Elegant, distinctive, and Scandinavian, the new 2017 Volvo S90 replaces the long-lived S80 in the Swedish automaker’s lineup. Amounting to a new beginning, the Volvo S90 adopts styling themes from the recently redesigned XC90 crossover. Almost no components are carried over from the outmoded S80. Volvo developed the concept in Sweden, under the auspices of its new Chinese owner, Geely Holding.
Built on a brand-new platform, the freshly engineered S90 gets new fuel-efficient powertrains. Each version holds a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, offered three ways for North America. In front-wheel-drive Volvo S90 T5 trim, the turbocharged engine makes 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Equipped with all-wheel drive, the Volvo S90 T6 gets a supercharged and turbocharged version generating 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet. (A 400-horsepower version works with electric drive in the forthcoming T8 Twin Engine sedan, expected later in the 2017 model year.)
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.
Both the S90 T5 and stronger-performing S90 T6 models come in Momentum or Inscription trim.
The S90 offers active-safety features that qualify as first in the world. Standard large-animal detection can automatically reduce speed or brake to a halt if a creature is in the roadway. 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.
About 35 percent of S90 body weight is high-strength steel. No crash testing has been undertaken in the U.S. as yet.
The 2017 Volvo S90 T5 Momentum ($46,950) 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. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The S90 T5 Inscription ($50,450) 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 S90 T6 Momentum ($52,950) gets the 316-horsepower, turbocharged-and-supercharged version of Volvo’s 2.0-liter engine. T6 Inscription ($56,250) is equipped similar to the T5 Inscription.
T8 plug-in hybrid contains a 400-horsepower engine, coupled with electric drive.
Gracefully designed and distinctly Scandinavian in nature, the S90 was said to be inspired by Volvo’s P1800 two-seat sports car of the 1960s. Resemblance to the latest XC90 also is unmistakable.
Viewed in profile, the S90 suggests a rear-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 cleanly uncluttered surfaces, and the S90 is readily recognizable as a Volvo, even if its big grille-mounted badge isn’t visible.
Scandinavian design extends into the interior, producing a particularly welcoming ambience. Like the S90’s body, its cabin bears a resemblance to the one in the XC90 crossover, creating a sense of spaciousness.
Devised with the assistance of orthopedists, S90 seats are among the most supportive we’ve experienced, and with ample adjustments. Many drivers will consider the driving position more upright than usual, accented by a tall beltline.
Back seats are appropriately contoured and well-cushioned, also providing excellent support, though taller passengers may find no surplus of head clearance. Climbing into and departing from the back isn’t the easiest task, either. Seatbacks fold forward, with a pass-through included. Cargo volume totals 17.7 cubic feet, including an underfloor compartment.
Cleanly elegant, the dashboard features subtle contours, with genuine 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. A menu system in Inscription models controls power-adjustable seats and massage functions.
Expect a plush, yet capably controlled ride in any S90, geared toward comfort, with little bobbing when traversing imperfect pavement. Tight construction and active noise cancellation help keep the sedan especially quiet, subduing any road coarseness or engine booming.
The available air suspension, if installed, should help maintain comfort and keep the sedan level. It’s especially helpful if you plan to tow with an S90. Towing capacity is 3,700 pounds for the T5 and 4,600 with a T6.
Although no S90 qualifies as a sports sedan, performance is satisfying in just about any driving conditions. In fact, it’s considerably more capable than expected from a comfort-focused four-door. 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.
Fuel-efficiency is roughly in the middle of the luxury-sedan category. The front-drive T5 is EPA-rated at 23/34 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive and a more powerful T6 engine drop the estimate to 22/31 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. All models include engine stop-start technology.
As a brand, Volvo, now Chinese-owned, still trails some rivals in terms of prestige, but the S90 costs less than most comparable German sedans. It’s better-equipped than many luxury sedans, with no shortage of cabin comforts or technical features.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.