While it might not have the finely honed handling of some rivals, the new Volvo S90 is a highly accomplished luxury saloon with huge appeal. Add to that a strong engine line-up and generous equipment levels and the result is one to worry the segment's establishment.
In the metal
It's easy to see some of the XC90's design influence in the new Volvo S90, but it really stands out as its own car. Proportionally it is a vehicle that has a lot of presence, exhibiting the kind of look that makes it appear hewn from one massive billet of metal. The LED headlights (standard in Ireland) incorporate the 'Thor's Hammer' design that has become the company's signature feature.
The blend of sharp, strong shoulder lines and softer more elegant C-pillars gives the S90 a unique appearance and one that looks equally smart seemingly irrespective of colour. Cars equipped with the D5 AWD transmission as reviewed here will get 18-inch alloy wheels as standard for the Irish market, though our test cars featured optional 20-inch wheels. The latter do set the S90's design off and fill the arches well. The rear proves to be the most divisive aspect of the exterior design. Those rear lights certainly make the S90 easily identifiable.
It is inside, however, that the S90 excels. Ostensibly it is the same cabin as the Volvo XC90, which is no bad thing. The layout and design focus on the central nine-inch touchscreen. This is the access point to almost all of the control and infotainment functions in the car and is as impressive to use as it is to look at. The dashboard is easy to read and incorporates an eight-inch TFT display. As an option on Momentum spec there is a 12.3-inch fully digital display, and that's standard on the Inscription model. Buyers can choose from a variety of finishes inside, but lighter colours make the interior stand out, as well as making it feel more spacious. The room in the rear benefits from the design of the front seats, which are some of the most slender in use today and, despite this, they offer a very high degree of comfort and support. A wide transmission tunnel does make life less comfortable for whoever is sitting in the middle rear seat, as in most cars in the segment. Boot space comes in at 500 litres, but the S90 is hindered slightly by what is a relatively tight boot aperture for its class. It is possible to increase the cargo capacity by lowering the rear seats, though it's an optional extra.
For an accurate idea of how the Volvo S90 performs on the road, we'll have to wait until it's driven in Ireland, in an Irish specification, as our test cars came with larger wheels and adaptive air suspension. With that in mind, however, the S90's ride is very smooth, especially when the Comfort mode is selected. Even thumbing the textured dial around to Sport the ride is anything but harsh. Yes, it stiffens up, but even on those larger wheels, you needn't be scanning the road ahead to avoid every bump and stone.
The D5 engine is the more powerful of the two diesels that will initially be available in the S90 in Ireland. It also benefits from having an all-wheel drive transmission as standard. Further complementing the 235hp and 480Nm it produces is what Volvo calls PowerPulse. Under full throttle starts, this system pumps compressed air into the turbocharger to effectively eliminate lag. In a brief test with the system disabled on another car, the difference was almost a car length in less than 50 metres. Although the system only works from rest, when the engine is at idle, it is impressive nonetheless.
On the move, the engine is well isolated from the cabin. It isn't quite as good as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but it isn't far behind. Gear shifts mostly go unnoticed thanks to the slick operation of the eight-speed automatic transmission. It can also be changed between gears manually, but only via the gear lever - paddle shifters are not available. The S90's body control feels superb at both low and high speeds, but benefits from that optional adaptive air suspension.
Even though there is a Sport setting available the Volvo's chassis feels tuned more for comfort than spirited driving. The all-wheel drive transmission is quite neutral in its setup too with neither a front nor rear bias detectable. Grip never seems to be an issue even if you do push the car that bit harder.
What you get for your money
In its quest to win business from more established premium brands Volvo has put together a strong standard equipment level for Ireland. Buyers will have a choice of either Momentum or Inscription specification grades. The latter makes the S90 a very desirable car though you won't feel short-changed in opting for the Momentum spec.
Prices will start at €48,400 for the D4 front-wheel drive Momentum, while this more powerful D5 all-wheel drive car will cost €56,400. All models will get the eight-speed automatic transmission, LED headlights with Active High Beam, 17-inch alloy wheels (18-inch on the D5 AWD), Rear Park Assist and Keyless Start.
With the move up to Inscription level, a €4,500 and €4,000 cost on D4 and D5 respectively, the S90 becomes even more luxurious. The interior gains Nappa soft leather upholstery, electrically adjustable seats for the driver and passenger and ambient lighting throughout the cabin from the cupholders to the rear footwell. On the outside, the Inscription model is differentiated by a gloss black front grille with chrome inserts, 18-inch alloy wheels and some subtle chrome detailing on the sills and door handles.
All models feature Volvo's Pilot Assist as standard too. Essentially this is a very advanced adaptive cruise control function that assists with steering at speeds up to 130km/h on motorways. It stops short of enabling autonomous driving, but it is one of the most impressive systems on the market today.
Given that Volvo has used largely the same recipe for the S90 as it did with the XC90 it should come as no surprise that this is one hugely impressive and very desirable car. The biggest task this S90 faces though is in tempting loyal Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz customers away. As a premium luxury saloon, the S90 hits the nail on the head.