Now under Chinese ownership, Swedish brand Volvo has always been synonymous with its family-sized saloon and estate cars. Currently it’s expanding into other areas, but the latest S90 saloon, along with the V90 estate, remain the absolute epitome of the brand.
That means it’s hugely important when a new model comes out, so we’re testing the latest S90 since it can be ordered now. The V90 estate won’t be delivered until nearer the end of the year. The car in question is the entry-level model with a 187bhp D4 2.0-litre Drive-E diesel and is finished in Momentum spec.
Underneath that rather fine new bodywork with its Thor’s Hammer LED lights, sits the SPA platform, a massive investment, which is intended to be adaptable across several model ranges. The S90 is bigger than the preceding S80 and in fact shares a wheelbase with the XC90 SUV.
Despite the extra size, there isn’t a noticeable weight premium thanks to the advanced chassis and more compact engines. Our car came fitted with the optional air springs, which would work well for those who intend to tow with the car thanks to the self-levelling nature of the suspension. Adaptive dampers add happily to the mix.
That increased sophistication extends to the cabin. This is the car that Volvo intends to take square aim at the likes of Jaguar or BMW. The large portrait-shaped infotainment screen works well and reduces the need for many switches. There is also a screen in front of the driver giving lots of information.
The styling may not be to everyone’s tastes but it is classy and of course there is plenty of room. People get lots of space and the luggage gets 500 litres to roll around in. Seating is comfy and commodious and it’s all rather lovely. Whether it is truly upmarket enough to challenge the German competitors is a decision for the individual. Whatever, it’s well built, generous and thoughtful.
But that large infotainment screen has Volvo’s own system and it’s not as intuitive as it should be. Staring at the screen as you try to work out what to do is not a safety feature, a feature that Volvo has always taken so seriously. The car is packed with safety tech like auto-stop City Safety, Pilot Assist and Run-off Road Protection. You’d feel a dork actually crashing one of these.
That would require you to be actually moving, so let’s do that. Volvo is committed to making only four-cylinder engines, and the all-aluminium Drive-E bi-turbo 2.0-litre engine fits the bill. It’s slightly noisy at tickover to be honest, but that goes away the faster you go. By 50mph the S90 is getting quieter and flat out in third it’s actually quieter than an E-Class. That’s quite an achievement.
Performance may not seem amazing but it is surprising, given that this is the entry engine. The 30-70mph acceleration is faster than a Jaguar XF and less than a second slower than the class-leading Mercedes E220 d. A 0-62mph time of 8.2sec seems eminently respectable.
Even though this is a big executive saloon, the S90 can gallop along at a good pace, with bags of torque to keep things relaxed. The steering doesn’t engender the confidence you’d really want, but otherwise this handles like a big, confident beast that’s surprisingly wieldy. Naturally, it gets a bit wooly and wayward at higher speeds on twisty roads, but few drivers will be expecting sports car handling. It’s stable, fairly adept and always comfortable.
All of this Volvo-ness comes with an impressive raft of standard kit, from connectivity to safety. Even in this trim there is an auto box, adaptive cruise control, all the screens mentioned, all the safety equipment you could shake a stick at – carefully – and lots more. Most of it would be considered as optional and expensive extras by BMW.
Overall, you’re left in no doubt that this is a Volvo. It conforms to the Volvo view of what a big saloon should be, and the acquisition by Chinese company Geely Holdings hasn’t changed that. It has injected billions of pounds, and it shows.
This is a splendid big saloon, and those who like Volvos ought to be very pleased with it, and an asking price of £33,000. It can’t quite match the attractive driving attributes of say an Audi A6 or a Jaguar XF or a 5 Series, but then we’re reminded that not everyone rates those qualities above the more worthy and tangible qualities of the Volvo S90.