One Week With: 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

These Swedes know special

Volvo is on fire. Just two years ago the Swedish maker introduced the all-new XC90 SUV and bam! right outta the box the rig won a coveted spot—alongside a Ferrari and a McLaren, among others—on our 2016 Automobile All-Stars list. Then, for the 2017 model year, arrived Volvo’s new S90 luxury flagship sedan. And now that I’ve finally spent some quality time in one I’m just … wow. Volvo is kickin it.

First impression: Gorgeous. Sleek, understated, long in stance, artfully detailed—the S90 radiates that clean, functional style for which the Swedes are so justly famous. Actually, the S90 represents a step beyond the Swedish norm. Look at those bold, well-filling 20-inch alloy wheels, for instance. Or the formidable, Clint Eastwood-esque squint of those LED headlamps that Volvo calls a “Thor’s Hammer” design. The S90 is more than beautiful. It’s got attitude.

I mention the XC90 because, inside, the S90 carries forward many of its award-winning sibling’s cockpit cues (in fact, it shares almost three-quarters of its parts with the SUV). This is minimalist heaven. Elegant sweeps of leather, yards of matte Linear walnut wood inlays, beauteous digital instruments—I could almost feel my blood pressure receding as I slipped into this airy, comforting space. At center stage sits an iPad-like Sensus touchscreen, similar to the XC90’s, flanked by striking vertical “air blades.” Am I in an automobile or a multi-million-dollar motor yacht?

The upscale Inscription package ($3,300) adds gobs of great stuff—including active-bending headlamps, the Linear walnut, ventilated front seats, four-zone climate control (including a cooled glovebox!), illuminated sill plates, and much more. My lavishly outfitted tester also featured such options as the Vision Package ($1,950), which includes a surround-view camera and blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alerts, a magnificent Bowers & Wilkins audio system ($2,650), and those 20-inch Inscription alloy wheels (($750). Total sticker for all of the above and much more: $66,105.

The standard engine in the T6 AWD edition is a 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder. But for its four-door flagship, Volvo had no intention of letting the mill breathe fresh air on its own. No, the maker added supercharging and turbocharging to create a mini-monster good for 316 horsepower. That’s 158 horsepower per liter, gang, the kind of explosive force you’d find in a NASA rocket or, say, Clay Matthews’ quadriceps. Having a supercharger in the mix means zero boost lag. Indeed, the torque peak is on tap at just 2,200 rpm (remember, this is a four-cylinder engine we’re talking about). Despite weighing more than two tons, the S90 AWD can sprint to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, says Volvo. At the same time, thanks to the efficiency of the punching-above-its-weight-class bantamweight under the hood, the S90 AWD returns 31 mpg on the highway.

During my week with the S90 I think I complained about it having “only” a four-cylinder about, oh, zero times. It’s just not an issue. The turbo even helps mute the four’s inherent raucousness. Is the S90’s engine as velvety as a big V-8? No. Is it far off? Nope. Even in the Los Angeles urban bump and grind, never did I find a moment where the S90 was lacking in grunt. A huge portion of that credit also owes to the standard (and fabulous) 8-speed automatic. It dances with the super/turbo four like Fred Astaire twirled with Ginger Rogers (I know, I know … go look ‘em up).

Yeah, I ran the S90 through my usual sports-car mountain byways, and it didn’t trip over itself. But never mind that; it’s not a sports sedan. Instead, the S90 is a superlative, finely crafted luxury tourer. It simply shines. I lost count of how many passengers commented on the stunning, modern-art interior. Or the concert-grade quality of the B&W audio system. Or the simplicity and intuitiveness of using the Sensus touchscreen. Or the suppleness of the ride. And they weren’t even driving. It was me, at the wheel, who was really enjoying the car. The S90’s steering is fluid and full of life. Visibility is outstanding to all four corners. The seats are … well, nobody makes seats like Volvo. I honestly don’t know how they do it. With some makers, you can fiddle with seat positioning all day long and never get comfortable. In a Volvo, you can fiddle any way you want but always you’re gonna be comfortable anyway. And when you get the settings exactly right … ahhhh, pure heaven. May I add right here that ventilated/cooled seats rank right up there with the electric starter on the list of Greatest Automotive Inventions Ever? No “great” luxury sedan should be without them.

Let’s look at that bottom line again: $66,105. That’s loaded. With all-wheel drive. With every safety feature you could ever want (and some you’ve never heard of)—all engineered by the very best in the safety business. With a bod that stands out in its exquisite simplicity. With superb leather and wood and a stereo system worthy of Carnegie Hall. With one of the most over-achieving powertrains around. With Swedish style at its very best.

If you’re really judicious with the options, you could pick up a BMW 530i for around the S90 Inscription’s sticker. And, for sure, plenty of buyers will do just that. But the Volvo’s uncanny combo of simplicity and performance and security and loveliness really spoke to me. Which is to say, if I were lucky enough to be shopping in this rarified luxury league, I’d give the S90 T6 AWD Inscription a long, hard look.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $53,945/$66,105 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHCsupercharged and turbocharged 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 22/31 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 195.4 x 74.6 x 56.8 in
WHEELBASE 115.8 in
WEIGHT 4,100 lb
0-60 MPH 5.7 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 130 mph (est)