Relative to rival models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the 2017 Volvo S90 offers a unique take on the European luxury-sedan formula. Rather than focusing on speed and handling, the S90 emphasizes comfort and style, and the end result is quite satisfying overall.
The Volvo S90 is a midsize luxury sedan that seats five passengers. The S90 is available with either front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and all models are equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine comes in the S90 T5, while T6 models have a four-cylinder engine that’s turbocharged and supercharged. Momentum (base) and Inscription trim levels are offered with both engines.
The S90 is an all-new model introduced for the 2017 model year, reviving a nameplate last used in 1998. It replaces the outgoing Volvo S80.
The S90 shares a strong family resemblance with the Volvo XC90, and both models sport prominent grilles and headlamp treatments. LED headlights are standard, and they help give the Volvo its bold face.
While the S90 is about the same length as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or BMW 5 Series, its minimalist side panels above standard 18-inch wheels make this sedan seem longer than it really is. It all ends with a squared-off rear fascia that’s controversial to some, but overall, the S90 is a striking sedan that stands out from typical German designs. The S90 is a departure from the luxury-sedan norm, and you might appreciate that if all of your friends have cars that look exactly the same.
Base models come with illuminated front door handles, a high-gloss black grille and a power sunroof. Options include 19- or 20-inch wheels, auto-dimming side mirrors and a power-operated trunk lid.
If the S90’s exterior leaves you ambivalent, the interior may win you over. Modern and handsome, the cabin exudes more warmth than you’ll find in most luxury sedans.
The S90’s cockpit an exceedingly comfortable place to sit. Volvo has a reputation for plush seats and these arguably rise to a new level in the S90, with optional contouring seats that adjust lumbar, side bolsters and thigh support. Whether you’re a driver or a front passenger, it’s hard not to find a perfect position.
Rear passengers aren’t left out, however, with generous legroom and a wide bench that, were it not for a hump in the center of the floor, would easily fit three across. Four-zone climate control and heated rear seats are available to make those in back even more comfortable. And those seats fold down to lend greater utility to a 13.5 cubic-foot trunk.
All models come with leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and a leather steering wheel. A heated steering wheel is available.
Volvo only offers four-cylinder engines on the S90, but this isn’t likely to inspire any complaints. T5 models come only with front-wheel drive and a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The T6 model comes with all-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter engine with both a turbocharger and a supercharger for 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
In practice, both power plants get the Volvo up to speed quickly, though the T6 is clearly for those who want enhanced performance. It will make you forget about the V6 engines that power many rivals.
Still, the S90 is not a sports sedan. Three drive modes are standard – Eco, Normal and Dynamic – and the car is best left in the first two. Dynamic changes the way the accelerator pedal, steering and transmission respond and make the car feel frenetic and out of its element.
In return, though, the S90 is quiet and comfortable at any speed, even if the ride is always a little firm. It’s best driven in a non-competitive fashion, which is why it’s a supremely good highway car.
Fuel economy is also good for a large sedan. T5 models have an EPA rating of 24/34 mpg city/highway. The more powerful T6 is rated at 22/31 mpg.
The S90 is Volvo’s most advanced car right now, and it’s pretty up-to-date even in this upscale class. Dominating the dashboard is a standard 8-inch touch screen that controls every audio, navigation, climate and vehicle setting. Slow on startup, it mostly works well once underway and is familiar with its swipe and pinch movements (it’s similar to a smartphone or tablet). Selecting what you want quickly becomes second nature. There is a physical volume knob and buttons for Pause and Seek for the radio below the screen.
The list of standard features includes navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary input, a USB connection and a 10-speaker sound system. You can upgrade the S90 with Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a 12.3-inch touch screen and a premium Bowers & Wilkins sound system. A head-up display is also available and easy to read.
The most impressive features on the 2017 Volvo S90 revolve around safety. That’s unsurprising, given this is a Volvo and the company has expressed its commitment to making sure no one is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.
To that end, the S90 comes standard with the company’s low-speed crash prevention system, City Safety, which uses cameras to scan the road for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
It also adds lane keeping assist (part of a bundle of technologies Volvo calls Pilot Assist), which works to steer the car and keep it in the lane you intended should you start to drift out and into another lane. It works well, even if it insists you offer your own inputs on the wheel at least every 15 seconds to keep the system from shutting off. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and road sign recognition are also standard.
However, blind spot monitoring, a feature Volvo pioneered and many automakers have made standard, is an option and part of the expensive Vision package. The truly wonderful 360-degree camera is also in that bundle. It gives views of not only the corners of the car, but also an aerial view so you can see the lines of the parking space you want to be in. As committed to safety as Volvo says it is, these should either be available as individual options or just made standard by now.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the S90 its Top Safety Pick award, with top scores of Good in all crashworthiness categories. A Marginal score for headlight performance kept the S90 from earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation.
No car in this class is exactly value-priced, but the S90 is priced aggressively against its main rivals. The T5 Momentum model starts at $46,950 (excluding a $995 destination fee) and comes standard with 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, sunroof, navigation and of course, Volvo’s City Safety automatic braking system. An Inscription model for around $3,000 more adds 19-inch wheels and different exterior and interior trims, LED headlights and a 12.3-inch screen for the instrument panel. The T6 all-wheel-drive model starts at $52,950.
Popular options include the Vision package ($1,950), which includes auto-dimming mirrors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and the surround-view camera. There’s also a Climate package ($1,550) that includes heated seats and a heated steering wheel, and you can upgrade the stereo with the Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System package for $3,200. Standalone options include a premium air suspension system ($1,200). All in, a fully loaded T6 Inscription with all-wheel drive goes for a little less than $67,000. It’s several thousand dollars less than what a similarly optioned BMW 530i xDrive or Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic would cost.
A 2017 Genesis G80, however, significantly undercuts a similarly powered T6 by a substantial margin. While the Genesis offers a traditional V6, the Volvo trumps it when it comes to style and driving feel.
The S90 may still be an uncommon alternative to popular luxury sedans, but it matches or beats them at their game in most areas. While it won’t satisfy the spirited driver or someone who believes true luxury is expressed in how large an engine is up front, it will attract those who view luxury as an experience in which one is made to feel pampered and at ease.
With an artful and cosseting interior and self-driving technology that actually works, the S90 is a capable choice, whether you’re on a long road trip or stuck in a congested commute from the office.
Volvo is sticking by a new kind of luxury and the S90 deserves to be considered among the best in the luxury class.