2017 Volvo S90 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 28, 2017

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—built on a new platform, with new engines under the hood, a new design concept, and virtually no carryover 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.

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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.

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2017 Volvo S90

Styling

The 2017 Volvo S90 looks like a swept-back sport sedan on the outside, but on the inside it’s a supremely welcoming luxury car.

Even though it doesn’t plan to bring coupes back into the product plan for several more years, Volvo used a coupe concept to presage the S90—and the resulting sedan has managed to carry forth to production with a roofline that’s much the same, extending back smoothly into the rear decklid.

We give the S90 a 9 for styling, with much debate about whether it earns a final point for a perfect, "exceptional" 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Fundamentally it’s more than that; even though the S90 has front-wheel drive, it has a side profile that’s more like that of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan—with a long, nearly level hood, blunt/upright front and rear styling, and front wheels that have been pushed forward, to create a very short front overhang. On the other hand the rear overhang in the S90 appears a bit longer than that of most other sedans its size—which actually helps with that sport-sedan impression as it provides a visual trick of biasing the profile even farther rearward.

The S90 sports one of the brightest, most distinct grilles in the business. It’s inspired by that of the P1800 of the late 1960s and has vertical slats and a concave look from the side, with the new, even bigger version of the Volvo “iron mark” badge at its center. It’s flanked by “Thor’s Hammer” headlights that incorporate a multi-plate lens system, to bring a front-end design that’s altogether blunt and upright yet rounded at the corners. The rear window glass is framed by a wide strip of brightwork, and it lifts slightly near the rear to bring the whole vehicle a more wedge-like profile at a glance. And at the rear, the trunklid is surprisingly boxy and upright, with the lights like squared-off, inward-facing Cs. Here the Volvo brand is spelled out in big capital letters across the decklid area, not unlike in pickup trucks (though of course with fancier, chromed letters).

Inside, Volvo aimed to make the cabin design and ambiance “a Scandinavian sanctuary,” with contrasts provided by light tones, matte-metallic accents, and some wood-tone panels for the dash and doors that include a champfer to deliberately show off the grain and quality of the wood. The vents have been made vertically oriented, and flank the superb Sensus Touch touch-screen entertainment system, which replaces an array of buttons with simple menus, swipes, steering wheel, voice commands, and a single “home” button at the bottom.

Up close, the vents are moved by textured dials modeled after fine Swedish crystal; the shifter is reassuring in a tactile sense, with two clicks toward Drive required to shift directions; and the engine is started with a twist—not press—of a knob at the center console. Top T8 plug-in hybrid models will get a distinctive crystal-glass shift knob.

And that arrives at a general impression that holds throughout the S90’s cabin. From carpet to headliner and everything between, there’s really not a harsh surface in this car, and it holds to a minimalist aesthetic while simultaneously feeling functionally warm and welcoming.

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2017 Volvo S90

Performance

The 2017 Volvo S90 is not a performance-oriented sport sedan, but it holds true to Volvo’s target of offering “relaxed confidence” in almost any kind of driving.

The 2017 Volvo S90 earns a score of 7 for performance, thanks to crisp big-car handling and a lovely ride. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

No matter which version of the S90 you choose, you’re going to get a version of the same engine—a 2.0-liter inline-4. Front-wheel-drive T5 models get a turbocharged version, making 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, while T6 models have all-wheel drive and a special supercharged-and-turbocharged version of the same engine, making 316 hp and 295 lb-ft.

Both versions have an Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission, with Volvo skipping the steering-wheel paddle-shifters in favor of a shift gate that lets you manually select gears if you want. Both models are electronically limited to a top speed of 130 mph. And although that number might not matter to American buyers, the differences in 0-60-mph acceleration will: an official 6.5 seconds with the T5, or 5.7 seconds with the T6.

There might not be as much of a difference in real-world performance between the two as those numbers would indicate—partly because the T5 engine makes its peak torque at just 1,500 rpm while the T6 doesn’t reach full twist until 2,200. On the other hand Volvo has noted that the supercharger arrangement helps make throttle response more immediate.

While we haven’t yet driven those front-wheel-drive T5 models, in AWD T6 models we've found traction through the Haldex to very good. Nary a peep was heard from the tires in a hard launch from a stoplight on dry pavement, nor did we encounter much torque steer either.

S90 ride and handling

Although there are higher-performance variants of the S90 model line on the way, they’re not here yet, and the S90 feels quite softly sprung, even in T6 form with its firmer Dynamic setting and the air suspension. 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 the same kind of finesse. Only the heaviest heaves or bumps will upset the car mid-corner, and it’s far more capable than you probably might expect of what’s a comfort-oriented sedan.

All S90 models have a double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs and hydraulic dampers, as well as a stabilizer bar. What’s in back depends on whether the model has been optioned with the available air suspension, which helps maintain a level load (and ride comfort) with passengers or cargo on board. Those models get an air-spring setup in place of the otherwise-standard transverse composite leaf-spring suspension.

