Given the current market trends and consumer favor for SUVs, Volvo probably made the right call in coming out of the gate with the big XC90 for the first complete reboot of its product lineup after separating from Ford. Fortunately, for those of us less enamored with driving utilities on a daily basis, they’ve quickly followed that up with the S90 sedan and soon the V90 wagon. I recently spent a week with the S90 and found that unsurprisingly it shares most of the same strengths and foibles as its higher riding sibling but in a much sleeker package.From a design perspective, if you like the themes of the XC90, you’ll probably dig the S90 and I certainly do. One of the consistent elements that Volvo is carrying into its new models is the “Thor’s Hammer” signature lighting in the headlamp clusters that incorporates a horizontal T-shaped LED into each corner. One area where the sedan diverges is the grille. While the diagonal slash with the iron mark remain, the vertical slats are now concave within the border rather than convex. It’s a subtle detail but it gives the sedan’s face a slightly more aggressive look than the SUV, almost like the mouth of an animal reaching out to take a bite.
The rest of the body has a sleek and sophisticated look that is neither ostentatious or bland. Like most contemporary sedans, the S90 eschews the more upright greenhouse of bygone days in favor of a more sporting profile.
Contributing to the more athletic stance are the optional 20-inch, eight-spoke alloy wheels. While these big wheels look lovely on this car, I’d actually probably take a pass on them around these parts. As you may have heard, Michigan doesn’t generally have the smoothest pavement and while the big wheels look really cool, the 255/35R20 tires don’t really leave any room for sidewall flex. That means that even on roads not infiltrated with massive potholes, even the minor gaps and frost heaves get passed along to your backside. The ride quality is less than ideal. The 245/45R18 or 255/40R19s probably aren’t going to be a whole lot better, but it can’t hurt. If you live where roads are smooth, this won’t be as much of a problem.
In the cabin, the sedan and utility again share many of the same traits including very comfortable leather clad seats and gorgeous matte-finish walnut veneer trim. Since my S90 tester was not the optional T8 plug-in hybrid, it retains a standard mechanical shift lever that works exactly as you expect it to unlike the quirky electronic unit on the T8.
Aside from the ride quality, my only other main annoyance on the S90 is the Sensus infotainment system and how many of the auxiliary controls are buried within the touch interface. For example, in order to keep the button count for the power seats manageable, Volvo uses a multi-function control for side and lumbar bolsters that triggers an interface on the central 11-inch touch screen when activated. You then have to toggle through the multiple settings to get the seat the way you want. Fortunately, there is a memory storage to keep track of two sets of seat, steering wheel and mirror positions for you and your partner. However, if you need to make an adjustment during a long road trip, it can get a bit convoluted.
Speaking of convoluted, the whole Sensus system has a less than ideal layout of controls in its user interface. It’s really not a system you want to be messing with while driving. Fortunately, it does support Apple Carplay and Android Auto which makes using media and maps from your phone much easier.
The Volvo has a full array of modern driver assist systems including the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system. In theory pilot assist should be able to provide longitudinal (speed) and lateral (steering) control like Tesla’s AutoPilot. The speed control works great but the steering control remains far less capable than what Tesla has accomplished. It’s far less consistent in tracking lane markings and struggles to follow the lane through highway curves. I recommend just using the adaptive cruise control and keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
The S90 is a big roomy sedan and will easily accommodate three adults in the back seat. Opting for the climate package on the Inscription model adds heaters to the rear outboard seats along with separate temperature control zones so everyone can get their own micro-climate.
It never ceases to amaze me what engine designers are able to extract from the modern internal combustion engine. Despite its mere 2.0-liters of displacement, adding a supercharger and exhaust-driven turbocharger brings the T6 engine to 315-horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of readily available torque, plenty to motivate a more than 4,200-pound sedan to 60 mph in the mid-5 second range.
With an eight-speed automatic transmission and automatic stop-start, the S90 is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. During my week with the S90 I averaged 24 mpg despite regularly exercising that little engine.
There is much to like about this big Swede. It offers a look that is modern and distinct from its German competitors. If you want a big sedan that says you like to do things a bit differently, but not as quirky as the Saab crowd, the S90 is worthy of your consideration. Just make sure you give it a thorough test drive on the kinds of roads you drive before you commit to the big wheels. The base T5 Momentum model starts at $47,000 and the nearly loaded T6 Inscription I drove topped $66,000 including delivery.