The Volvo S90 was an all-new model for 2017, the first Volvo to be built by its new Chinese owner, Geely Holding. It was built in Sweden. But the 2018 S90 is built in China. Not only that, in only its second year, it has grown by several inches.
Another thing is at play: although the S90 is a global car, in China, people who own such cars have chauffeurs. And the extra length in the 2018 S90 all goes to rear seat legroom; with the addition of 4.5 inches, the S90 now has more legroom than all rivals, including its targets, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series. Other carmakers have available extended-wheelbase models, but the 2018 S90 comes standard with that extra length.
More news for 2018 includes the addition of a 400-horsepower plug-in hybrid model called the T8, which gets a completely redesigned back seat. Also, all-wheel drive is now available on the T5 model.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter four cylinder, offered three ways for North America. In the front-wheel-drive S90 T5, the turbocharged engine makes 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The S90 T6 with all-wheel drive uses a supercharged and turbocharged version of that engine, making 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The S90 T8 plug-in hybrid uses a version of that engine combined with an electric powerplant, to make its total 400 horsepower.
Each S90 gets a first-rate Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission. An optional air suspension promises a calmer ride, along with improved handling. Even in S90 T6 guise, with the air suspension and firmer Dynamic setting, it feels softly sprung. The optional air suspension is essential for owners who intend to make use of the S90’s 4,600-pound towing rating.
The S90 offers world-leading active safety features. Standard large-animal detection can automatically reduce speed or brake to a halt, if a deer (or dog, coyote, cougar, elk, moose, bear or maybe even a python) is in the path. Road-edge detection depends only partially on the presence of a painted shoulder line. Front seats are designed to help curtail high vertical forces that might result in back injury if the S90 leaves the road.
Semi-autonomous driving features are standard. The Pilot Assist system blends active cruise control with forward collision warning and lane-keep assist. Enabled by flicking a switch, the system lets the driver remove hands from the steering wheel sporadically, for up to 15 seconds each time. Blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert systems are optional.
The 2018 S90 also has the updated Sensus Connect Touchscreen interface, as well as Oncoming Lane Mitigation, BLIS with steering assist and updated City Safety.
The EPA has rated the all-wheel-drive T6 at 22 City, 31 Highway, and 25 Combined miles per gallon, on premium fuel. The front-drive T5 is rated at 23/34 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. All models include engine stop-start technology.
About 35 percent of the S90 body weight is high-strength steel.
Both the S90 T5 and T6 come as Momentum or Inscription models. The T5 Momentum costs $48,100 plus a $995 destination fee. The T6 starts at $54,100 and the T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Electric Hybrid starts at $63,650, plus destination fees.
The Momentum comes with the 250-horsepower engine, leather upholstery, birch wood inlays, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power sunroof, LED headlights with corner illumination, keyless entry, rear park assist, rearview camera, power-folding rear headrests, Sensus Connect touchscreen, 8-inch instrument-cluster display, 10-speaker 330-watt audio, and satellite radio.
The T5 Inscription steps up to softer Nappa leather, four-zone climate control, a cooled glovebox, Apple CarPlay, USB media hub, leather dashboard panels, rear sunshades, walnut wood inlays, 12.3-inch display, 19-inch alloy wheels, and ventilated front seats with power side support and cushion extension.
The T6 Momentum gets the 316-horsepower, turbocharged-and-supercharged version of the 2.0-liter engine. T6 Inscription is equipped similar to the T5 Inscription.
The T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Electric Hybrid gets a standard panoramic sunroof and its own back seat, presumably to accommodate the battery pack.
The S90 is gracefully designed and distinctly Scandinavian. It’s said to be inspired by Volvo’s P1800 two-seat sports car of the 1960s. Resemblance to the latest XC90 is unmistakable, because it is deliberate.
Viewed in profile, the S90 suggests a rear-wheel-drive, swept-back sports sedan; but it has front-wheel drive (or all-wheel drive) instead. Front and rear ends are bluntly upright, led by a particularly bright grille. Front wheels are pushed well forward, suggesting an athletic nature. Up front, the hood is long and almost level. The roofline reaches smoothly back into the decklid. Add distinctive headlights and clean uncluttered surfaces, and the S90 is readily recognizable as a Volvo, even if its big grille-mounted badge isn’t visible.
The interior design is Scandinavian and the ambiance welcoming. For 2018 there are new details throughout the cabin, complemented by electric rear and side shades. The available rear seat massage and wide center armrest provide comfort and style. There’s a sense of spaciousness, again mimicking the XC90 crossover.
The dashboard is clean and elegant, with subtle contours, with wood and metal panels. Textured dials, resembling Swedish crystal, adjust the vents. A twist of the Start knob fires up the engine, while Sensus Touch infotainment dispenses with knobs and buttons.
Speaking of cabin detail, Volvo brought orthopedists in on the design of the S90 seats, wonderfully supportive. The high window line gives the driver a feeling of upright-ness.
The rear seats are well-contoured and -cushioned, again excellent support, although headroom has its limits. And it’s not so easy to climb into and out of the back. The rear seatbacks fold forward, and there’s a pass-through to the trunk, which holds 17.7 cubic feet, including an underfloor compartment.
The ride is plush, while being well controlled. Not much bobbing on bumpy roads. The cabin is especially quiet thanks to tight Volvo construction, and active noise cancellation.
The available air suspension should make the ride even better, by keeping the car more level, though we have not experienced it.
If you plan to tow with an S90, the towing capacity is 3,700 pounds for the T5 and 4,600 with a T6. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a sleek Volvo sedan towing a boat. Maybe in Maine. Europeans routinely use sedans as tow vehicles, though.
The S90 is closer to being a sports sedan than it is a tow truck. And even though comfort is the focus, the performance is satisfying in just about any driving conditions.
Acceleration to 60 mph takes 6.5 seconds in a T5, or 5.7 with a T6. A shift gate lets the driver change gears manually. Throttle response is quicker with the T6, courtesy of its supercharger.
Nicely weighted electric power steering helps ensure relaxed driving. An S90 can pull away from tight corners in a natural manner.
Three mode settings are available. Road feedback is minimal if Comfort mode is chosen, while Dynamic mode transmits a numb sensation. Individualization mode lets you specify the settings that please you most. The system can even program a preferred brake-boost level.
With its wide spread of gear ratios, the 8-speed automatic helps make the S90 feel quite perky at low speed. At highway speeds, it promises an efficiently relaxed experience.
The S90 T5 is the traditional Volvo sedan. The new T8 plug-in hybrid is the environmentally friendly choice. In the T6, we love the idea of an engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.