Volvo has just got it right
“We are in the beautiful port city of Málaga, Spain, the birthplace of the great artist Pablo Picasso. A good choice considering that the most extensive rework on the Volvos was done on the exterior design and looks,” said Ershad.
Inspired from the classic Volvo P1800, the concave grille was first seen on the Volvo concept car a few years back.”
“The roofline continues smoothly towards the rear until the coupe-ishness takes over. Roofs dropping sharply towards the boot seem to be the design mantra these days.”
“Generally estates look better than their saloon counterparts, but buyers in my region don’t seem to appreciate the estates as much.”
“Seats in the new Volvo S90 are very comfortable – something few auto makers manage to get right. The right amount of padding and side support are provided for the front seats, which works to improve drive comfort and confidence.”
“The SPA feature means that we can expect more models of similar lines, which will be interesting and well worth the wait.”
The XC90 was a very refreshing change in the Volvo lineup. It was just about time that Volvos needed something more than the ‘safest cars’ tag line. Competition was leaping ahead in looks, tech and dynamics; and the Swedish manufacturer was finding it difficult to find customers for its cars globally. Volvo is owned by Geely Holding, a Chinese business giant, since 2010 and it has pumped a lot of money into the Volvo R&D. The XC90 was one of the first models to undergo a complete redesign and we were sure that others would soon follow suit. Welcome the new S90 sedan and the V90 station wagon.
We are in the beautiful port city of Málaga, Spain, the birthplace of the great artist Pablo Picasso. A good choice considering that the most extensive rework on the Volvos was done on the exterior design and looks. Volvo had arranged a pre-programmed five-hour round trip to drive the new S90 and V90 models. The cars have two engine options each, the T5 and T6. The T5 is a petrol-powered 2.0 liter, four-cylinder turbocharged unit which generates around 250 horsepower transferred to the front wheels, and the T6 is a T5 with a supercharger bolted onto it, which pushes out 320 horsepower distributed to all four wheels.
The new S90 replaces the previous-gen Volvo S80. The S80 was a no-nonsense car which was pitted against the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 3 Series and the likes of the Audi A6. Whereas the Germans had constant model updates and feature upgrades, the S80 never managed to catch up. The S90 looks modern and ready to face the competition. The wide front grille houses the Volvo logo with concave vertical slats adding to the backdrop. Inspired by the classic Volvo P1800, the concave grille was first seen on the Volvo concept car a few years back. The new grille is very different and looks bold up front or when viewed from the side.
The headlamp units have a sleek design which incorporates the “Thor’s hammer” style daytime running lights (DRLs) – very Scandinavian! DRLs form a vital part of car design these days as they are the quickest form of identification, be it day or night. The DRLs on the new S90 serve this purpose just right. From a distance or when seen in the rearview mirror, the Volvo cannot be missed. The front bumper is nicely sculpted with horizontal slats which further increase the low and wide feel of the car. The designs are fairly simple, but capture attention. The hood flows upwards gracefully to join the steeply raked front windscreen. Chunky A-pillars hold the front windscreen in place, which may obstruct one’s vision while negotiating big roundabouts. The roofline continues smoothly towards the rear until the coupe-ishness takes over. Roofs dropping sharply towards the boot seem to be the design mantra these days. Almost every other four-door sedan features this design, but it sure does look good! The taillights seem a bit big for the car, but provide excellent illumination and visibility. Rectangular exhaust pipe cutouts add that extra bit of dynamism to the overall vehicle. When viewed from the side, a strong shoulder line can be seen across the entire length of the car. A couple of other character lines are also visible on the doors, which is a huge improvement over the plain-Jane looks of previous-gen Volvos. Overall, the looks have undergone a huge transformation with impressive results.
Our drive consisted of mostly good surfaces with a bit of countryside terrain, mountain roads and a slight bit of gravel. We passed some harbors and cathedrals on the way, which added to the serenity offered by the Volvo S90. Two petrol-powered engines are offered on the new Volvo S90. A 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine, turbocharged to develop 250 horsepower and a slightly more powerful version putting out 320 horsepower with the help of a supercharger in addition to a larger turbocharger. The power figures look modest, but they are enough to propel the 1,800 kilogram heavy Volvo to decent speeds. The 250-horsepower-developing T5 spec features a front-wheel drive layout with 17-inch wheels, while the more powerful T6 spec puts the power on the road via all four 18-inch wheels. A smooth eight-speed automatic transmission shifts easily through its ratios to provide the best balance of economy and performance. Volvos have always been more into refinement and finesse, rather than outright performance figures. This tradition carries on to the new S90 range as well. The electric power steering on the new S90 is smooth to turn, but has a heavy feel to it always. Sudden direction changes are not very comfortable on the new S90 steering. The S90 features conventional suspension setup all around with coil springs in the front and transverse leaf springs on the rear. Optional air suspension is available as well. During one particular gravel section, I did feel a lot of road rumble transmitted into the cabin; maybe it is the 18-inch wheels to blame. 17s should work fine for rough tracks.