All models in the lineup include adjustable drive mode settings, with Comfort and Dynamic settings as well as an Individual setting. Electric power steering provides a relaxed feel in most driving situations, with nice weighting and natural unwinding from tight corners, yet there’s nearly no feedback from the road in the Comfort setting, and its heavier mode in the Dynamic setting feels even more numb. That led us in an early drive of the car to dive into the ways of the Individualization mode, which lets you program in your favorite settings (in our opinion, the sportier settings for the powertrain but the lighter, comfort steering settings were the sweet spot). This is one of the few cars on the market that also let you program in your desired brake-boost level.

One big performance surprise for the S90 is that it can seriously tow—3,700 and 4,600 pounds, respectively, for the T5 and T6. That’s more than most crossover SUVs (being related to the XC90 apparently has its privileges), but if you intend to tow anything we’d recommend the available air suspension.

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9

2017 Volvo S90

Comfort & Quality

The S90 outdoes most German sport sedans in cabin comfort, with superb seats, thoughtful details, and a plush overall feel.

The 2017 Volvo S90 doesn’t have to live up to some of the same sport-sedan pretenses as some of its German competition, which seems to pay dividends in space and comfort.

We think it's exceptional in most ways, save for the slightly low roofline that cuts into rear-seat head room. It scores a 9 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The S90 is about 195 inches long, with a wheelbase (distance between front and rear wheels) of nearly 116 inches. Altogether the S90 is virtually the same size as the Acura RLX. It’s slightly larger than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, and Audi A6, yet not quite as large as their German-flagship siblings, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8. At the time of writing, Volvo didn’t yet have official EPA interior volume measurements, but the result is a car that feels every bit as large from inside as that latter (larger) group of flagship models.

Volvo has continued to refine seat designs that were created with the help of orthopedists, and it shows. These are some of the most supportive, adjustable seats available in any vehicle. In Inscription models, these power-adjustable seats are supplemented with a menu system that controls fine adjustment and multiple massage functions. Meanwhile, rear seats are also very well contoured, with excellent support and good cushioning.

The beltline (where the doors meet the window glass) will feel quite high to most drivers—especially shorter ones—and because of that we think most drivers will find a far more upright driving position than they’re used to.

The passenger cell itself is positioned quite far back for a long luxury sedan, and that affects 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 officially 17.7 cubic feet, but that includes the underfloor compartment. Seatbacks do also flip forward, with a reasonably wide pass-through.

Dynamic comfort in the S90 is superb, and 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.

The S90 is also 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).

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2017 Volvo S90

Safety

While we can’t rush to any conclusions about the S90’s crash performance, Volvo’s reputation is stellar and there’s some world-first safety tech here.

So far, the safety scores for the 2017 Volvo S90 are good. The IIHS gives it top "Good" marks on all crash tests and its active safety measures are rated with the highest "Superior" score. Only a "Marginal" score for headlights keeps it from getting higher marks.

Because of its incomplete data, we can only give the S90 a 7 out of 10 for IIHS marks and good active equipment as standard. We expect the score will be higher once the feds come in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Volvo has been on a boron-steel spree for decades; it says that about 35 percent of the S90’s total body weight is hot-formed (high-strength) steel, with aluminum used in a few front structural areas.

Volvo touts a few world firsts in the S90. It says that this model is the first car with large animal detection; the standard system on the S90 will automatically brake you to a stop (or help significantly reduce speed) when a moose, elk or deer is detected. It’s also claimed to be the first vehicle in the world with road-edge detection, in a system that doesn’t entirely depend on a painted shoulder line.

The S90, Volvo says, is also the first model to have semi-autonomous driving features as standard. Called Pilot Assist, the system interfaces active cruise control, lane-keep assist, and forward collision systems and allows you to enable a system that will allow you to take your hands off the steering wheel for up to 15 seconds at a time. Volvo stresses that the system is optimized for divided-highway use; and although the automaker could have enabled a greater level of hands-off use with the hardware and new (company-developed) software, it opted to see the system as supplemental to driver control.  

You can limit speed depending on road-sign (and supplemental GPS) data, or see those concerns in the well-configured head-up display.

And the front seats have a special design that will help reduce high vertical forces that can result in back injury if the car goes off the road.

You’ll need to check an option box or two if you want every single safety feature. Volvo has made an effort with the S90 to include a complete set of potentially lifesaving forward collision (and automatic braking) systems as standard. Yet blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts remain optional, as officials concede that they’re not features for which every shopper might find value.

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2017 Volvo S90

Features

The S90 is priced below most German rivals yet doesn’t skimp on cabin comforts or tech features.

The S90 looks more affordable and better equipped than most mid-size or larger luxury sedans you might consider it to be competing against. Its comprehensive set of comfort and convenience features and excellent interface and connectivity put it alongside some of the segment best, while its robust cold-weather offerings and available all-wheel drive should make it one of the better choices for cold and rainy climates.

