2017 Volvo S90 D4 review: Long-term report two - highway and country driving

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We introduced you to our Volvo S90 D4 long-termer last month, and have promptly racked up about 1400km of driving in our 'entry level' variant.

Given its diesel engine, long-distance cruising should quite obviously be this car's forte. Volvo's corporate tagline 'shake the world gently' is especially apt when considering the manner in which its flagship sedan (kicking off at $80k) drives.

The 2.0-litre Drive-E common-rail twin-turbocharged diesel makes 140kW and 400Nm, in a typical relaxed fashion that delivers most of the torque from low engine speeds.

Generally fairly hushed and vibration-free when driving, the oil-burner rolls along at about 1600rpm at 100km/h, consuming around its (combined-cycle) claim of 4.7L/100km, and giving you a theoretical one-tank range of more than 1000km.

It's this kind of driving that also irons out any minor low-speed hesitancy from the small-capacity, force-inducted engine and eight-speed auto gearbox (we will give you an urban-driving report soon).

Long rambling drives also suit the soft suspension and damper tunes, which are geared towards bump absorption and a light steering system designed for highway-friendly on-centre performance rather than race car sharpness.

Over some B-roads in Victoria's Gippsland region, the S90 generally felt pretty composed and cosseting, ironing out sharper edges without much drama thanks to the good spring rates and the high-profile tyres on 18s.

The LED cornering lights are excellent for roo-dodging at night, by the way.

We're not saying the five-metre-long and 1738kg tare S90 is a barge, but this front-drive sedan is happiest just wandering along. A base 5 Series BMW would eat it up, though the Swede's body control is never unruly.

If comfort is your thing, the hushed cabin, sensationally supportive leather seats with heating, and the detailed head-up display, all tick the boxes.

Back seat legroom also proved more than capable of chauffeuring four in comfort (with room for their bags in the large boot), while the integrated booster seats remain a great idea. Several of our CA staffers with kids used, and loved, the car.

Volvo being Volvo, there's also a big emphasis on semi-autonomous tech, designed principally for highway conditions. There’s vehicle/pedestrian/cyclist autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, all of which are fast becoming de rigeur.

Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous software also brings a lane-keeping aid and adaptive cruise control that stops speed to zero.

The radar cruise system works fine, mirroring the speed of cars ahead and liberating your feet from the pedals, though it's not as quick to recognise a gap and speed up as the latest systems from Mercedes and BMW.

The lane-keeping aid reads road lines and gently steers the car back between them, whenever a light in the digital instrument cluster glows green. It works on well-marked major roads, though darkness, heavy rain and ageing road markings can fool it at times. They key is knowing the system's limits.

Regulations also mean the car must prompt you to grab the wheel after a short time (well under 30 seconds), meaning hands-free driving isn't feasible yet. Not Volvo's fault. But it's enough to take the edge off.

The regular sound system is outstanding (though audiophiles can fork over $4500 for a bigger Bowers and Wilkins number), and the infotainment on the 12.3-inch portrait screen is useable once you acclimate.

In short, the screen is broken up into four cascading tabs to control major functions, while swiping left and right give you access to other areas of the car. Our tech-head Mike Stevens will brings you a detailed analysis of this system in a few weeks time.

What aren’t we liking? The road sign information system is too often wrong to fully rely on, the large screen is prone to smudging from fingerprints, and some of the silver plastic trims in the doors looks and feels a little low-end.

The design overall is very simple and clinical, which we love but which a few friends have deemed too austere, too understated. In some ways the Volvo feels like a $30,000 more expensive Volkswagen Passat Highline, which is genuinely just as comfy.

All told though, if you asked me right now to grab any car from the expansive CarAdvice Melbourne garage to drive to Sydney overnight, not many cars would offer better isolation, comfort and audio quality than the understated Swede.

It’s not ‘better’ than the E-Class or 5 Series, but it’ll appeal to people looking at the world from outside the box, who want accessible and friendly luxury.

Premium cars are mostly about brand, and it’s good to see Volvo carving out a niche of its own.

Stay tuned for our next update, in which we will go granular on the car’s infotainment and tech.

Bonus Q and A with CarAdvice’s Product Development Lead Brett Gullan, who had a weekend away in the S90 with his wife and two kids.

Where was your drive? Roughly how many km?
From home (in Ashwood, Melbourne) to Rye and back, together with a couple of short runs around Rye, Sorrento and Blairgowrie. All up, a couple hundred kilometres over the course of a weekend.

Who did you take?
The family… wife and I, and our twin daughters.

What were your three favourite elements?
The combination of Adaptive Cruise Control and Pilot Assist was really effective. It took me a bit to realise the best approach was to keep my hands on the wheel, otherwise the “dead man” alert became really annoying.

But on my drive in to work on Monday morning, in pouring rain inbound along the Monash Freeway, I effectively let the car drive itself. Made an otherwise frustrating drive almost pleasant! The same for driving back from Rye on the Peninsula Freeway/Eastlink/Monash.

Although I think the car is a little underpowered – and often a bit rough in terms of drivetrain – at cruising speeds it really is very smooth and extremely comfortable.

Headlight tracking was also very effective, particularly in the last section of the drive into Rye, where the roads became a little darker and winding through the dunes.Anything you hated?Wasn’t at all keen on the auto-brake system; combined with the eco-start/stop capability, this tended to make driving in stop-start traffic quite uncomfortable. All round, I found the low speed behaviour – i.e. in peak hour traffic, et cetera – to be a bit clunky. I thought it was quite an impressive car.

I was a little surprised at how understated and minimal the overall finish is. It doesn’t feel like it's a luxury car, even though it has pretty much every bell, whistle and feature you could ask for.

2017 Volvo S90 D4 Momentum

Date acquired: April 2017
from $82,490 plus on-road costs
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel
Power: 140kW at 4250rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1750-2500rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Claimed fuel use: 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres
Weight: 1738 kilograms (tare mass)
Seating: five
Country of origin: Sweden
Odometer reading at pick-up: 4096km

Odometer reading: 5499km
Travel since previous update: 1403km
Fuel consumption since previous update: 6.6L/100km mixed driving
Fuel cost since previous update: $115.57

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