There is something about a luxury sedan.
The elegance is above par compared to mere sedans of the same size and heft. The styling is a cut above what is seen out on the roads. The amenities coddle you inside from bespoke audio systems to creature comforts. It is also a technological feast, with the latest and greatest gadgets, right down to those that can save your life in an accident.
Volvo has been in the luxury sedan business since 1969. The 164 was more than just a mere 144 sedan with an elegant front end. It sported Volvo’s first six-cylinder engine and offered leather seating and simulated woodgrain accents. It would be the step up into a segment that is relatively new to American buyers. The 264 followed in 1975, following the same convention as before, with its better quality interior and six-cylinder power. This time, it was the troublesome Douvrin V6 it shared with Peugeot and Renault.
Where I come in was the 700 Series. It was the first Volvo I ever drove, being it was the largest Volvo built at the time. The 740 and 760 models showed off a more contemporary, but boxy, design. It offered more amenities than the 164 and 264, as it aspired to match up with the German and American luxury brands. Instead of just offering a six-cylinder model, the 740 came with a naturally aspirated and a turbocharged version of the four-cylinder “redblock.” I had the chance to drive a 1985 740 GLE as a rental over one Thanksgiving. I thought it was one of the finest cars I had ever driven. It was absolutely gorgeous and drove exceptionally well. Then again, I was some working class stiff with a 1974 Ford Mustang II that was always on the verge of falling apart.
The legacy of the big luxury Volvo continued with every generation. The S80 was the last car to occupy this spot. It offered V8 power, something desirable by Volvo enthusiasts. This tradition continues with an all-new sedan. From a single look at the 2017 Volvo S90, its tradition of big Swedish sedans is definitely in place.
This car has its intentions stated clearly. It is executive transport. The size of the S90 equals those of other flagship sedans of its price range, which should create a fair comparison between them. To say the S90 is “big” is relative, especially when there are others cars that offer more presence and attitude. You can get that in an S90, at least when you get into the Inscription model like the one we tested here.
The S90’s presence begins with a tauter version of the XC90’s front end. It is lower, sleeker, and features a scalloped upright grille at its most prominent point. The Thor hammer headlamps flank this prominent grille, finishing a very contemporary, three-dimensional look that should be distinctive for everyone to identify upon first glance.
The contemporary, three-dimensional look continues with a distinctive roofline and side glasshouse, a multi-dimensional side design and rear end. Some have criticized the taillights, as they break from Volvo norms. I beg to differ, as it remains quite distinctive and easy to recognize from afar.
This T6 Inscription AWD tester came with large and nicely finished 20-inch wheels. Chrome trim is worn down on the lower body, setting off this Mussel Blue Metallic paint job that is the S90’s signature hue.
Stepping inside, you experience what is perhaps one of the finest cabins in the business. Volvo wanted to exude luxury in its latest iteration of their big sedan and executed it with a unique and exquisite blonde/charcoal cabin, set with real linear walnut wood inlays. The instrumentation is a full TFT screen that can be customized for pertinent driver and vehicle information. Every switch, stalk, and knob has been redesigned for the 90-Series vehicles (XC SUV, S sedan and the upcoming V wagon), all are right to the touch and operation.
In the center is a tablet-sized screen that controls everything from climate control to additional seat adjustments to the Sensus infotainment suite. There are plenty of screens to navigate in the S90, but there is a learning curve. Once you got the setups down, it is rather easy to manage. Below, there are a few controls for climate and other vehicle systems, as well as some controls on the center console. The ignition switch is now on the center console, which is controlled similar to a knob.
Front seating offers a lot of adjustments, but also fantastic support and comfort. There are power-operated controls for rake, recline, lumbar, seat cushion extension, and bolsters. These seats can be heated or cooled, along with a massage function. Because it is a large executive sedan, expect rear seat room to be accommodating. As a tall person, I found good headroom and legroom in the back. The rear seats are quite comfortable, too. The trunk capacity is only 13.5 cubic feet, which has a deep midsection cut off by the wheel wells.
Sensus drives a vast suite of infotainment options for the S90. In this Inscription model, there is a navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio and SiriusXM. Apple CarPlay is compatible for this model, too, only connected through the USB port. If you want the finest audio speaker setup in any sedan, select the Bowers & Wilkins option. It is not the number of speakers on board this S90, but the way it delivers sound throughout the cabin. To enhance the Bowers & Wilkins experience, there are three additional settings to create a sound reminiscent of a recording studio or a concert hall, for example.
A peek under the hood will find the latest family of Volvo Drive-E engines. The T5 engine offers only turbocharging for its 250-horsepower 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, the T6 in our tester adds a supercharger to the mix. In total, the T6 engine offers 316 horsepower of pure performance. An 8-speed automatic transmission sends power from the Drive-E engine through its all-wheel drive system in this Inscription model. The engine itself is familiar to Lavender readers, as it appeared on most of our Volvo subjects over the past two years. However, the S90 offers a more powerful version of the T6 engine and it shows its strength with smooth shift delivery and nominal lag from both engine boost elements.
As for fuel economy, the S90 T6 Inscription AWD turned an average of 23.3 MPG.
Ride quality is superb, offering a balance between stability and smoothness. You can adjust the Drive Mode for a firmer ride in Dynamic mode, but most S90 owners would prefer the luxury of Comfort or Eco mode. Through the curves, the S90 is poised without yielding to lean or roll. Push it hard and a bit of roll will appear in Comfort and Eco modes. That behavior gets eliminated in Dynamic mode, as it attacks cloverleafs and tight curves by going near-flat through them. Even with 20-inch wheels and tires, the S90 still feels superb on the road.
The high praise continues with the steering system. On-center feel is terrific, even better in Dynamic mode and with the active safety features in action. Turning is direct with nominal lock-to-lock action. The brakes are also good, offering great stopping power and pedal response. In both normal and panic situations, the S90’s braking system did a superb job in keeping the car in place.
In terms of active safety features, Volvo offers the latest from its IntelliSafe suite of driver assistance technologies on the S90. These features include the Pilot Assist suite that takes complete control of the steering, braking, and acceleration when the situation counts for it. There is Park Assist, Blind Spot Information System, City Safety, and Large Animal Detection technologies included on the S90. The Sensus screen also acts as a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, when reverse is selected.
The S90 offers a range of four models to choose from. Pricing starts at $46,950 for a T5 Momentum model with front-wheel drive. Our well-equipped T6 Inscription AWD tester came with a sticker price of $66,365.
In all, the 2017 Volvo S90 is a superb automobile befitting of its position as the latest in a line of big sedans for the brand. It certainly earned its place among some of the best cars available in the marketplace, even in the face of a new generation of luxury sedans that are rivaling it. Among the S90’s new rivals are the Cadillac CT6, Lincoln Continental, Genesis G80, and G90.
For the Volvo’s cause, the selling point for the S90 is to truly have something luxurious to drive around with exceptional quality and execution. Above all, this is truly the sedan to go for if you are lurking around the $50,000–75,000 premium car market.