & put together & I have no doubt that a bit like BMW’s ‘i-System,’ time spent driving the S90 will enable you to utilise it properly.
In a large saloon you want lot’s of space & the S90 doesn’t disappoint.There’s masses of room both in the front & the rear, with especially impressive legroom in the back. The boot comes with 500 litres of storage on offer including under floor storage. Both rear seats can easily be folded down to increase this if required.
In reality, the main aim of the new S90 is to give Volvo & customers, a viable alternative to the German cars, which dominate the sector. Not only does the S90 have to look good tick,be extremely comfortable & spacious, tick & be well bolted together tick, to match the Germans, the Volvo has to offer the right amount of standard equipment to tick all the right boxes as well. This the Volvo does comfortably. The entry level Momentum which I drove, offers amongst others, a 10 speaker 300W sound system, a DAB tuner, Bluetooth, USB & Aux in ports & there’s also 2-Zone electronic climate control. On the outside, there are LED headlights, active high beam with day running lights, rear park assist, which can be viewed on the 9” touchscreen & a power operated boot lid. Throw in the aforementioned leather, walnut & shiny metal finishes & Volvo has clearly worked hard to give customers more standard stuff than their Germanic rivals. For those of you who spend a lot of time behind the wheel & may need to link your phone to your car, the Bluetooth in the S90 is easy to use & I connected my iPhone promptly to the system in order to make & receive hands free calls.
Volvos of course, is famous for safety & the S90 is no different coming as it does with a host of standard safety features. City safety, including pedestrian, cyclist & large animal detection with front collision & full auto brake is on all models. So too is road edge detection, run-off road detection, a speed limiter, a driver alert with lane keeping aid, road sign info display, an active bonnet, plus the usual array of airbags make this Volvo one of the safest cars you can buy. I utilised the adaptive cruise control on the motorway & also for the first time, tried out Volvos new Pilot Assist, which allows for autonomous driving at speeds of of up to 80mph. It is a strange feeling to take your hands off the wheel at 70 mph, but I can safely say that having selected this using the steering wheel controls, it does work, placing the car exactly in the middle of your lane, although as with Mercedes version, you do need to touch the steering wheel approximately every 15 seconds to stop it dis-engaging.
Volvo have made a mission statement in that all of their models will be built & will run on 4-cylinder engines, which may make a few 6-cylinder aficionados shudder. Despite these concerns, the 4-cylinder engine that Volvo has in the S90 is pretty impressive as well as refined. It’s perhaps a little louder than some of it’s competitors below 50 mph, but is seemingly quieter thereafter. The quality of the soundproofing & glass cocooning the cabin keeps all external noise at bay, which on the motorway is a real bonus. For a large saloon, the S90 also handles pretty well. Driving on a selection of A & B roads the car can be steered heavily in & out of a corner & there’s no real sign of either understeer or oversteer. It may not be quite as impressive as the 5 Series, but it’s actually an enjoyable car to be in. Pot-holes seem to adorn al of the UK nowadays, & thankfully, the suspension in the S90 is softer than on the Audi A6 or Mercedes E Class.
Those in the market for a large car may not worry as much as some about a vehicles green credentials, but the S90 proves to be an attractive proposition.The D4 returns a respectable 64.2mpg on the combined cycle, with the D5 featuring PowerPulse, to help with turbo lag a slightly lower 58.9mpg. Talking of PowerPulse, the turbo lag is evident in the D4 & as I later found out driving the V90 with PowerPulse, when fitted it does in fact a really good job of stopping this. Again though, the turbo lag is minimal & with CO2 emissions of 116g/km, the D4 Momentum is well ahead of the more powerful D5, which offers 127g/km.
After a couple of hours piloting the S90 around the Surrey back roads, it was time to come to a conclusion. Whilst the Volvo is a wonderful car to drive, is also great to look at, is incredibly comfortable & comes better equipped than the competition, it’s not quite the full package, especially when compared to the BMW 5 Series. Overall it’s closer to both the new E Class & the face lifted Jaguar XF to make it a contest whilst to my mind it’s better than the Audi A6. Having said that, if you were to choose the S90 as your company car, you would not be disappointed. I would strongly suggest that the one to go for is the D4 Momentum costing £32,555 on the road, which because of its lower BIK will save you money over the more powerful 5. Furthermore, with Volvo, you’re buying something a little bit different. The S90 is a car that has been crafted with the highest attention to detail & being Swedish, makes a completely different statement than if you are running a German car or even the excellent Jaguar XF. The folks in Gothenburg have done a very good job indeed & with no more Saabs, Volvo is unquestionably the new King.
Long live the King 4/5