Volvo S90 — Impressive mid-sized luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Over the years, Volvo sedans were known as practical and sensible — and loaded with the latest safety features. But many people thought Volvos were bland and didn't arouse much passion in the driving experience. Bring a new Volvo home and the neighbors would hardly notice.

That was then and this is now — Volvo vehicles have been changing from ugly ducklings into beautiful swans over the last few years epitomized by the company's new top line crossover in 2015 — the XC90 — and now its flagship sedan, the 2017 S90.

If you liked the styling of the new XC90 as we did, you’ll love the looks of the S90. Both vehicles are built on the same SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform — as is the all-new V90 wagon — and give the S90 a long 115.8-inch wheelbase for an excellent ride and roomy interior.

The S90 has very clean lines that flow smoothly from front to back, and a coupe-like roofline. The new signature Volvo grille is integrated neatly into the design with harmoniously shaped air intakes and headlights. The S90 does have its own signature of sorts — a "Thor's Hammer" configuration within the headlight assembly. Much of the S90's styling cues come from the Concept Coupe that Volvo debuted at the 2013 Frankfort Auto Show, especially the low sweeping roofline, steeply raked windshield and rear glass, long hood, and the concave grille.

The new design language continues inside with a cabin that features high-quality matte-finished open-pore wood inlays and polished aluminum trim pieces. Even the door handles have a beautiful, contemporary look. Most vehicle controls are operated via a 12.3-inch tablet-like portrait-oriented ‘Sensus Connect’ touchscreen that’s attractive, bright and crystal clear. The dashboard is an exercise in minimalist styling compared to modern dashboard designs.

On the downside, that means you have to go into the large screen to access often-used audio buttons and most climate controls. Aside from the video tutorials that come with the car we recommend tutorial time at the dealership to learn the system, rather than trying to maneuver through the numerous screens while operating the vehicle.

The gauge cluster in front of the driver is an attractive representation of the instruments and there's space in between to display a map, turn-by-turn directions, a phone menu, and various sound-system functions. Steering wheel controls include adaptive cruise control and audio functions.

Even the two engine choices — designated T5 and T6 — are in the modernistic style. Both are versions of a 2.0-liter four cylinder that offers both a supercharger and a turbocharger to produce 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque (T5) and 316 horsepower and 297 pound-feet of torque (T6). The T5 models are driven by the front wheels and the T6 comes with all-wheel drive. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that we found smooth shifting and very receptive when a downshift was required. As you might expect, mileage is stellar measured at 23 mpg city, 34 highway and 27 combined in the T5. The T6 is rated at 22/31/25. Premium gas is required.

We found the performance lusty in our top-line T6 Inscription even if it does fall short of some of its European competitors. Most people buying in this segment we think value solid luxury-like performance and probably aren't concerned if their car has sub-5-second 0-to-60 time. The T6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in 5.6 seconds and at 14.1 seconds @ 101 mph in the quarter mile. The front-wheel-drive T5 with 250 horses also gets the job done in commendable fashion with a 0-to-60 time of 6.3 seconds. And we found the S90 handled our winding back-road "test track" quite adequately for a mid-sized luxury car.

The hallmark of Volvo vehicles is its reputation for safety, and the S90 carries on that tradition with a full suite of safety systems, and advanced architectural structure and materials, including high-strength boron steel. The standard forward-collision avoidance system known as City Safety is the umbrella name for all Volvo cars’ auto-brake functions. It also includes the world’s first automatic braking system should the driver turn in front of an oncoming vehicle.

The S90 T5 starts at $47,945 without options, and there are numerous mouth-watering features available. But none-the-less the S90 T5 comes with a long list of standard features. Our top line T6 Inscription test car came with a base price of $57,245 including the $3,300 Inscription package and destination charge. Several optional packages and a great-sounding Bowers and Wilkins audio system for $2,600 brought the bottom line to $66,105.

Base price: $47,945; As driven, $66,105
Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged, turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 316 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 295 foot-pounds @ 2,200 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 115.8 inches
Length: 195.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,222 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 city, 31 highway, 25 combined
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus ES

The Good
• Outstanding styling inside and out
• Quality cabin materials
• Fuel efficient engine

The Bad
• No power tilt-telescoping steering wheel

The Ugly
• Lacks German-like sporty dynamics