FROM the driver’s seat it would be easy to dismiss Volvo’s latest flagship as undernourished. Aside from the 9.0-inch pinch-and-squeeze touchscreen and the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the S90 is somewhat sparse. Yet in an elegant way, with wood and metal in abundance and a cluster of buttons and knobs.
However, the technology is cleverly concealed. The ESC and idle-stop are controlled through the central screen, as is anything to do with a phone, tablet or song.
The S90’s elegance continues in the rear, which is configured to make two comfy but will deal with three, albeit with the centre occupant dealing with a sizeable transmission tunnel.
The biggest story lurks beneath the skin. Sitting on Volvo’s SPA architecture, it exclusively uses four-cylinder engines. There are four 2.0-litre units, for now; D4 and D5 turbo-diesels, and T5 and T6 petrols (both turbo, the latter also supercharged).
PowerPulse diesel technology delivers impressive on-tap muscle, with 480Nm coming on strong from 1750rpm. The eight-speed auto teams nicely with the diesel, transmitting its generous low-rev torque faithfully via all-wheel drive (D4 and T5 are the only front-drivers).
The T6 is the sweeter petrol engine, revving freely and with ample mid-revs pull. Spin it out and it occasionally tickles past 6000rpm – and its 235kW peak – before slinking into the next gear.
Dynamically, the S90 is a monumental improvement on the S80, albeit cruelled slightly by initial firmness, not helped by 20-inch low-profile tyres on our test cars. Thankfully the Pirellis grip well. There’s also satisfying weight to the steering and good control off larger bumps.
On freeways with gentle curves the semi-autonomous drive system is assertive and intelligent. On B-roads it’s less useful, struggling to distinguish patchy edges and reacting late, the run-off-road function kicking in, grabbing brakes and counter-steering.
Despite that, the safety suite is generally brilliant, encompassing everything from blind-spot warning and auto braking to City Safety that now responds to horses and cows (but not roos).
The rest of the equipment package is also expansive. Base Momentum spec includes leather, electric front seats, 18-inch alloys and a classy metal interior trim.
Inscription trim (D5 and T6) adds Nappa leather, 19s, wood and smart-key entry. It’s a shame Apple CarPlay is only part of a $3000 tech pack that includes digital radio and head-up display.
The S90 finally gives Volvo a seat at the table so long dominated by the Germans.
Elegant, functional interior; safety credentials; flexible four-cylinder Technology Pack should be standard; initial suspension sharpness; prices Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volvo S90 T6 Inscription 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + supercharger 235kW @ 5700rpm 400Nm @ 2200-5400rpm 8-speed automatic 1915kg 5.8sec (claimed) 7.2L/100km $98,900 November 2016
Volvo has worked to eliminate turbo lag with the four-cylinder Drive-E engines in the S90. The T6 petrol is both supercharged and turbocharged, with the supercharger working early to bolster performance at low revs. For the D5 diesel, Volvo developed a system called PowerPulse. It temporarily stores compressed air that is released into the exhaust manifold during initial throttle applications, more quickly spooling-up the turbo to reduce lag.