2017 Volvo S90: Smooth like Velvet

Strong points
  • Comfortable seats
  • Refined and solid ride
  • Attention-grabbing style
Weak points
  • Engine lacks a rich, upscale sound
  • No panoramic sunroof
  • Reliability reputation needs work
Full report

After the successful launch of the XC90 midsize SUV almost two years ago, Swedish brand Volvo followed up with the S90 and the V90 wagon. All these new models were styled and engineered under the company’s new design language and environmentally friendly personality.

The S90 replaced the aging and unloved Volvo S80, and quickly outsold its predecessor. In fact, in all of 2016, only 23 units of the S80 found home across Canada, while in the first three months of 2017, 101 units of the S90 and V90 wagon were scooped up. Ok, that’s still a small number compared to what BMW and Mercedes-Benz dishes out, but the Swedes are clearly on the upswing. And let’s not forget a brand-new XC60 crossover as well as 40 Series vehicles on their way, too.

What’s undeniable about the 2017 Volvo S90 is that from a styling standpoint, it stands out in the crowd of midsize luxury sedans. The fastback-like roofline, the sleek bodywork and the crisp detailing of the front and rear fascia all give the car muscle and elegance. The T-shaped LED daytime running lights and the C-shaped taillights are unique in the industry—at least for now—and our test car’s optional 20-inch wheels complete the look perfectly. Still, some people love the S90’s design while others don’t care for it.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The elegant design continues inside the sedan as well. There’s just a right amount of brightwork to spruce up the overall look, while low-glare wood panelling graces the dashboard, door panels and centre console of the Inscription trim level. The base Momentum variant gets a choice of aluminum or wood trim. There’s a lot going on here, particularly on the doors where beige, black, wood and chrome all clash together, but the appearance is a lot warmer than what’s found in its German rivals.

As usual in Volvo products, seat comfort is grandiose. The Inscription version’s perforated nappa leather upholstery is soft and cosy, and up front, the seats are both heated and ventilated. Rear-seat occupants also get treated to supportive seats, although the middle passenger won’t be quite as privileged due to a narrow cushion. The sloping roofline also cuts in on headroom back there, and it’s a shame that a panoramic sunroof isn’t offered like in many of the S90’s rivals. With a volume of 500 litres, the trunk is pretty big.

The infotainment system is a mix of hits and misses. The screen is big, which is great for the navigation system map, and fairly reactive to finger poking, too. However, some on-screen commands have small button zones and certain climate control settings require a multi-step operation. Swiping a finger across the screen to scroll up and down menus is fine when the car isn’t in motion, but when it is, the process is much more difficult. On the other hand, the 12.3-inch driver instrument panel in the 2017 Volvo S90 Inscription can host the navigation map and directions, which is neat.

From now on, only a quartet of pistons will power every Volvo product. Displacing a total of 2.0 litres, the T6 Drive-E four-cylinder mill in the S90 is boosted by both a turbocharger and a supercharger to produce 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It’s connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission and, in Canada, standard all-wheel drive.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The engine is gutsy and despite its seemingly complex configuration, quite smooth and refined. The S90 can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in a little more than six seconds, which is plenty quick, and there’s always torque available for the occasional burst of speed. On the other hand, while the engine doesn’t sound all that bad, some luxury-car buyers might desire the silkier soundtrack of six-cylinder and V8 engines. That’s no longer an option at Volvo.

The compromise is lower emissions and better fuel economy than with the old six-cylinder units. We recorded an average of 8.7 L/100 km over the course of our test, which is pretty good considering the size and output of the 2017 Volvo S90. Official ratings are set at 10.8 L/100 around town and 7.6 on the highway.

Volvo also puts a great deal of effort into making their cars safe. Aside from the City Safety front precollision system, which not only detects pedestrians and cyclists, but also large animals on the road ahead, the S90 includes run-off road mitigation to reduce the force of a potential impact, but also a semi-autonomous drive system. The latter works relatively well in keeping the car in its lane, but remains a technology that’s slowly progressing.

The S90 offers Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual drive modes, the latter being configurable to suit the driver’s tastes. There’s a noticeable difference between the Comfort and Dynamic settings, as the first one provides a supple ride, even on badly maintained roads, while the second one firms things up nicely without being too punitive. As a result, the S90 can measure up to a wide range of competitors in its market segment; the Lincoln Continental and Genesis G80 on one side, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Cadillac CTS on the other. In short, it offers an alluring mix of comfort, performance and handling.

The 2017 Volvo S90 starts out at $56,900 before freight and delivery charges, while our Inscription test car equipped with almost every option available rang in at $74K. Not a steal, but a competitive price in its category, especially next to the German sedans.

As a sidenote, Volvo confirmed some upcoming changes to the sedan. A long-wheelbase version of the S90 will soon be available for the Chinese market, and that's the only one we'll be getting in Canada for the 2018 model year. There might be some suspension retuning due to the extra length and weight, but we're not expecting a significant difference in the way the car handles.

The S90 sedan, or the equally smooth V90 wagon, impresses by its high level of refinement and smoothness, its solid drive and its arguably unique design. It may not be perfect, and the Swedish brand must improve their ranking in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey, but we think it’s heading in the right direction.

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