Today’s luxury cars may pack powerful engines, sport-tuned suspensions, and more apps than your stubborn friend’s Blackberry, but the segment has devolved into a repetitive cycle of one-upmanship that measures differences in millimeters rather than milestones. The best luxury brands from America, England, Germany, and Japan haven’t been able to do what Sweden’s Volvo has done with its all-new 2017 Volvo S90 sedan and the coming Volvo V90 wagon: pierce the heart of luxury car stagnation.
Ride quality returns
Slide into the driver’s seat of the S90, toggle its funky ignition switch to “Start,” and it’s immediately clear that there’s something fundamentally different about this sedan. It glides without wallowing and coasts over every seam and bump in the road, even when shod with stylish 20-inch wheels and short-sidewall tires. This is not a revolution, but the return of the rightful king: Ride quality reclaims its throne from handling. The agile but harsh demeanor of a “sport-tuned” luxury sedan simply isn’t enjoyable on any given Monday. While both S90 and V90, which we got an early drive of before its launch later this year, corner neutrally and steer with surprising precision, they’re much better at holding an intended line with a stolid grace as they go over potholes and cracked asphalt.
The S90 and its long-roof wagon counterpart use control-arm front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension with a transverse composite leaf spring, not unlike a Corvette. These sports car bona fides could have been used to turn the Volvos into buckboard-riding, 1.0g-cornering beasts; instead they were used, along with exceptionally well-tuned damping, to control the pitch and roll of the big-body cars without sacrificing comfort. No air suspension here, unless you opt for the system on the rear axle, which isn’t necessary since the underlying suspension geometry is excellent.
Good shapes, nice proportions
In a world of excessive chrome and too-swoopy curves, the S90’s Scandinavian aesthetic is a warm, welcome change of pace that builds on the foundation laid by the XC90 crossover but with an even more graceful, premium feel. Simple rectilinear shapes release with subtle arcs, and satin woods, muted metals, and supple leathers meet eye and hand. Switch clutter is minimized, thanks to the portrait-layout touchscreen that handles climate control, audio, vehicle settings, and navigation.
The exterior is just as elegant, with a grille that nods to the beloved P1800, T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” headlights, and a raked, streamlined roof stretched over taut, crisp lines. The Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform the S90 and V90 share with the XC90 also contributes one of the key external design features: a long dash-to-axle distance, which gives the pair of Volvos the proportions of rear-wheel-drive cars despite their front-/all-wheel-drive drivetrains. With a 115.8-inch wheelbase and 195.4-inch length, the S90 is large, but it wears its size well, perhaps owing to the fact that it’s longer, wider, and lower than the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Premium features for a good price
Despite its luxurious look, feel, and ride, the 2017 S90 is priced to undercut its competition. Two variants of both the S90 and V90 will be offered: Momentum and Inscription. Momentum marks the entry point, while Inscription models get $3,500 worth of appearance and equipment upgrades, including Apple CarPlay, full LED headlights, Nappa leather upholstery, and leather dash and upper door panels. A range of packages are also available, offering safety features like a 360-degree-view camera, luxury items like heated front and rear seats, convenience features such as self-parking, and a range of standalone options such as upgraded audio and a graphical head-up display (HUD). Pricing starts at $47,945 for the S90 T5 Momentum, $51,445 for the S90 T5 Inscription, $53,945 for the S90 T6 Momentum, and $57,245 for the S90 T6 Inscription.
Small-displacement double down
Sweden isn’t swinging for the fences in every category, however. When it comes to cylinder count, the S90 and V90 come up short: Only four-cylinder engines are available. The T5 versions have a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and the T6 versions have a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that has 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. (T5 models use front-wheel drive, T6 models have all-wheel drive, and all S90 and V90 models use an eight-speed automatic transmission.) Those power figures compare well with the outputs of the competition’s entry- and mid-level models, but Volvo doesn’t offer a six- or eight-cylinder top-tier option, which may not sit well with some luxury buyers. Still, a T8 version of the S90 is coming in 2017 with not only 400 hp but also as much as 20 miles of electric-only range, thanks to the addition of a 9.2-kWh battery pack and an 87-hp electric motor driving the rear wheels.
Despite the four-cylinder-only formula, the S90 has plenty of pep. As we drove S90 and V90 T6 Inscription models during the media launch, the dual forced-induction systems provided near-instantaneous torque, applying power smoothly and continuously to redline. The even flow of power compliments the S90’s remarkable ride comfort. The four-cylinder bark is muted even at full throttle, a hallmark of a powertrain that really only makes its presence known by its results; Volvo claims a 5.7-second 0-60 mph time for the T6 (6.5 seconds for the T5). Peak torque of the T6’s engine is available from 2,200 to 5,400 rpm, meaning there’s power on tap regardless of speed or gear, and the eight-speed automatic transmission never has to jump awkwardly down its range to deliver a sudden surge of acceleration. Volvo’s engineers have calibrated the transmission so well that there’s little need for driver influence, but it would be nice to have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Safe and stylish
A new addition to Volvo’s City Safety suite of safety technologies is Large Animal Detection, a first for the industry. The S90 also comes standard with the second-generation Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane centering to allow the S90 to essentially drive itself on highways at speeds up to 80 mph. The system works well but isn’t perfect, requiring constant input. You won’t be taking any naps on the way to work, but it may save your bacon if you momentarily lose focus on an early morning commute or a long road trip.
The V90 is everything the S90 is and more—more cargo space, that is. Despite the longer roof and extra space behind the rear seats, there’s no significant change in dynamics. Wearing a similarly raked profile to the sedan, the V90 is not the boxy brick of Swedes past. It comes to the U.S. in 2017 and will be a very attractive option in the rapidly shrinking world of luxury wagons.
A new old standard
It’s not counterintuitive to say that one of the least sport-focused sedans in a segment full of astonishingly capable sport sedans might also be one of the most exciting choices, because for those seeking true luxury the 2017 Volvo S90 and V90 represent a unique combination of comfort, power, and practicality not seen in a decade or more. That makes it a very exciting car, and a significant one, too—one that could break the fugue state of the competition. If, however, you’re still hungry for more power, a sharper edge, and a bit more sport to go with your luxury, fear not: A Polestar version is coming soon.
2017 Volvo S90
|On Sale:||July 2016|
|Price:||$47,945 (T5), $53,945 (T6) (base)|
|Engine:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/250 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,800 rpm; 2.0L supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,400 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5 passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||21-24/32-35 mpg (est) (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||195.4 x 74.6 x 56.8 in|
|0-60 MPH:||5.7-6.5 sec|
|Top Speed:||130 mph|