What is it?
It’s the successor to the old S80 but feels light years ahead of the outdated sedan it replaces. Meet the Volvo S90, an all-new flagship sedan from the Chinese-owned Swedish automaker, that’s built on the company’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, which also underpins the brilliant XC90. This means it gets the same cutting-edge tech, a high-quality cabin, all the safety features from the SUV, and some more.
The SPA platform marks the start of a new era for Volvo under its new owner Geely, who has pumped in a massive investment for a complete overhaul of the brand’s product line-up. The S90 is the second model to emerge under the Geely ownership and comes with the promise of taking on the heavy-weight German brands. So do the Mercedes E-class, BMW 5-series and Audi A6, against which the S90 is pitted, have any reason to worry?
The truth is that the S90 doesn’t take its rivals head on, and Volvo has consciously made it a bit different instead of a direct ‘me too’ competitor. Like with the XC90 before it, the S90 too has carved its unique groove to appeal to the sensible luxury car buyer who prefers comfort and practicality to something sportier and flashier.
That’s not to say that the S90 lacks character. It’s been given its own distinct persona aptly referred to as ‘relaxed confidence’ by the carmaker. There’s nothing about the S90 that shouts out loud and yet it's unmistakably a Volvo.
The S90’s nose has a fresh interpretation of Volvo’s trademark concave grille and 'Iron Mark' logo. The LED headlights too have the signature ‘Thor’s Hammer’ design. The strong shoulder lines, sculpted bonnet and tightly skinned surfaces give the sedan a restrained but robust appearance, and it stands out as a car that looks carved from one big block of metal.
Look at the S90 from the rear and your eyes are immediately drawn to the unique bracket-shaped tail-lights which sharply extend into the boot lid. At night they look brilliant and make the S90 easily identifiable.
What’s it like from the inside?
The cabin is very similar to the XC90’s, which means it’s clean, uncluttered and built with a fine mix of high-quality leather, real wood and some exquisite detailing. Some plastics, however, don’t live up to the high standards of the cabin, and the twist-to-start button which has a finely facetedmetallic finish, gets really hot in the sun and can burn your fingers.
Taking pride of place on the dashboard is the portrait-oriented, high-resolution 9-inch infotainment screen which controls most of the car’s functions. However, sifting through the various menus and functions is not blindly intuitive and does take some getting used to.
What’s good is that the vertical LCD screen is well suited for following the navigation maps and allows larger fonts to be used.
Like in most Volvos, the S90’s seats set the standard for comfort with the front pair offering the feeling of sitting in thrones fit for a king with a long seat base and generous cushioning all round. What’s missing though is electric adjustment for the steering wheel position; it has to be done manually, even in the highest-spec Inscription variant.
Most S90 owners will be chauffeur-driven, and the fantastic amount of space in the rear is what will clinch the deal for many. The slim front seats have liberated lots of legroom and six-footers won’t have a problem getting comfy. The seat base is a bit low, but once you’ve crouched down to settle onto the well-padded cushions you won’t have reason to complain. Except if you want to accommodate a third passenger – the wide transmission tunnel makes sitting three abreast impractical for long journeys. The centre space is taken up by a neat-looking console which has touch-sensitive controls for the rear air-con vents.
Boot space is a handy 500 litres and nicely shaped to accommodate four fairly large suitcases.
What’s it like to drive?
The S90 has been launched internationally with a wide range of 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines. But for India, the 190hp D4 diesel is what we will get initially, followed by the 235hp D5 model sometime later. Volvo could also introduce a T6 petrol model to the line-up. And it’s the D5 diesel and T6 petrol engines, both of which are mated to an all-new eight-speed transmission, that I sampled over two days in southern Spain.
The D5 diesel comes with lots more hardware than most of its rivals. Firstly, all-wheel drive is standard and further enhancing the hefty 480Nm of torque this version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine produces is Volvo’s ‘Power Pulse’ technology. The system pumps compressed air into the turbocharger to speed it up, thereby eliminating turbo lag. The result is good response from low speed and an extremely linear build up of power. However, you do miss the spike or surge in power which is characteristic of most turbo diesels and the top-end whack of the D5 isn’t as impressive as its pulling power from low revs. Also at high revs the four-cylinder engine gets a bit vocal and it's best to drive the S90 in a relaxed way.
The 320hp T6 petrol also packs a decent punch and a claimed 0-100kph of 5.9sec makes it seriously fast and clearly the quickest in its class. However, in the real world, this engine needs to be worked a bit harder than the diesel and doesn’t waft you away as effortlessly. The mid-range isn’t quite as strong and you tend to rev the engine quite hard when you’re in a hurry. As you approach the 6,500rpm redline it gets a bit thrashy and you can tell this engine is a four-cylinder unit. However, drive it normally or at moderate revs and the T6 feels remarkably refined, and it's very quiet at idle too.
Cabin insulation is pretty good, but at high speeds there’s a fair bit of wind noise, especially around the A-pillar. The best way to drown out any external noise is by cranking up the 1400W Bowers & Wilkins audio system; the sound quality is simply ear-boggling. What will also be music to Indian buyers’ ears is that the Bowers & Wilkins system will be available on the D4 too.
The S90’s relaxed demeanour is best experienced in the way it rides and handles. The suspension is tuned to the soft side with a strong focus on comfort than keen handling. Inevitably, the S90 doesn’t dart into corners enthusiastically nor does it encourage quick direction changes. Also, the S90 has the tendency to float over crests and undulations, especially with the adjustable air suspension in Comfort mode. The ride is overall pillowy and extremely cosseting, but it’s not perfect. Hitting the odd rut or a sharp edge can be quite jarring owing to the low profile tyres on 20-inch wheels. For India, the S90 is expected with higher profile tyres which will provide better cushioning on bad roads. Air suspension will be part of the kit offered on the S90 D4 headed to India.
Enthusiasts will find the S90’s steering numb and devoid of feel but for the average driver it feels nicely weighted and predictable. The real party trick and the S90’s best stand-out feature is the ‘Pilot Assist’ function which is the closest you can get to autonomous driving. This system combines adaptive cruise control and lane keeping aid and works incredibly well on highways that have clear lane markers.
It’s eerie the way the steering gently turns on its own to maintain your lane and all it requires is for a hand to gently rest on the wheel. The Pilot Assist function also allows the S90 to brake and accelerate on its own, to keep a safe distance with the car ahead. This function, however, won’t be offered in India as certain radar frequencies used by the system are banned here, and where are the lane markers anyway?
Should I buy one?
The S90 is expected in India showrooms by November this year at a starting price of around Rs 50-55 lakh for the D4 diesel, and Rs 55-60 lakh for the D5. It may not have the driver appeal of a 5-series or the creamy smoothness of an E-class, but what the S90 offers is a special calmness and luxury that cuts you out from the outside world. It’s a car for people who want to go about their business in maximum comfort with minimum drama.