Can Volvo’s flagship sedan – the S90 – hold its own against the big guns from Germany and Britain?
A full-blown luxury sedan from Sweden – and the first of its kind in almost a decade – on paper, the Volvo S90 could become the most successful sedan ever made. It drives and parks autonomously, packs a ton of safety systems that could save your life, churns out enough power to rival even the best from Europe, and above all, wears a nameplate that we’ve all grown to respect.
Yet, in 2018, the S90 continues to spar in sales with its direct competitors with what could have been their best sell to date – and we can’t help but be a bit flummoxed.
Call us crazy, but we think the new Volvo should ideally outdo its direct competitors from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and perhaps even some other Asian alternatives – and it all starts with its contemporary styling.
For this Model Year, the S90 adopts the distinct fascia that’s lifted straight from their SUV – the XC90. Even so, the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running lights, the bold, slotted grille, and the thin and meticulously-placed air intakes on the bumper give the car its signature look.
Moving over to the sides reveal two bold character lines that run all the way from the front to the back, giving it a very muscular stance. As is the case with Swedish design, these lines aren’t ostentatiously vulgar but are rather intended to break up the otherwise dull-looking doors.
Meanwhile, the tail lamps are sharp and angular, with an emphasising crease and a bold ‘VOLVO’ emblem running through the length of the boot. Our mid-level variant also came with ‘T5’ and ‘S90’ badges on the rear but not much else.
Understated looks but with a touch of class and exclusivity – that’s what Volvo brings to the table with the S90. But, if you’re looking for a bit more boldness from the design, there’s an ‘R-Design’ on offer that adds other goodies such as chrome elements on the bumpers and colossal 20-inch alloys.
The interior is functional, clean, and well-equipped – much like you’d expect from a Volvo. There are plenty of soft-touch materials in the cabin to keep it in line with other offerings from Europe although it effectively surpasses the fit and finish of several German cars we’ve tested in recent times.
You’ll need to tick a few options on the list to experience Volvo’s best, but even in its primal form, it comes packing premium soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and stitched leatherette elements on the center console, armrests and door sills.
Another feature you’ll notice – because it’s presented right to you – is the 9.3-inch LCD that moonlights as the a/c controls, infotainment unit, and even the settings screen for all the safety and convenience functions. While it was a grievance at first, we immediately grew accustomed to the system – and before we knew it, we could push buttons on the screen while driving.
That said, even if you are distracted on the road, Volvo’s safety nannies should have you covered. While we’d never advise anyone to take their hands off the wheel while driving, we particularly enjoyed the ‘Pilot Assist’ system that took control of the car completely.
It’s a bit uncanny and we had to invest a ton of trust in the system before we let the autonomous driving feature take control of the driving – but it’s the best we’ve ever tried in a car to date. When engaged, the car can steer, stop, accelerate, and also maintain a set distance between cars in the front with inputs only required at traffic lights.
Other features include an all-encompassing navigation unit, blind-spot monitoring system, collision mitigation system, lane departure warning, distance alert, road sign information, head-up display, abundant airbags, cross-traffic alert, and traction and stability controls. There’s even a ‘Park In’ and ‘Park Out’ system that can park the car for you. In short, the S90 can drive itself without the need for a driver.
Space – both head and leg room – is plentiful. Even taller passengers will feel at home in this car. Boot space is pegged at 500-litres, which is marginally lesser than a few rivals but still above par of the industry standards.
Under the subtle-looking and large hood lies a four-cylinder two-litre turbocharged motor churning out 254hp and 350Nms of torque. This is further mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed transmission to aid in superior fuel economy when desired and a 0-100kph time of 6.8 seconds when pushed hard.
Despite tipping the scales at 1.8 tonnes, the motor feels spirited, giving plenty of steam when required. The low-end torque – which reveals itself after the inevitable (but marginal) turbo-lag – is plenty of fun when scampering about in the city. This can be toned down in eco-mode when the gearbox dials down any unnecessary fun action.
In our test, we were able to get the numbers as low as 5.5l/100kph in the highways – which is miles ahead of any other rival from Germany.
Handling is civilised, with only minimal body roll creeping in at high-speed corners. Else, the car sits flush on the corners – even at speeds of up to 80kph, and unmoved by crosswinds and other bumps and crests on the roads.
The suspension on our ‘T5’ variant absorbed most undulations with ease but you can opt for adaptive air suspension on higher versions of the car. It’s evident that the S90 is built with the comfort of the passengers in mind.
Volvo’s latest crack at the luxury midsize segment may have been their toughest ordeal yet but credit where it’s due – the S90 is a fantastic car with plenty to offer to the buyer.
It’s a pity that the brand has created a niche that very few here in the GCC will heed. But, given how it encroaches on – and even outclasses – several of its competitors in technology, build-quality and pricing, it must be seen how the S90 fares as time passes.
All said and done, this is the best Swedish sedan that has ever graced the roads of Oman, yet.
• Engine: 2.0-litre in-line ‘turbocharged’ four cylinder
• Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
• Power: 254hp
• Torque: 350Nms
• Autonomous driving
• Pre-collision braking system
• Automotic parking assist
• Traction and stability controls
• Blind-spot monitoring system
• Radar-guided cruise control
• Head-up display
• Cross-traffic alert
• LED headlamps
• 8-inch driver display
• Leatherette seats
• 9.3-inch LCD infotainment system
• 360-degree surround camera