By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
We’ve been enamored with Volvo automobiles since we started writing reviews in 1991. At that time, Volvo was making the move away from the square body shapes that look as if they were a designed with a T-square into more stylish lines and on to recent more innovative designs.
But design has only been a small part of the Volvo evolution. The company’s unwavering obsession with safety is legendary and the seats have continued to be some of the most comfortable in business.
Volvo had also gone through a labyrinth of ownership changes until 2010 when Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China bought the Swedish company. Fortunately, all the owners have allowed and encouraged Volvo to be “Volvo” and not change into some other kind of car company. This freedom and financial support has allowed Volvo to stay a bit quirky and to do things their own way, rather than just being one of the auto industry sheep.
The 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription we drove a few weeks ago, shows how far the company has progressed in styling, technology and innovation.
Designed to do battle with cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus GX, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and a handful of other mid-size luxury cars, the S90 runs with a fast crowd, and we think it’s a contender. Not only are most of these cars high in status, most of them are literally very fast, however so is the Volvo S90.
A few years ago, Volvo made the commitment to change their engine line entirely to four-cylinders. That created a special challenge for building mid-size luxury performance cars. To do this Volvo designed two new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. One is a turbocharged version (the front-wheel drive T5) rated at 250-hp and the other is a turbocharged and supercharged (all-wheel drive T6) version producing 316 horsepower. While this might not quite equal the performance levels of competitors’ V-8 or turbocharged V-6 power plants, they offer some impressive acceleration numbers with the T6 accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds according to buff magazine testing. Top speed is 133 mpg and the EPA fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. The T5 is about 3 mpg better on the combined estimates. We averaged 26.4 mpg during our week behind the wheel of the T6. Next year Volvo will add the T8 plug-in hybrid version which will have even better performance and fuel economy.
The T6 engine has an innovative configuration that uses a supercharger to produce extra power at low engine RPMs and then as the engine speed reaches mid to higher levels (about 3,500 rpms) a larger capacity turbocharger takes over adding extra performance.
Volvo outfits the S90 models with an excellent Aisin-Warner eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. The transmission also has four Drive Modes (Comfort, Dynamic, ECO or an Individual setting) that are selected using an elegant looking rotary knob on the center console. Each drive mode changes the engine, transmission, steering, brakes, stability control and start/stop functions to create the optimum setting for the selected mode.
Our favorite S90 feature is the elegant interior with large expanses of wood and clean Scandinavian lines. Focal points of the interior include two large control screens. The 12.3-inch digital driver display allows the driver to adapt and customize the instrument panel with combinations of the gauges, navigation and media displays. The 9.3-inch Sensus Connect Touchscreen mounted at the top of the center stack is a user-friendly way to manage the navigation, communications, media and vehicle applications. The handy touch screen uses infrared technology that even works when wearing gloves. And the seats are not only comfortable and supportive, but they look great. Audiophiles will appreciate the available 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.
Volvo’s quest for safety now includes the world’s first Large Animal Detection with Auto Brake along with the Road Edge Detection & Run-off Road Protection system. In addition, it has the Blind Spot Safety and City Safety Systems that Volvo pioneered. It also has a Semi-Autonomous Pilot Assist System that nearly drives itself, actually steering through corners. However, when we experimented with the hand-free driving we were admonished to put hands back on the steering wheel., by the Safety Monitor.
As a luxury car, the Volvo S90 leans more toward comfort than sports car but does it without compromising the vehicle’s confidence. The Volvo S90 T6 feels well-balanced and poised driving briskly on winding mountain roads, but without the stiff suspension we’ve felt with some of the luxury performance sedans.
The Volvo S90 has two available powertrains: the T5 front-wheel drive which has a base price of $47,945 and all-wheel drive T6 which starts at $53,945. The base trim is called the Momentum and the optional ($2,700) Inscription trim adds features like active bending LED headlights with auto high beam, walnut trim, ventilated front seats, Nappa leather trim with leather dash and door uppers and a long list of other comfort and cosmetic upgrades. The S90 T6 Inscription with all the extras can take the price to as high as $64,405. At that price the Volvo S90 becomes one of the best luxury sedan values and an outstanding combination of styling, comfort, performance and safety.