Safety, as one of Volvo’s core competencies, is also state of the art, and it’ll be hard to find a car safer than this one.
While 2016 has proven to be a tumultuous year for many, it’s been quite a good year for Volvo, the Swedish automaker and safety specialist. With the extremely successful launch of the XC90 (reviewed here), they started the overhaul of their lineup from the top down and have snagged just about every automotive media accolade in the process. Their latest iteration of product happens to be a replacement for the flagship S80 sedan. Like the XC90, the all-new 2017 Volvo S90 T6 Inscription is built on the Volvo Scalable Product Architecture platform, better known as SPA.
With all of their new vehicles being built under the same underpinnings, Volvo can optimize crash worthiness across the board, and can trickle down higher end features on lower end models thanks to economies of scale. Long story short, the S90 unanimously won 2016 Car of the Year honours at DoubleClutch.ca Magazine, which wasn’t really too much of a surprise considering that the XC90 handily won the best SUV award last year. Similar car, different packaging, identical flawless execution. More on the award tomorrow, though…
With a base price of $63,000 in top-level Inscription trim, the S90 T6 comes standard with leather (heated and ventilated up front), power sunroof, LED Headlights with snazzy “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lamps, a 9.3-inch touch screen, and a 12.3-inch gauge cluster. Packages include a $1,500 Climate Package, which adds rear heated seats, heated steering wheel, and heated washer nozzles. A $2,000 Vision Package gives the S90 auto-dimming mirrors all around, power-retracting side mirrors, a blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, and a visual park assist system with a front fish-eye camera view. Among the standalone options were $900 for metallic paint, $1,150 for a bright and sharp head-up display, and $3,250 for Bowers & Wilkins premium sound. All told, the total as-tested price of the S90 came to $73,925, which puts it very close to midsize competitors like the Lexus GS350 F-Sport, Mercedes-Benz E300, and BMW 530i. A lower Momentum trim level is also available.
Unlike the S90’s Japanese and German peers, the Volvo SPA platform features transversely mounted powertrains in a manner akin to a front-wheel drive car. Ride quality is typical European-firm but silky smooth, complete with excellent body control over large bumps. Refinement levels and premium feel are extremely high, and noise, vibration, and harshness are non-existent in the cabin at all times, whether in the city or on the highway. The cabin is whisper quiet, and the front seats are standard issue Volvo – they’re about as comfortable as it gets in any car on the market today. Handling response is about average for a car of this size and class, with not a whole lot going on in the steering feel department. This doesn’t lend itself too well if the S90 wants to be a performance machine, but isn’t a bad thing for those looking for isolation from the outside world. The test car was equipped with 255/35R20 Pirelli PZero tires, and the wide contact patch helped with roadholding without following every bump and crown in the road.
Powering the S90 T6 is the same “Drive-E” 2.0-litre twincharged four cylinder engine that’s seen in the XC90. Equipped with both a supercharger and a turbocharger for lower and higher rpm, respectively, it produces 316 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,200 and 5,400 rpm. It’s a healthy amount of power that moves the S90 along with authority, although others like the Mercedes-Benz E300 offer a little more refinement in terms of exhaust note. The twincharged setup has excellent throttle response thanks to the belt-driven supercharger, which negates the lag of the turbo as the revs sweep from the low end into the midrange. This transition between the two power adders is fairly seamless under most conditions, and is only noticeable during excessive transient throttle applications during the switchover. Overall, the Drive-E powertrain remains a treat to drive around town, and is equally great as you hit the highway.
Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that Volvo has dubbed Geartronic, there are plenty of gear ratios to keep the flagship Volvo sedan in the meat of its powerband. Shifts are quick and imperceptible, and there’s no gear hunting to be seen. There is manual control, but it’s probably ideal and most comfortable to let the S90’s computer decide where and when to shift. Start-Stop technology is also included in the S90, and the system, while aggressive, does allow for fuel savings in the city and is quite smooth on restart. While it may be annoying to some at first, it does have value when every bit of fuel counts. Thankfully, it can be overridden as needed.