There are three driving modes on the S90 that significantly affect drive feel: Eco, Comfort and Sport. Sport mode is the most fun mode with high rpm upshifts and downshifts of up to two gears when required. One interesting fact here is that the car also considers the cornering and braking characteristics, which minimizes intermittent gearshifts while aggressively driving on winding roads. The S90 has its share of body roll and sway at high-speed corners, but it is a saloon – not some sports thoroughbred. Excellent brake feel is provided with an improved pedal response in Sport mode. The four-cylinder engine on the S90 is the only letdown when compared to its competitors. Top spec competition features six-cylinder or eight-cylinder counterparts, and the S90 desperately needs one. The four-cylinder power plant is incredibly smooth and offers its own advantages. Excellent fuel efficiency can be expected from both the T5 and T6 versions. Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) is the latest in Volvo tech. This allows Volvo to build different vehicles like the XC90, S90 and V90 on the same platform with various wheelbases, power trains etc.
When speaking Volvo lingo, it is hard not to speak about the safety features. The new S90 features a semi-autonomous Pilot Assist System, which was also present on the XC90. The difference is that while the XC90 Pilot Assist System could only handle speeds of up to 50 km/h, the one on the S90 can handle speeds up to 120 km/h. The system can be activated through steering operated controls and requires the driver’s hand to be on the steering wheel to be active. On a well-marked highway, the Pilot Assist System can work seamlessly. However, we faced issues during high-speed sharp turns where the system felt like it couldn’t take any more. The S90 has all of the other safety systems like blind spot warning, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, large animal detection and other modern safety tech to go with. Safety is one area where you cannot go wrong with a Volvo.
The interiors of the Volvo offer pleasant and simple geometry. Crisp lines and an overall sense of space linger within the S90 cabin. There is ample glass area around you so that you feel airy and confident. You have a clear view of the instrument dials and all controls fall into hand easily. The main control center is a 9.0-inch touchscreen display with portrait orientation. This suddenly feels familiar (like our daily-use mobile phone displays), and the navigation is a delight. Otherwise, the only slight niggle was that there were too many functions to be controlled through the touchscreen display. Too many sub-menus and too many options. But I guess that’s only until you get the hang of it. The huge air conditioner vents have vertical slats called ‘air blades’. Nappa leather and polished metal form the majority of the cabin architecture, and shouts class from every angle.
Seats on the new Volvo S90 are very comfortable – something few auto makers manage to get right. The right amount of padding and side support are provided for the front seats, which works to improve drive comfort and confidence. Rear seats are also well-padded and there is a good amount of leg space which can take in six-foot passengers with ease. Armrest and trunk access are provided for rear seat passengers to further improve passenger ease. The trunk of the S90 offers lots of space and has standard access sizes for handling large sized bags as well. Shoulder and headroom is also in abundance throughout the cabin, even with the steeply raked front and rear windscreens. A 1400 watt, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system, which is always ready to set your mood, adds to the already pleasant interior of the S90. The sound system also takes care of active noise cancellation, which keeps engine and road noise to a minimum ensuring maximum passenger comfort.
My second stint for the day was to have a spin in the new Volvo V90 station wagon. Essentially it is an S90 with the rear body of a wagon on it. Personally I like the V90 for the way it looks. Generally estates look better than their saloon counterparts, but buyers in my region don’t seem to appreciate the estates as much. The taillights look fabulous, extending all the way up to the D-pillar. On the inside, the increase in glass area is evident the moment you step in. As expected, you get a much higher cargo volume in the wagon compared to the saloon version. The V90 is offered in the same engine configurations as the S90 and drive feel is very similar to the saloon. Previous wagons from Volvo featured a third row of seats, which were omitted from the new V90. According to Volvo, you need to buy an XC90 if you want a third row of seats!
On the whole, the new S90 and V90 models appear to be strong contenders in their segment, and offer a fresh face to the previous-gen bland Volvo image. They have a robust build quality, are comfortable to drive, and have the best safety features in the market. A definite buy if you are looking to stand out of the German crowd and show some individuality. You miss out on the drive fun factor, but you get a lot more. The SPA feature means that we can expect more models of similar lines, which will be interesting and well worth the wait. Volvo has got it right with the S90 and V90. Let’s get the Polestar guys working!
Pros: Striking design, smooth ride, loads of space, nimble and responsive handling, Pilot Assist is cool, elegant and futuristic interiors
Cons: Steering needs a little more feel to it, powerful variants are required (to keep up with rivals)
Rivals: BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS
T5 model: Inline 4-cylinder turbocharged, 250 hp, 350 Nm
T6 model: Inline 4-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged, 320 hp, 400 Nm
T5 model: 8-speed auto, FWD
T6 model: 8-speed auto, AWD
T5 model: 0-100 km/h: 7.5 sec, 8 L/100 km, top speed: 230 km/h
T6 model: 0-100 km/h: 6.5 sec, 10 L/100 km, top speed: 250 km/h
one word: futuristic