First Drive: The Volvo S90 and V90 Are Swedish for ‘Sexy’


2017 Volvo S90
The 2017 Volvo S90 sedan proves Sweden does luxury (quietly) better than anyone else | Volvo

The Volvo S90 sedan and V90 wagon aren’t the vehicles that will save the Swedish automaker from the same fate that befell its former rival, Saab. That job has already been done, thanks to the strong-selling and highly capable XC90 sport-utility.

No, these two vehicles are here to reassure the Volvo faithful that the company isn’t straying away from doing things a little differently from the competition. If you want a screaming V8 engine and bragging rights about how fast your luxury vehicle is around a racetrack, then you’ll want to bypass both these cars.

The S90 and V90 are more about overall relaxation and balance, whether it’s the peace of mind that comes with either of these car’s advanced safety features, or the blend of ride and handling that sacrifices sport – whatever the heck that word even means anymore – for comfort.

Location Front Quarter Volvo S90 Mussel Blue
The current range-topping Volvo S90 is the AWD Inscription model | Volvo

If you think we’ve spent too much time in a spa with cucumbers on our eyes and whale songs in the background, don’t worry, we aren’t going totally zen on you. That’s because Volvo was smart enough to maintain a streak of vanity when it came time to reinvent its flagship sedan and station wagon.

Looks matter, and these two are absolutely elegant in terms of their shape and proportions. Stretching 195.4 inches in length and riding a 115.8-inch wheelbase, the S90 is a crisply-tailored luxury sedan that allows your eye to flow from stem to stern without interruption. The chrome front grille and “Thor’s hammer” headlamps are the only “jewelry” you’ll find on the car, unless you count those meaty 20-inch wheels fitted to our T6 Inscription test car.

As for the wagon, it makes a good thing even better. Riding on the exact same wheelbase as the S90 sedan, the V90 wagon is one inch shorter than its trunk-toting sibling. You’d never guess it, because the same clean lines look even leaner when paired to the V90’s more spacious tail end and hatchback.

No matter which you choose, however, these are seriously handsome cars.

Volvo V90
The V90 is one slick wagon. The tapering tail end is especially attractive | Volvo

They are also very well-behaved, so long as you’re not looking to simulate scenes from The Fast and The Furious film franchise. We spent all our time with the T6 AWD Inscription trim level, which comes with standard all-wheel drive coupled to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is both supercharged and turbocharged. Total output is 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at a flat 2,200 to 5,400 RPM.

Is it crazy fast? Nope. And once again, that’s not the point.

This engine, mated to an extremely smooth eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, gets the job done quickly and efficiently. Official EPA fuel economy averages peg the S90 T6 AWD Inscription at 22 miles per gallon in the city, and 31 on the highway. At its fuel-sipping best, a base front-wheel drive S90 powered by the standard 250 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder returns 34 MPG on the highway. Later next year, a plug-in hybrid T8 model will arrive as the ultimate mileage champ of the S90/V90 range.

The interior of the Volvo S90 and V90
Clean and uncluttered, the Volvo S90 and V90 is generally spot-on in terms of detailing | Volvo

This is a 4,222-pound sedan, so the available power in normal city and highway driving conditions is fine, but not awe-inspiring. We wonder how the 250 horsepower base models stack up in FWD format? Less can actually be a whole lot more, dynamically speaking. Then again, the last time this reviewer expressed that about a Swedish luxury sedan, it was the Saab 9-5 with a four-cylinder versus the faster (but heavier) V6 model. So, let’s keep moving along, shall we?

Inside, the Volvo S90 and V90 cabin is refreshingly light and airy. The first thing you notice is the large touchscreen on the center of the dash. It’s nearly Tesla-like in terms of size, not to mention clarity. Some bizarre details include a knob on the center console that must be twisted to turn the car on or off. For a cabin that prides itself on doing away with superfluous buttons and fussy details, this is a strange addition.

Space in the front and rear is roomy for four adults, though three in the back could be a serious squeeze. To be honest, the rear seat isn’t as expansive as we expected when it comes to overall legroom.

The Volvo V90 wagon
The Volvo V90 wagon will please brand purists who consider SUVs and crossovers as being too obvious | Volvo

Being a Volvo, the S90 and V90 are loaded with safety technology, including a system that will steer and brake the car back to safety if it detects you’re drifting off the road. There are also sensors to detect large animals that might otherwise go unnoticed by the driver (i.e. a high-tech solution to Volvo’s famous “moose avoidance” test). One of the most hyped features was also the one that left us cold, however.

Volvo’s Pilot Assist is not a self-driving function, though you’re not boneheaded if the description might lead you to think otherwise. Available at speeds up to 80 miles per hour, Pilot Assist helps steer, brake and accelerate the car – but only if the driver’s hands stay on the steering wheel. There is also the caveat that the system only works in clear weather with easily identifiable road markings.

Volvo 240
Is any other car brand more synonymous with wagons than Volvo? Now if only the boxy 240 made a return to the lineup | Volvo

While we admire Volvo’s technological moxie, the system had us on the proverbial edge of our seat when the car suddenly shifted into an adjoining lane at highway speed. It happened more than once. Directly following our drive, an inconclusive conversation with a Volvo engineer about what might have happened if a car had been in the lane beside us didn’t exactly ease our concerns. The self-driving revolution remains full of potential, but in the S90 and V90 (not to mention several other luxury cars we’ve driven with similar systems) the tech presently feels very much in beta mode.

With a starting price of approximately $46,000 for the entry-level S90, the Swedish sedan is right in the very thick of the luxury car market. In upscale AWD Inscription trim, our S90 and V90 test cars carried a base price right around $57,000. The only thing that makes them a hard sell is that many luxury buyers’ current default choices are all SUVs and crossovers.

Come to think of it, Volvo will gladly sell you an XC90 – the chassis and powertrain is shared with the S90/V90 duo, after all.