It wouldn’t be a Volvo without an abundance of safety and technology features.
MONTAUK, NEW YORK – It’s been a while since Volvo had a viable and serious competitor to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class (reviewed here) or the BMW 5-series. The last time the S80 was redesigned, I think “Friends” was still on the air, and many of today’s largest auto outlets were still tiny specks in the industry. Following last year’s full redesign of the XC90 luxury crossover (reviewed here), our friends at Volvo decided it was time for another award-winner. We were invited deep into the Hamptons, just outside of New York City, to spend a couple of days with the all-new 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD, the hottest new player in the midsize luxury segment.
Upon its auto show reveal last year, the S90 was an instant hit with the DoubleClutch.ca editorial team. We’re already big on reminding the general carbuying public that Volvo is in fact, a worthwhile choice in the luxury market, but the new XC90 checked off all the right boxes in our heads. The front end follows the same new design language as the XC90, with LED lighting and the signature waterfall-style grille bearing the Volvo monogram. From the side, the muscular stance and rounded window lines give the car a conservative look. I’m personally not a huge fan of the taillight design – it’s a bit awkward in person and I’m not quite sure how it will age.
Opening the driver’s door reveals a stunning interior – one that easily blows the doors off the now-aging 5-series (reviewed here) and one I consider to be right on par aesthetically with the new E-Class. The industry-leading seats feel better than ever, with supple leather and unmatched ergonomics and comfort. The air vents are vertical rather than horizontal, and Volvo prefers you call them “Airblades”. The dashboard itself is finished with beautiful bamboo-style matte wood, and there is some polished aluminum or metal on the outer edges as well. Visually speaking, this is one of the best new interiors out there, and should age a lot better than the old setup in current S60/V60 applications.
The interior here is based on the minimalism theory, and buttons/switches are scarce. The 9.0” touchscreen that very obviously resembles a latest-generation tablet is the centerpiece of the S90’s cabin, controlling all of the climate, multimedia, telephone, connectivity through Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. The integration into the sculpted dash of the S90 is seamless, and the system has a brilliant display. The swipe and pinch gestures to reveal settings have a bit of a learning curve, and we also experienced some lag and bugs throughout our test. Like Cadillac’s CUE system, given some time and upcoming software updates, I have no doubts the system will improve significantly.
Despite the “T6” badging on the rear end of the S90, there is no six-cylinder variant offered at launch, and we have on good authority that unless the industry trends change dramatically, this will remain the case for a few years to come. Both T5 and T6 models are powered by Volvo’s new Drive-E series of motors. The T6 examples we drove pack the 2.0L twin-charged inline four-cylinder – this obviously means it’s both turbocharged and supercharged. Boasting 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the excellent forced-induction helps both low-end and midrange pull. Consequently, the S90 never feels underpowered, and accelerates sufficiently for any situation you might experience. 100km/h comes in 5.9 seconds, which isn’t slow, but it lags behind the competition’s turbocharged V8 offerings.
“Lesser” T5-equipped S90s get away with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, also a Drive-E motor. This motor lacks the supercharger that the T6 has, and therefore offers 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s also not available in Canada – our S90s are only T6 and all-wheel-drive. At this time, there is no word on a T8 dual-motor plug-in hybrid (like the XC90 reviewed here) being released on the S90, but we wager it will be here sometime in 2017. All models also send power to the wheels via an Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. The gearbox is responsive, but not quite up to the level of excellence boasted by the ZF-sourced eight-speed in BMW’s latest lineup.
Driving it through the winding roads outside New York City, it’s easy to see why the S90 is going to be such a big game-changer for the Volvo brand. The car drives exceptionally well, with very good ride quality. The one weakness in the suspension and body control of the current XC90 is that the ride feels jarring on roads with moderate imperfections – this is also applicable to models with four-corner air suspension. This limitation has also carried forward to the S90, though it’s not all that noticeable on the highway. The E-Class (reviewed here), even the outgoing model, and the Audi A6 both exhibit better ride quality.
The S90’s steering, albeit adaptive, is electrically assisted. It feels rather lifeless, though on-center feel is decent and there is little to no play in the wheel when tracking straight. The all-wheel-drive system is good and will undoubtedly help Canadians in the winter months – the SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform allows powertrains, transmissions, and the AWD system to be shared across the Volvo portfolio, starting with the XC90. The forthcoming V90 estate wagon will also benefit from this later in the year.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Volvo without an abundance of safety and technology features. Volvo claims the S90 to be the only sedan currently offered with semi-autonomous driving technology as standard equipment. The Pilot Assist feature uses radar and camera guidance to aid with steering, acceleration, lane keeping, and even automatic braking at speeds up to 130 km/h. This is the next step to radar-guided cruise control, and it works almost perfectly. Pilot Assist isn’t fully autonomous, and gets finicky if the steering wheel isn’t touched every ten to fifteen seconds, but it’s an interesting preview into the near future and what Volvo’s plans are.
With only one powertrain currently available in Canada, the S90’s pricing is pretty straightforward. The entry-level Momentum starts at $56,900, and the luxurious Inscription is $63,000. The Momentum can be had with a “Plus” package that adds many of the Inscription’s standard features. Inscription comes standard with full LED lighting, perforated Nappa leather, 19” wheels, four-zone climate control, laminated side windows, and a unique grille. Standalone options that are noteworthy include Bowers & Wilkins sound (a must-have in our opinion), exclusive inlays on the interior, and a two-step booster cushion.
From an entirely safety standpoint, the S90 has an entire suite as standard equipment. All models are equipped with City Safety (day/night) with detection of vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals. This includes automatic braking and seat belt tensioner tightening. Apart from the Pilot Assist, the car includes distance alert warning, driver alert features, lane departure warning with active lane keeping aid, and road sign information with speed limits. The IntelliSafe Surround suite is optional, and includes blind spot information, rear collision warning, cross traffic alert, a 360-degree camera, and active park assist.
The midsize luxury sedan segment has plenty of established players. The three big Europeans, between the E-Class, A6 and 5-series, have a huge chunk of this class covered. The last time we saw the S90 nameplate from Volvo was in the mid-1990s, just before the S80 replaced it. With unparalleled comfort, bold new styling, and technology that’s right up there with the best, the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD is one of those cars that will make rivals like the Infiniti Q70 (reviewed here) and Lexus GS quiver in fear. The Swedes are back.