What is it?
The car you see on these pages replaces the more than a decade old Volvo S80. Even for a conservative company like Volvo, 11 years was a long wait, as in the same time span some Japanese carmakers would have covered three model cycles, and even the Germans would have done two. This was a result of Volvo being deeply affected by the financial downturn, of Ford during the depths of the recession period. After being purchased by Geely (a Chinese firm), Volvo suddenly turned into a well-funded car manufacturer and this resulted in new platforms being developed, brand new powertrains and refreshing new design philosophy. So after introducing the impressive XC90 flagship SUV earlier this year, Volvo has decided to unleash their S90 luxury sedan in India to take on the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and the recently launched Jaguar XF.
As far as design is concerned, it follows the same lines of its predecessor: a big, squarish front and strong-shouldered sedan in true Volvo mould. The neat touches like the ‘Thor hammer’ LED headlights look fantastic and the beautifully detailed convex 23 slat grille help it to stand out from the bland-athon that includes everything from the BMW 5 Series to the Mercedes E-Class. In profile the strong shoulder crease and the flowing coupe like roofline gives the car good stance. At the rear the S90 looks striking too but in our eyes a bit overdone and there are too many elements vying for your attention. Things like the large boomerang shaped headlamps, the prominent crease running across the boot lid looks nice. The underpinnings are thoroughly modern too. The S90 is the second car after the XC90 to sit on Volvo’s new SPAR (Scaleable Product Architecture) platform. With this chassis design Volvo claims to use a higher percentage of hot-formed boron steel than any other manufacturer and allows the S90 to be larger, lighter and safer than the old car. This architecture also boasts of shorter overhangs and a longer wheelbase that not only helps the way it looks, but also aids interior packaging.
How is it on the inside?
Where Volvo’s interiors have always been known for their solidity and ease of operation, design finesse wasn’t one of the attributes it was associated with. The S90 though is very different and it benefits from the approach taken in the XC90. As soon as you enter the cabin you are greeted by a dashboard that looks rich and thoroughly modern. It is covered in high grade leather and it also gets wood and chrome inserts to break the monotony. Where the S80’s centre console had nearly 40 buttons to operate different functions, the S90 just has eight! This makes the dash look clean and clutter free. The 9-inch infotainment system that dominates proceedings is super responsive and straight away feels familiar thanks to it working like any regular tablet. It houses all the car functions like navigation, drive modes, air-con and other ancillaries. Overall quality is really impressive, except for some bits which could have been better. For example the touchscreen is a fingerprint magnet and the engine start switch feels a bit flimsy.
My absolute favourite though are the front seats. Every bulge, contour, shape and the cushioning is just spot on. The seats, like on all Volvos, are designed with help from Orthopaedic surgeons and without a doubt they are one of the best in the business. You can also adjust the side bolsters, lumber and squab to alter them further to your liking. But according to Volvo they have given lot of emphasis to the rear seat and it shows. There is loads of kneeroom at the back and shoulder room is in abundance too. But the stylish coupe like roofline, somewhat ruins what would have been a near perfect backseat experience. To generate enough headroom Volvo had to place the bench low as a result both ingress and under thigh support suffers. Don’t get me wrong it is still a fine rear seat but in company of the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series the S90 might just fall short. The boot though is quite generous at 500 litres and you also get auto tailgate with auto opening function to further air practicality.
Volvo will offer the S90 in the Inscription variant and it will have features like Nappa leather upholstery, cooled and heated front seats, walnut wood trim and an electric tailgate. There’s also the lane keeping aid, park assist pilot, hill start assist, heads-up display, LED head lamps, airbags, Bowers and Wilkins music system with subwoofer, and the long list of safety features which is expected of a Volvo car.
How does it drive?
Volvo’s all-aluminium twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel has already proven itself a willing motor in the XC90 and it feels the same in the S90 despite being in a lower D4 tune. But this aluminium motor doesn’t make the best first impression, as it settles into a gravelly idle. Even on the move you can’t get away from the fact that there is a diesel motor under the hood. It does quieten a bit once on the move though and the healthy 187bhp feels adequate for this 1.8 tonne vehicle. It delivers power in a smooth, linear manner and it has a lot of elasticity too. Thanks to the peak torque of 400Nm, there’s plenty of grunt right from the beginning and it pulls strongly to about 4000rpm post which the power tails off. Thanks to the gear ratios that are closely stacked on the 8-speed auto, the motor never feels out of breath and a tall 8th gear makes it good at cruising too. In Eco mode, the gearbox upshifts as quickly as possible and the car coasts as soon as you go off throttle to save fuel. In Comfort, the car behaves similarly albeit with a slightly better response from the gearbox and the engine. Although you never feel the need for extra grunt in these two modes the gearbox does feel a bit lethargic to downshift as it pauses for a second before deciding which gear to engage. In Dynamic though it becomes much more responsive, but also tends to put the engine in the upper reaches of the rev range, resulting in lot of engine noise.
The S90’s chassis has double wishbones at the front and self-levelling air springs at the rear. With its new stiffer chassis and adjustable suspension, Volvo seems to have hit the sweet spot as far as ride is concerned. The dampers set in ‘Comfort’ are extremely indulgent and the S90 really did surprise us with how well it rode. Helping the secondary ride in no small measure are the relatively high profile tyres that provide good cushioning over bad roads. The S90 glides over rough sections silently and hint of wallow. Large holes, however, do result in a sharp thunk, especially at the front and it does shudder a bit over particularly bad patches. Unlike in most cars, however, Volvo has judged the dynamic mode really well and even in this mode the ride is comfortable and useable. It’s not hard-edged or bone jarring and in fact, at higher speeds we preferred this setting as body movement is kept well in check and it delivers a flat ride. The S90 is quite adept at shrink-wrapping itself around you as it feels very manoeuvrable and it feels no bigger than an S60 from behind the wheel. The wide 245 section bespoke Pirelli tyres provide good amount of grip. Although the S90 in Dynamic mode corners flat with minimal body roll but it’s not something you will call sporty. The biggest party pooper is the steering which feels numb and devoid of feel, even in ‘Dynamic’ mode. As a result, it’s not a very engaging drive. The brakes though felt spot on with them being linear and the discs providing a sharp bite when in need.
Should I buy one?
To be priced between Rs 55-60 lakh, the S90 is the best sedan to have come out of Scandinavia and has a lot going for it. In modern times where luxury cars try to be sporty as well (and struggle to be none), the S90’s focus on just Luxury and comfort comes as a breath of fresh air. Everything about the S90 right from the design both inside and out to the way the engine, gearbox and suspension are tuned shouts luxury. Sure the engine could have been more refined and the rear seat could have been better but these are very small factors in an otherwise accomplished product. On the back of the success of the XC90, Volvo seems to have yet another winner on their hands.
Where does it fit in?
The Volvo S90 will initially come only in the D4 Inscription variant and it will cost between Rs 55-60 lakh. Volvo are also planning to launch the D5 variant with 225bhp and AWD in 2017. The D5 will also get Radar guided safety features to add to its appeal. The D4 when launched will rival the likes of the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF. Considering Volvo will price the S90 at par with the competition, they will surely have an upper hand in terms of equipment on offer.
Photography by: Ameya Dandekar