We all know the executive luxury class is heavily dominated by ze Germans, and rightfully so. The Germans invented the automobile and have been perfecting the luxury car for decades. Their creations are notoriously over engineered, often with a clinical, sterile feel to it. Their interiors are usually a blend of black leather and cold, heartless metal. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re an accountant. But what if you have a more exciting job? Specifically, a designer? Or maybe even a furniture designer? Welcome to the rather new and very Swedish Volvo S90.
Volvo is known for their obsession with safety, but in recent years, Volvo have been flexing its interior design prowess. It started with the new XC90 and the new company direction continues with the S90. It all starts with the seats. First off, they look like they are straight out of an Ikea catalog. Beautifully sculpted but not a case of form over function. The seats are wonderfully supportive. Adjustable lumbar, including vertical as well as horizontal adjustment. The seat cushion extends for those with longer legs and the side bolsters are adjustable as well. These details are wrapped in a super soft and sumptuous leather. There is no doubting its full-grain Nappa credentials.
With your hands on the wheel, you notice two things. The wonderful leather sensation continues and the steering wheel is a two-tone ordeal. Very unique, very stylish. You look down by your right elbow, not an engine start button but rather, an engine start switch. Clockwise to start the engine, counter-clockwise to turn it off. Whether it’s real aluminum or not is irrelevant, it’s perfectly weighted and chiseled, giving it a jewel like effect in the sunlight.
Start the engine and you notice, the gauges are not physical gauges, but rather an animation executed via virtual display. The screen blends into the dash, with its retro vents and the big slab of unpolished wood in front of the passenger. A matte finish with a bit of texturing left to ignite your senses.
There’s even matching wood on the key fob. On the doors, drilled metal speaker grilles, protecting the speakers by Bowers & Wilkins. The sound from these speakers teleport you to the recording studio of an artist of your choice. At night, on your way home from work, you’re in for a treat. The cabin is bathed in ambient lighting that wraps around the doors and dash. You get the idea, the S90’s interior is a pleasant place to be.
The exterior, in comparison, is a bit more conservative. The lines are ordinary and not offensive. It’s not an eye catcher and doesn’t exactly command presence. However, the lights are beautifully designed, alluding to a Tron-like effect. The tail lights remind me of a neon sign. The headlights house an adaptive LED system with, what Volvo calls, Thor’s Hammer Daylight Running Lights.
The cameras and ultrasonic sensors hide in plain sight as well. Our test car was finished Mussel Blue Metallic.
The automatic steering engages intermittently as well, without warning. During optimal conditions, the system only allows hands free driving for up to 10 seconds. After that time, you get a visual and audible reminder to put your hands back on the steering wheel. If you ignore this message, the system will disengage and the car is back in manual mode, all without warning. It is a feature best used with extreme caution an understanding that this is very much the beginning stages of autonomous driving. The other semi-autonomous features include Park Assist Pilot for both parallel and perpendicular parking spots. This feature is fairly easy to use although it was slightly disappointing that gear changing requires input from the driver as well as modulation of the brakes to control speed. However, any assistance with in a car of this size is much appreciated. The Park Assist even un parks the car for you as well, if you are nervous about hitting adjacent cars. If you feel like giving the parking space a go yourself, there’s a 360 degree surround view camera (four cameras with digitally stitched images) to give you some guidance as well. However, in rainy Seattle, it was hard to get a good view with the rain constantly covering up the cameras. Definitely something to be aware of.
When you decide to leave the Pilot Assist features alone and drive the S90 yourself, you’re in for a treat. This is an S90 T6 Inscription. The T6 designation signifies this has the 2.0L four cylinder supercharged AND turbocharged engine. The base S90 comes with the T5 with is a 2.0L four with (just) a turbo. The T6 pushes 316hp and a meaty 295 lb-ft of torque. The supercharger really gets the engine going at the bottom of the rev range and the turbo takes over at higher rpm’s.
It makes a decent sound as well; you can even hear the supercharger whine during wide open throttle. Being a four cylinder, it’s efficient as well, averaging 25 mpg with mixed driving. The 8-speed automatic transmission was joyous to use. Smooth and quick, it could almost pass as a dual-clutch system. All connected to a solid all-wheel drive system. With the winters the way they are in Sweden, I wouldn’t be surprised if the S90 handles snow with ease. The performance delivered with the twin-charged engine and fast shifting autobox, however, is very unlike Volvo. This is not a sports sedan but still moves with the hustle of one. It was probably one of my favorite surprises of the S90.
The overall driving experience is obviously tuned more for comfort than sport (maybe we can get an S90 Polestar in the future?). The body roll is noticeable although the self-leveling suspension is competent at sorting it out. The ride is smooth although I found certain bumps to be quite harsh. The suspension is far from stiff but the rebound of the dampers need to be adjusted. NVH is kept at a minimal although the sound of the engine was more intrusive than I expected out of a luxury car. However, laminated side windows kept all other noises out of the cabin.
It’s hard wrapping my mind around this car. The overall package is very left field. The design of the car clearly has an artistic approach to it, rather than a scientific and methodical one. The interior feels lively with its soft touch materials all around, frameless mirror and lounge like seats.
The Volvo S90, therefore, is not for everyone. It was designed with a different philosophy, offering a more organic approach. Less of a metal robot that does everything perfectly and more… human. The Volvo S90 did not meet my criteria of checkboxes for a car, but rather, it won me over emotionally. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that is the Volvo.”
Average autonomous technology
Glitchy infotainment system
Overly noticeable auto-start/stop function
World-class interior comfort
Brilliant infotainment system…when it’s not stuttering
Engine – 2.0L Super & Turbo Charged, Direct Inject 4-cylinder
Drivetrain – AWD w/Instant Traction
Horsepower – 316 @ 5700
Torque – 295 @ 2200 RPM
Transmission – 8-speed Geartronic Auto
Weight – 4222 lbs
Starting Price – $46,950; Tested at $66,105