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- Elegant, distinctive Scandinavian design
- Fuel-efficient, refined powertrains
- Segment-leading active safety
- Quiet, comfortable ride
- Tight access to roomy back seat
- Full (CarPlay) connectivity not a standard feature
- Brand still lacks luxury cachet
The 2017 Volvo S90 gets all the elegance and style of the brilliant new XC90 crossover, in a sedan package.
The 2017 Volvo S90 sedan arrives to replace the S80 in the Swedish automaker’s lineup. Though it’s more than that; Volvo is starting over, with the S90 a fully reconceived flagship sedan—built on a new platform, with new engines under the hood, a new design concept, and virtually no carry-over pieces from the previous sedan.
The S90 earns a rating of 8.0 from our experts, even before full safety scores are available. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The S90 stands alongside the freshly transformed XC90 crossover, which arrived last year as a 2016 model, as a model that’s been built with a fully re-engineered scalable product architecture (SPA) that Volvo has developed in Sweden, independently of former owner Ford and under the watch of its new owner, China’s Geely Holding.
Volvo S90 styling and performance
The reboot that’s been given to Volvo’s largest sedan appears to have been good for the Swedish automaker, allowing it to let go of the former format and rethink this model. Rather than chasing German sport sedans number for number on specification sheets, it’s instead a thoughtfully conceived expression in itself, adding up a graceful design, a spacious, bright, and functional interior, and a relaxed but satisfying impression from the driver’s seat. And of course, in living up to the automaker’s reputation earned over many decades, there’s some world-first active-safety technology on board.
Like its crossover cousin, with which it shares some underpinnings, the S90 sedan becomes far better looking—make it head-turning—compared to the svelte yet somewhat dated-looking sedan it replaces. Volvo has had, in recent memory, a boxy, utilitarian side, and a rounded, bulbous era of design, and the new S90 leapfrogs past both of those themes, into something new, yet distinctly Scandinavian. The new S90 gets a clean, uncluttered look on the outside, with the swept-back silhouette of a sport sedan, an athletic stance from the front and rear, and in general, some very pleasing proportions. The design follows some of the themes and details of the Concept Coupe that made auto-show rounds in 2013—and that’s a very good thing. With the combination of the upright grille and organic hoodline, as well as the distinctive, “Thor’s hammer” headlights, it’s likely to be instantly recognized as a Volvo.
Inside, the S90 looks a lot like the XC90—also a good thing, as we’d consider that interior to be one of the best on the market—with the Sensus Touch infotainment system front and center, replacing clusters of buttons and knobs and underscoring a clean, elegant look that has subtle, organic contours, and some real metal and wood panels. Top T8 models will get a distinctive crystal-glass shift knob.
There will be three choices for North America: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in a T5 model, making 250 horsepower; a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in a T6, producing 316 hp; and a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 working with an electric drive system in a range-topping T8 Twin Engine. The T8 model will be rated at 400 hp for the U.S. market, but Volvo hasn’t yet released more details about this version, which will arrive later in the model year. These powertrains work through an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission, and for now T5 models have front-wheel drive while T6 models get all-wheel drive.
There are higher-performance variants of the S90 model line on the way, but they’re not here yet. Even in T6 form, with its firmer Dynamic setting and the air suspension, the S90 feels quite softly sprung. But it holds true to Volvo’s target of “relaxed confidence,” in that the suspension loads up evenly and predictably and unloads out of corners with grace and finesse. The plush but well-controlled ride straddles a perfect middle ground for many touring needs, pleasing passengers without too much bobbing or pitching over imperfect surfaces—and it’s very quiet, thanks in part to active noise cancellation technology.
Although we lack a clear apples-to-oranges comparison between models with and without the optional air suspension, we anticipate that it helps contribute to a more settled ride and enhanced handling—and it’s a must for those planning to take advantage of the S90’s unexpectedly high 4,600-pound max towing rating (yes, more than many crossovers).
S90 comfort, safety, and features
The S90 is about 195 inches long, with a wheelbase (distance between front and rear wheels) of nearly 116 inches—and that makes it slightly larger than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, and Audi A6 but not quite as large as the German luxury flagships (the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8). Although interior volume specifications haven’t yet been released, the S90 feels sized more closely with that larger set.
Which goes to say, the S90 has a spacious-feeling cabin and great seats all around. They’re among the most supportive, adjustable seats available in any vehicle. Meanwhile, rear seats are also very well contoured, with excellent support and good cushioning. The passenger cell itself is positioned quite far back for a long luxury sedan, and that does affect head room in back (taller occupants might find head room just adequate) and the door cutlines; we thought that getting into and out of the back seats in the S90 was tougher than it should be in a large sedan.
Cargo space is an ample 17.7 cubic feet, but that includes the underfloor compartment. Seatbacks also flip forward, with a reasonably wide pass-through.
Looking for a spacious luxury wagon version? It’s coming to the U.S. sometime next year, as the 2018 Volvo V90—the same in most respects, but with a much longer roofline (and impressive panoramic moonroof) and lower-riding sport-wagon loading ease and versatility.
The S90 is exceptionally quiet inside. While the tight body structure and smart noise insulation techniques are part of it, other credit goes to Volvo’s incorporation of active noise cancellation, which counters any engine boom and road coarseness (and supplements engine noise during driving in Dynamic mode).
Volvo’s Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous feature, arrives in second-generation form in the S90—as a standard feature across the model line—and now functions up to 81 mph. The S90 also has a segment-leading animal detection system to help identify deer and other animals that may be in the roadway—helping to reduce or avoid a collision. That system and Pilot Assist are on the standard-feature list, while blind-spot and cross-traffic alert systems are optional.
Pricing for the 2017 S90 lineup starts at $47,945 for the T5 Momentum, and range up to $57,245 for the top-trim T6 Inscription model. Adding the full slate of options, including a cold-weather package, other packages, the air suspension, the head-up display, and excellent Bowers & Wilkins sound, to the latter model will push the price past $65,000.
The 2017 S90 goes on sale starting in summer 2016, with the T8 plug-in expected sometime in the first half of 2017.