Road Test - Volvo S90 D4 Momentum Automatic
The Volvo S90 replaces the worthy S80, a versatile salon that was perhaps just a shade too small to compete with the sector-leading Mercedes E-Class or its other rivals.
The S90 represents a serious raising of the game for the Chinese-owned Swedish automaker. Bigger than its predecessor, and with distinctive, clean Scandinavian styling, the S90 certainly looks the part. It looks long and very elegant, with an unfussy design that from some angles looks closer to Jaguar than Mercedes or BMW – though it very much has its own style.
It’s clean and simple at the front, with a new version of the Volvo diagonal bar grille, and T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights. The roof line looks low, but in fact a high waist line and disguises the tall and roomy cabin.
The S90 shares its platform with the XC90 SUV and carries across many features of the 4x4 model. Along with the new V90 estate Volvo has a three-pronged approach to the executive sector.
That is a crowded market right now, with a new E-Class on and the new Jaguar XF gaining some good orders since its launch last year. A new 5-series is due early next year, and Audi’s A6 is due a refresh too, so the main contenders could all be very modern vehicles by the end of 2017.
So the Volvo has to be good, and needs to have the technological arsenal to compete with the E-Class, which bristles with high-tech safety systems, including automatic lane changing and highly effective lane-tracking adaptive cruise control.
And the Volvo does not disappoint. It doesn’t quite match the Mercedes’ systems – no automatic lane-changing, for example – but the S90 incorporates a lot of autonomous features, and given Volvo’s traditional focus on safety, it does what it does extremely well.
Adaptive cruise is extremely smooth and progressive – and it will take the car down to a standstill in traffic. It will resume if you’re don’t stop for more than a few seconds – otherwise the stop/start switches off the engine and you need to blip the throttle to resume. The car smoothly accelerates up to the car behind.
The lane departure system is pleasant too. Sometimes these can be a bit “snatchy” if you veer toward the next lane. But the Volvo is very gentle, sensing the drift and easing the car back into lane. It also pulls you back if you’re slow to respond to a curve in the road. Very reassuring.
It’s a little firmer if you try to change lanes suddenly without indicating. You get a brisk audio warning too, as you do if you’re too slow on the brakes when the car in front slows down. Volvo’s City Safety system is fully integrated, and will help you avoid those pesky low-speed dings.
Under the bonnet
The powertrain is Volvo’s new 2.0-litre D4 four-cylinder diesel, which was first seen on the S80 a couple of years ago, mated to a smooth and competent 8-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a traditional centre console-mounted PRND shift, with tiptronic override but no paddles on this trim level.
The D4 engine is smooth and low-revving, with a slight burble on tickover. It’s a 190bhp unit – less powerful than the 225bhp D5 we tested in the XC90 last year, but still with ample grunt for the job.
The interior is highly minimal – the only car on the market with fewer knobs and switches is probably the Tesla S. Our test car has charcoal grey dash with dark brushed aluminium highlights and chrome detailing. Charcoal leather seats are electric and extremely comfortable, with scalloped side support and firm thigh support. There are generous storage pockets in the doors and a useful tray-cum-cupholder between the front seats. Just one USB port though, inside the central storage box.
The instrument panel is digital, and changes subtly depending on drive mode selected – a rev counter appears on Sport, replaced by a ‘charge’ gauge on Eco, for example.
A portrait-format digital panel sits at the centre of the dash, with just a few controls (volume, some forward and reverse play buttons and heated screen buttons) below the screen. The screen is a 9in unit on our entry-level Momentum model; sporty R-Design and top-line Inscription trim gets a bigger 12.3in version.
A boot release button and a dashboard light regulator are the only other dashboard buttons. Everything else is either controlled via stalks, steering wheel or via the touch-screen satnav. There’s no “controller” as on Mercedes, BMW or Audi rivals.
The screen operates like a tablet, with maps sizeable by pinching and functions accessed by swiping your fingers sideways across the screen. It covers a lot of ground – this is a lot more than a sat-nav – so the effort in learning how it functions pays dividends.
Much of the functionality has been carried across from the XC90. And pleasingly, Volvo seems to have addressed the weakness of the early X90’s map display, where roads would disappear if you zoomed out too far. A much more detailed map with better graphics now anchors the system, and a traffic flow function that highlights traffic snarl-ups in red is a useful function.
Ride and handling
The system is highly customisable too, especially in terms of ride and handling. That’s great news for chauffeurs who want a soft ride but with positive handling. The system allows the driver to set a customised profile. So you can set a Comfort setting, but with firmer steering and better throttle response. Or you can have an Eco setting but with Sports handling.
We settled on Comfort, with the middle steering setting and sports throttle for more responsive acceleration around town. Electronic air suspension means precise, level cornering with virtually no body roll.
With this setting in place for the majority of our test, we averaged 43.2mpg over around 200 miles, though the average speed of 24mph was compromised by some heavy traffic jams on the M25 and M3 – an occupational hazard! On a motorway run at 70mph, though, the instant consumption display hovered around the 60-70mpg level, so an airport run should easily get you a return well into the 50s if you factor in the slow bits at either end of the journey! Not far off the claimed 64.2mpg combined figure, in fact.
Passenger comfort and luggage space
Rear legroom is as good as anything in the sector, with the possible exception of the bulky BMW 5-series Gran Turismo. And headroom is very good too – don’t worry about any roofline problems.
We were equally impressed by the boot space – there is enough width to accommodate two of our large cases side by side, with enough length to get two of the smaller cases behind them. And there is still room for soft bags or suit carriers on top of the cases. With 500 litres in total, the boot space is up there with the likes of the Mercedes S-Class. Electric remote opening and a close button on the lid are nice touches too.
If you want something a little less ostentatious than a Mercedes but without any compromise on quality or practicality, the S90 is the car for you. Its subtle, handsome looks look modern and classy – people will do a double-take when they see the badge.
This is a very well-conceived car, with very good operating economics and decent CO2 performance – 116g/km with an automatic box, or 109g/km with manual.
And even better news comes in the form of a revised chauffeur programme for the car. This includes a special “chauffeur pack” on S90, V90 and XC90 models, as well as replacement licenced vehicles across the UK. The new S90 D4 model is available with the chauffeur pack for a price of just under £29,000.
A T8 petrol-electric plug-in hybrid will join as range-topper next year. This offers claimed combined fuel economy of 44g/km under current tests, and an all-electric range of 28 miles –enough to meet the proposed London private hire regulations post-2018. Even so, it probably won’t beat the D4 diesel on operating costs – our mpg return is up there with the best in the class.
The interior is minimal and clean, like a Tesla – but a lot more accommodating, with very comfortable leather seats – supportive in the front and padded in the back. It feels like a big car too, with above average legroom and headroom for the class.
Volvo gave the S90 plenty of hype – and the finished car has delivered on the promise. It’s a genuine competitor to the established German and British designs, and should be on any executive chauffeur’s shopping list.
Volvo S90 D4 Momentum Automatic
|Volvo On Call with app||£450|
|Nappa leather upholstery||£1,050|
|Power driver seat||£600|
|Power passenger seat||£400|
|Electronic air suspension||£950|
|Price as tested||£38,005|
|Engine||1,969cc four-cylinder turbodiese|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|
|Combined fuel economy||64.2mpg|
|Luggage volume||500 litres|
|Fuel tank capacity||55 litres|