Recently, Volvo has been adding more features for the money to its vehicles to make them a little more alluring. Although Volvo probably doesn’t need to rely on such a strategy with the attractive, fully redesigned 2017 S90, it’s a smart move to keep with that strategy here as the brand probably doesn’t quite have the luxury cachet of Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus.

We give the S90 a features score of 9, and we consider its driving and safety assists to be among the best on the road. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

S90 standard features

The price for a 2017 Volvo S90 starts significantly lower than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Acura RLX, and Infiniti Q70. It’s closely aligned with the Audi A6, a model that’s near the end of its model lifecycle and is now considerably cheaper than its German peers.

The S90 will be initially offered only in T5 and higher-performance T6 models—both Momentum or Inscription models. Top T8 plug-in hybrid models are expected to arrive late in the model year.

In addition to their unprecedented list of standard active-safety features, the base T5 S90 Momentum models, starting at $47,945, come with a power sunroof, LED headlamps with corner illumination, leather upholstery, birch wood inlays, a leather steering wheel, keyless entry, rear park assist, a rear parking camera, power-folding rear headrests, the Sensus Connect touchscreen system, 10-speaker 330-watt audio, and satellite radio.

Base T5 Momentum models omit a few features that are included in all other models in the lineup. They have traditional chromed tailpipes versus the other models’ dual integrated outlets, as well as a smaller, 8.0-inch instrument-cluster display while all other models in the lineup get a 12.3-inch one.

The Inscription models, step up to full LED headlamps with Active Bending Lights that help see around tight corners, a headlight-cleaning system, Apple CarPlay, a USB media hub, leather dash panels, rear sun shades, four-zone climate control, a cooled glovebox, walnut wood inlays, softer nappa leather upholstery, 19-inch 10-spoke diamond-cut alloy wheels, and ventilated front seats with power side support and power cushion extension.

You can step up to some of those features (the Inscription’s headlights), four-zone climate control, cooled glovebox, larger instrument-panel display, a USB media hub, and Apple CarPlay compatibility, for $1,000.

Between T5 and T6, the obvious difference is what’s under the hood. Those models get the higher-output, 316-horsepower, turbocharged-and-supercharged version of Volvo’s 2.0-liter Drive-E inline-4 engine, as opposed to the 250-hp turbocharged version in T5 models.

S90 options

On either of the models, there’s a $1,000 Vision Package that brings retractable rearview mirrors, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, a surround-view camera system, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert. A $1,550 Climate Package brings heating elements to the front seats (included on all but the base T5), rear outboard seats, steering wheel, washer nozzles (part of the wiper arm), and windshield. And a $1,000 Convenience Package adds Park Assist Pilot (guided self-steering into spots) and Front Park Assist, as well as a universal garage-door opener, a 12-volt power outlets, and a power trunklid.

Standalone items include heated front seats, a head-up display, and upgraded 19-inch and 20-inch diamond-cut wheels. The so-called Premium Air Suspension is an option you should consider if you plan to make full use of the S90 with passengers and cargo—or if you plan to tow.

The most expensive a la carte option is the Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound system. Although we haven’t sampled the base system yet, this system in our test cars was superb-sounding via integrated Spotify music streaming and the car’s integrated 4G LTE data connection (U.S. details yet to be announced).

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7

2017 Volvo S90

Fuel Economy

The 2017 S90 lineup is neither the most fuel-efficient in the lineup nor the thirstiest. With the arrival of the T8 plug-in hybrid later in the year, that will all change.

The 2017 Volvo S90 includes the automaker’s 2.0-liter inline-4 Drive-E engines, which have been rolled out to most of the lineup over the past several years and are a clean-slate design built for better fuel economy, reduced emissions, and turbocharging.

On our scale from 1 to 10, the 2017 S90 earns a green score of 7, even before the plug-in model arrives. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Turbocharged, front-drive models manage 23 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined. Adding all-wheel drive drops those figures down to 22/31/25 mpg.

The 8-speed Aisin automatic transmission in the S90 has a very wide ratio spread, which helps this model feel very perky at low speed yet relaxed and efficient on the highway. All models in the lineup include engine stop-start, which temporarily shuts the engine off as you’re waiting at a stoplight with your foot on the brake then restarts it as you start to lift off.

Premium (91-octane or higher) fuel is recommended for the 2017 Volvo S90, as is the case with most luxury cars—especially those that are turbocharged and/or supercharged.

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August 23, 2017
2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

Fantastic vehicle which has met all my expectations.

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Took delivery august 2916. Family and friends a who have driven my s90 are very impressed. The cooled /heated seats are thrones. Superior to mb or Audi. Try and compare. Unbeleivable this is a 4 cylinder. Not... + More »
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March 31, 2017
2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Momentum

VOLVO S90: AVOID AT ALL PRICES!!!!

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AFTER 3,500 miles: OK, this car looks great, drives great, handles great, very comfortable ride, etc. Now for the reality check: (1) Its European, so you're stuck with that ridiculous and battery draining... + More »
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$46,950
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8.0
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Styling 9
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 7
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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