What is it?
The S90 is Volvo's all-new Mercedes E-class- and BMW 5-series-rivalling luxury sedan. A grounds-up effort that shares nothing with the previous-generation S80, earlier on sale in India, the new S90 is in fact closely related to Volvo's big SUV, the XC90. Both cars share a similar fresh design language, both share sumptuous well-specified interiors and both are built on the same scalable platform architecture (SPA). The S90 is also the second car to be built on this modern platform and is the second all-new Volvo to be launched under the ownership of Chinese carmaker, Geely.
The biggest change between the S80 and the S90, however, is the latter's focus. Unlike the rest of the class that concentrates on making its cars both luxurious and sporty, Volvo has chosen to focus on comfort alone. This is a huge change and something that gives it a big advantage in our market; especially with most Indian luxury car owners choosing to sit in the rear.
Volvo, however, hasn't toned down the aggression on the outside; the S90 looks sharp, edgy and very modern. Those of you familiar with the XC90 will recognise details like the upright grille, the 'Thor's hammer' headlights and the tight skinning that gives it an extremely sculpted look. In addition, the S90 gets an extremely long bonnet (suggestive of power), a sporty air dam and a roofline that drops in a sporty manner towards the rear. The rear of the car is extremely distinctive as well, especially with the large C-shaped tail-lights and the myriad cut lines, but it is a bit fussy and isn't to everyone's taste.
What’s it like from the inside?
The similarities with the XC90 continue on the inside as well. To begin with, the sedan is built on the same wheelbase as the SUV, giving it loads and loads of legroom, and many of the SUV's beautifully designed bits have been carried over on as well. The cabin is a fine mix of high-quality leather, real wood and some exquisite detailing. And the unique vertically aligned air vents with their chromed over controls look different too. What also leaves you impressed, as on the XC90, is the manner in which chrome has been used across the cabin, and how Volvo has integrated bits of knurled metal on the start-stop knob and the drive select 'roller'.
After you've taken in the very attractive wood, leather and chrome lined door pads, with the attractive Bowers & Wilkins integrated speakers, your eye naturally goes back to the center console, where the 'cool'-looking, high-resolution 9.0-inch infotainment screen takes pride of place. Placed vertically, like the screen on the Tesla, it controls all manner of functions from the air-con blower to the lane departure warning setup. The controls, however, are quite haphazardly scattered between three screens, you need to flick left and right to access, and the system is unfortunately not as intuitive as it could or should have been. Also, using the touchscreen to control the blower speed is a bit fiddly; especially if you are driving. And while the cabin in general is beautifully built and put together, some plastics don’t live up to the high standards of the rest of the cabin. You can see exposed joints in places and the fit and finish on some bits lower down just isn't the same.
Seat comfort, however, is very good, especially at the front. The driver and passenger seats are wide and tall, and the adjustable thigh support helps make the driver feel even more relaxed. Back support is first rate and because the seats are finished in the finest nappa leather and are cooled, they really do feel a bit special to sit on.
There's acres of legroom in the rear of the car as well, and the feeling of space is just tremendous. The seat itself isn't as good however. Thigh support is a bit down on the competition, the backrest feels a bit upright, and though you are comfortable, even on longer drives, a bit more attention to rear seat comfort would have gone a long way in upping overall comfort levels here. What's also less than ideal is that the wide transmission tunnel makes sitting three abreast a bit challenging as the passenger in the middle has to straddle it. Boot space, however, is good at 500 litres, and the loading lip isn't too high either. You get a space saver (spare) as well.
Volvo will launch only one version of the S90 – the fully loaded Inscription. Buyers will get full LED headlights, lane keeping assist, park pilot, heads-up display, a Bowers & Wilkins multi-speaker 1,400-watt high-end audio system, a subwoofer, Apple Car Play, four-zone climate control, nappa leather, walnut wood inlays, a leather dashboard and a powered (open and close) boot lid. However, there are a few features that we think should have been there, but aren't – a rear blind, paddle shifters, and a powered steering adjust.
What’s it like to drive?
The S90 will be launched in India initially with just one engine option – a 2.0-litre diesel that puts out 190hp. Known as the D4, it is transversely located in the nose, drives the front wheels and comes mated to a eight-speed transmission. Rear suspension is by air springs.
Despite being a diesel, refinement levels are actually quite good. Idle is relatively silent and there isn't much clatter as the engine spools up either. In fact, once you have a few revs on board, the motor smoothens up beautifully. The pull from 1,800rpm to 4,000 is quite strong and the engine is so happy to rev in this band; it sometimes feels as smooth and as responsive as a petrol. Performance as a result quite strong and 100 comes up in a quick 8.58sec, and that's quicker than many competitors in this class. The engine does strain and get a bit loud in the last 500rpm of the powerband, so it's best to shift up early, but otherwise it does good job.
The S90 also rides beautifully, completely in line with its approach to luxury and comfort. Cabin insulation is pretty good, there's a suppleness to the suspension that allows it to float over most bad patches with ease, and though this car uses relatively large 18-inch wheels, there's no low-speed juddering either. There is a bit of mild pitching and bobbing in 'Comfort', particularly over really bad roads, but this is easily taken care of by selecting 'Dynamic' that stiffens things up mildly and keeps the ride flat. You do 'feel' the road more here, especially the bad patches, but the increase in stability offsets this.
What's also quite impressive is straight-line stability, especially at speed. There's no feeling of nervousness or looseness as the speedometer climbs the dial and the S90 takes high-speed corners with plenty of poise too; the air springs (rear only) help here. There is a bit of wind noise as you go quicker though, and as the corners get tighter the car needs more and more steering lock to turn in, but overall this sure does make for a very accomplished mile muncher.
What the Volvo isn't very good at is tighter corners. The steering is quite dead and devoid of feel. The S90 always seems to want to go straight, and try and drive it like BMW 5-series or even a Merc E-class and you'll be disappointed. That said, the S90 is nice and light to drive in city traffic and despite the length, it isn't too intimidating to weave through traffic in either.
Should I buy one?
What's clear is that the S90 is not the car you are looking for if you want a fun-to-drive luxury car. If you are not interested in a luxury car that is sporty from behind the wheel and you are likely to predominantly occupy the rear seat, the S90 has a lot going for it. It majors on comfort, it is superbly built on the inside, it is lavishly equipped and is both refined and adequately powerful. Then, its sharp looks will help it stand out in a crowd, and at an expected Rs 55 lakh, it is likely to be competitively priced too. Volvo may have the smallest sales and service network among luxury carmakers and finding a dealer near you may be difficult, but we suggest you make the extra effort, because the S90 may just be the luxury car you are looking for. This car has a fair shot at being the best in its class. Watch this space for an exhaustive comparison.