Wow. Just look at this thing. We don’t review cars based on their styling and appearance here at CarAdvice, but it’s hard not to be won over by this stunning Swede, the 2017 Volvo S90 D5 Inscription.
The new Volvo S90 mid-size sedan – yes, this isn’t a large car, despite its lengthy, sculpted body – is entering one of the segments of the markets that has long been a measure of a company’s worth, against the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Realistically, though, buyers aren’t going to be chomping at the bit for this car – they’re more likely to be enamoured with the equally beautiful Volvo XC90 seven-seat SUV. Cool, and look, we love wagons, so we can’t wait for the Volvo V90 to arrive in all its not-so-boxy glory.
So, is the new Volvo S90 style plus substance? In short, yes, but let’s run over the details before we get to the conclusion.
Our S90 is the D5 Inscription version, an all-wheel-drive twin-turbo-diesel-powered model that kicks off from $96,900 plus on-road costs.
Yep, that means it will cost you more than a hundred grand to get into this, before you add any options – and our car had a few of those, too (including annoying ones like Apple CarPlay for $300, heated seats for $650, rear sunblinds for $500 and metallic paint for a hefty $1900). As one bystander said to me during my time with the car: “Jesus, that much? It’s a Volvo – are they serious?”
Yeah. What he said.
It is expensive, but there are cheaper S90 variants coming. We look forward to driving the entry-level front-wheel-drive Momentum petrol ($79,900) and diesel ($82,400) versions to see how they stack up.
It feels the money inside. The finishes on our test car included metal mesh inlays (a no-cost option) and a leather-topped dashboard (which adds $2500, and isn’t necessary, but is quite nice), not to mention lush black leather trim on the seats and door pads. The sunroof (again, an option: $3000) isn’t as big as that you’ll find in an E-Class, and that’s a shame.
The finishes, such as the knurled knobs on the air vents, lend an air of exclusivity to the cabin. It looks plush, and the twin screens – a landscape-oriented 12.3-inch digital unit in front of the driver, and a 9.0-inch vertical tablet for controlling pretty much every aspect of the car.
The touchscreen is not just the media and navigation controller, but allows you to adjust the cabin temperature both up front and in the rear, as there are separate temperature zones back there and four vents (including two in the centre and two in the door pillars).
The intelligence of the menus in the system is excellent. There's a real intuitiveness to it: you pinch, swipe, scroll zoom and there's even a home button just like an iPad. Realistically there are more menus than you'd ever need, but it's good!
You can also control your preferences, including whether you want the engine stop/start system on, or if you need all the safety stuff activated or not. There’s plenty of safety tech, including blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning with pedestrian, bicycle and animal detection, radar cruise control, lane keeping with active steering assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-view camera along with front and rear parking sensors and semi-autonomous parking entry and exit.
Our car had the 360-degree camera system – you guessed it, an option ($1750) – and the head-up display (also optional at $1900), but if you want those bits you’d theoretically be better off choosing the Technology Pack for $3000, which gets you those and Apple CarPlay, and DAB+ digital radio. That multi-view camera system is the business.
Annoyingly, though, the car will default to the settings of the main drive profile – so you need to set that up and attach it to your key to ensure your preferences are set when you get in the car. It would take more than two hands to count the number of times members of the CA team got in and were frustrated to find their climate control choices and seat settings had changed, even after just a few minutes of having left the car. For buyers, though, this shouldn’t be an issue once the profiles are set.
Oh, and on the key – it’s annoying. Yeah the car has keyless entry and a knob starter, but if you forget to hit the button on the door handle when you get out, you might find yourself trying to figure out the buttons on the key like a noob.
As for interior space, the rear seat has good length to it, with enough legroom for a six-footer behind his or her own driving position, but headroom is a bit tight, such is the swoop of the roofline. Two across the back is more suitable than three, too, but if you’ve got little ones, the integrated booster seats in the outboard positions, as well as dual ISOFIX attachments.
There’s good storage throughout, and we particularly liked the finishes on the cup-holder cover up front. The door pockets are good enough for most people’s needs, and the boot, at 500 litres, may not be best in class (540L is the top), but it’s deep and can easily deal with a week’s worth of luggage. Our car had electronic rear seat folding (option: $250), but there are no remote release buttons in the boot itself, which is annoying. There is a ski port, though.
Now, what about how it drives? Well, you end up with a fair bit of grunt for the money: the twin-turbo diesel engine punches out 173kW of power at 4000rpm, while the torque figure – 480Nm from 1750-2250rpm – is bigger than some heavy duty utes. It’s more than just its looks that give the S90 some pulling power, then…
The engine is teamed to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and in true Volvo form – luxury, not sportiness – there is no driving mode selection for the transmission, engine or suspension (there is one for the electronic stability control), and nor are there paddleshifters.
That’s not to say the engine isn’t sporty: with that much torque and super-rapid shifts under hard throttle, the drivetrain is certainly punchy. When you’re really up it, progress is extremely swift – Volvo claims a 0-100km/h time of 7.0 seconds, and that felt about spot on to us.
It could be more refined at lower speeds, as it sounds a little truckish at low revs, and the engine can be a little bit sluggish from a standstill. The gearbox can be tricked a bit when you stab the throttle at rolling speeds, but as a cruiser on the highway with the adaptive cruise activated it’s lovely – except the speed increments are in 5km/h chunks.
It isn’t terrific on fuel: the claim is 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw 8.4L/100km across a mix of different disciplines.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the S90 is quite a good thing to drive. That’s not to say we expected it to be bad, but we happened to have the new E-Class and an Audi A6 in at the same time, and the S90 was easily this writer’s pick for engagement, involvement and control.
The steering feel and accuracy in corners was excellent, offering the driver plenty of confidence in predicting what would happen next. The response and weighting had a lot to do with that, and while there was a little bit of understeer in tighter bends, the big Volvo proved easy to punt – with a torque vectoring system that nibbles at the brakes of the inside wheels to help pull it around the corner easier (you can hear it working if you listen closely).
The steering is also light enough to belie the size of the S90 at urban speeds, and this is one Volvo without a massive turning circle.
Indeed the traction on offer, and the composure and assuredness of the suspension, combined to create an engaging and inspiring drive. The ride is a little bit firmer than an E-Class on adaptive air suspension, but not in an annoying way: it feels hefty and hunkered, tied down and drivable.
There is some road noise intrusion from the 20-inch wheels (optional: $2850) clad in Pirelli P Zero 255/35 rubber, but the grip from those tyres is worth it. And while the wheels are big and the suspension is Volvo’s Dynamic Chassis setup with lowered springs, it doesn’t crunch into sharp bumps.
For drivers and passengers alike, the Volvo S90 offers the right blend of handling and comfort. It’s lovely.
Volvo offers two forms of its pre-purchase servicing packs – SmartCare and SmartCare Plus. For SmartCare you get oil, oil and air filters, brake fluid, and sump plug washer included in the servicing, and you can choose cover spanning three years/45,000km ($2115), four years/60,000km ($3175) or five years/75,000km ($3875); the more comprehensive SmartCare Plus cover adds wiper blades, pollen filters, brake pads and brake discs as required, and wheel alignments – across the same intervals, it costs $2390, or $5750, or $6925. So yeah, like the car, maintaining it is pretty pricey…
If you can swallow those costs, you’ll be left very impressed with the 2017 Volvo S90 D5 Inscription – we certainly were. It’s a beautiful car inside and out, and it’s mostly beautiful to drive, too.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.