Unlike the turbocharged inline-five and inline-six engines of Volvo’s past, fuel economy is a very strong suit on the S90 T6. Rated for 10.8L/100km city and 7.6L/100km highway, it’s a handy improvement over its predecessors. Observed fuel economy over a week on test returned 8.9L/100km with a good bit of highway cruising. During a return trip on Ontario Highway 401 east of Toronto, 7.4 L/100km was achieved while still keeping up with traffic. As expected, the 60-litre tank must only be filled with premium fuel.
For a good chunk of the highway running done in the S90, Volvo’s nifty Pilot Assist feature was used fairly heavily in both high speed and denser traffic situations. As a companion system to plain old (if we can call it that) adaptive cruise control, switching the system over the Pilot Assist mode means that the S90 will drive almost fully autonomously at speeds up to 130 kilometres per hour. Steering, throttle, and brake applications can happen automatically, and the S90 will keep an adjustable gap between the car in front, as well as apply steering to keep the car in its lane. Even on gentle curves, the Volvo was able to drive itself confidently. When traffic slowed down in front, it applied brakes as needed, and even after hitting a momentary dead stop, it automatically proceeded again when the coast was clear.
Drivers still have to pay attention to the road, of course, and the Volvo ensures that you still keep your focus on the driving task at hand by letting you know if it senses that no hands are on the wheel. It does take some time to build up trust in the Pilot Assist system, but after a few minutes of the S90 showing you what it can do, it ends up being a really wonderful system. Tesla’s AutoPilot or Mercedes-Benz’ Drive Pilot systems operate in essentially the same manner, but the Tesla and Mercedes can actually change lanes autonomously when the driver engages the turn signal. Although the Volvo can’t do this currently, expect this feature to be added over the coming years as the systems get better and better.
At last, coming to the best part of the Volvo S90 – the interior. It’s easily one of the best, if not the best part of the big Swedish machine. Paired with the wonderful seat comfort mentioned earlier, the design, colour palette, and material selection are second to none, and the end result is a passenger cabin that’s industry-leading. The test car included a downright sexy blond interior with blond carpeting and wooden inlays. Real Linear Walnut wood trim (available on the Inscription) with an open pore finish creates a very premium feel, and combined with fit and finish that’s second to none, drivers and passenger alike are not going to want to get out of the car. Ergonomics are great, with all major controls within easy reach, and touch points and grab handles are all high quality pieces.
In terms of multimedia and interior technology, a 9-inch Sensus central touch screen does well at controlling music, vehicle setting, climate control, and navigation functions. Unlike others, it’s oriented in a vertical portrait format, which isn’t a problem thanks to the screen’s ample width. There’s a lot of information that can be displayed, and the navigation map can be maximized to take up as much real estate as possible. Defrost, play/pause, next/previous track, and volume controls have dedicated buttons, but adjusting the climate control or heated seats will require going into the touch menu interface.
On top of all the great design, the crown jewel of the Volvo’s interior would be the $3,250 Bowers & Wilkins audio system. For anybody who considers themselves to be an audiophile, this audio setup will offer excellent clarity, an extremely wide soundstage, and excellent bass control. While a car is never the most ideal environment in terms of acoustics, this is about as close as you can get to being in the studio. There’s quite a bit of configuration that can be done, including 360-degree audio effects and a setting that makes the S90 sound like the experience in the Gothenburg Concert Hall in Sweden. Each person will have their own preference, and with a bit of tweaking, the Bowers & Wilkins system will be music to anyone’s ears.
When considering a few of the individual components, the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 Inscription AWD isn’t completely perfect, but when considering the sum of its parts, it’s practically a shoe-in for just about any award. The powertrain is innovative, efficient, and just quirky enough to be lovable. The exterior styling is nothing short of classy all around, especially in the test car’s Mussel Blue Metallic paint finish. The interior design sets the bar in the industry, and will earn praise and adoration for many years to come. Safety, as one of Volvo’s core competencies, is also state of the art, and it’ll be hard to find a car safer than this one. As a value in its class, it offers as much, if not more content than its German rivals, and brings more personality to the table compared to the Japanese. When you take the XC90 (reviewed here), and give it more low-slung, car-like driving dynamics, it becomes a recipe for success that’s worth drooling over. You’ve done it again, Volvo.
2017 Volvo S90 T6 Inscription Gallery