Big-scale Volvo S90 competes for European supremacy

by Andy Stonehouse :: posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2016
Malaga, Spain – There was something oddly fitting about holding the global debut of Volvo’s new high-class sedan – and its later-arriving wagon version – near the Costa del Sol city that was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso.

The region is the Southern California of Europe (even looks a lot like it, too, with a hundred kilometers of tile-roofed time-shares clinging to the coast), and in attracting legions of sun-seeking Germans and Brits, one can see that there’s finally a Volvo absolutely ready to take its rightful place in the prestige auto market previously cornered by those folks.

The large and elegant S90 shares its platform with the recently released XC90 SUV, a vehicle that’s such a quantum leap from the fine but rather elderly vehicle it replaced that you can hardly tell where it came from. And S90 is indeed substantial, 195 inches long overall, with a very roomy and comfortable interior, front and back.

The S90 has its sights set on the Audi A6, Mercedes’ E-Class and the 5-Series BMW, and with this new, technology-laden full-size sedan, they’ve created a very striking machine that’s sure to bring in a lot of customers seeking something just a little more unusual than the regular suspects – a move Picasso would probably approve. Lovers of the old-fashioned Volvo wagon, those hippie hearses of various iterations, will also see an absolutely beautiful V90 wagon available in 2017, with proportions unimaginable by owners of older V70s.

The Swedish car builders, who are now underwritten by the Chinese – allowing access to development capital and an unbelievably gigantic Asian market – have stayed true to their core values, however, and couch most of their discussions about the S90 and V90 in terms of Scandinavian sanctuary and superb safety, versus the flashy and often pompous work of the Germans.

To that end, S90 incorporates an even more involved range of safety aids and predictive sensors to enhance the vehicle’s strengthened steel frame. And for those of you who’ve had a bad incident with an elk or a deer, you’ll appreciate the new Large Animal Detection system, which uses radar and cameras to scan the roadsides and automatically brake for you.

Pedestrians and bicyclists are also covered by other pre-collision systems, and a new and quite invasive lane departure system will absolutely keep you on track, unless you want to go commando and turn it off. As you are still allowed to do, in these not-quite-autonomous times, though the amazingly responsive cruise and distance control really will nearly drive the car for you.

And despite being a pretty large vehicle, the Swedes are also committed to a future plan that will only see four-cylinder (and even three-cylinder) engines on all future products, but turbocharged, supercharged or even electrified for V-8-worthy output. For the S90 and V90, that means a 2.0-liter base turbo four that makes 250 horsepower and a turbo/supercharged option good for 316 HP.

Seem like small potatoes, for a vehicle that’s over 4,000 pounds, in all-wheel-drive format? The brawnier engine will still get you to 60 in 5.7 seconds, and other than a smidge of turbo lag, both do a surprisingly competent job of zipping you along, as we found on winding mountain roads and the unbelievably smooth (and incredibly expensive, if you add up the tolls) European high-speed motorways.

Both the S90 and V90 are broad and beautiful but not as ominous – or as expensive as the Germans’ comparative models. The S90, which goes on sale in the U.S. in July, starts at $46,950; expect V90 prices to be a few thousand dollars more, but with much more real estate involved, in that high-capacity rear cargo area.

If you haven’t already seen it on a new XC90, the action in the cabin is now centered around a large, horizontal tablet on the dash, split into digestible quadrants or infinitely scrollable to provide audio, navigation or tweaking of the safety and convenience features. It’s not quite as all-encompassing as the huge tablet in a Tesla, but it certainly does change the character – and focus – of the car.

The Scandinavian Sanctuary thing is absolutely on the money – these automobiles are like spas on the inside, with a quiet, simple elegance the Swedes have consciously designed as rolling chill-out zones for harried commuters.

Volvo’s seats, already some of the most comfortable on the market, are even more well-finished in these two cars, with available Nappa leather, a massage function and even a new energy-absorbing internal bracket architecture, designed to reduce tissue damage in a crash.

2017 Volvo S90 MSRP: $46,950 Powertrain: 250-HP or 316-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine/eight-speed automatic transmission EPA figures: TBA    
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