Volvo S90 review: should you buy one over a BMW 5 Series?


Volvo is “not going after the Germans when it comes to the driving properties”, said senior product manager Stefan Sällgvist, introducing the new Volvo S90 and V90. Instead, the focus is on what Sällgvist is calling “relaxed confidence” – suggesting Volvo’s latest models are more about waft than ‘wahey’.

Not that this matters; nobody does ‘premium German’ quite like the Germans, leaving Volvo to create a uniquely Swedish take on the formula – in much the same way it did with the new XC90. We travelled to the beautifully manicured lawns of Coworth Park to see if the Volvo S90 has what it takes to give the Germans a bloody nose.

Prices and deals

In case you hadn’t guessed already, the S90 is the saloon version of the Volvo V90 and is likely to play second fiddle to the estate in the UK. Prices start from £32,555 for the entry-level Momentum trim, with the lavish Inscription weighing in at £35,555. A ‘luxury sport’ R-Design model will follow, priced at £35,055.

What are its rivals?

Did we mention the Germans? The Volvo S90 is up against the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6; meaning it will need Zlatan Ibrahimovic levels of ingenuity to put a dent in the German defensive wall.

What engine does it use?


The days of Volvo’s five-cylinder goodness are behind us, with the S90 using a pair of 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engines: a D4 and D5 PowerPulse. The front-wheel-drive D4 has to make do with 190hp, while the punchy all-wheel-drive D5 produces a more impressive 235 hp.

The D4 is expected to account for up to 80% of sales in the UK, with both engines mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Later, the D4 and D5 will be joined by a T8 Twin-Engine plug-in hybrid version, offering a combined output of 407hp.

How fast?

The Volvo S90 D4 isn’t likely to be hunting down über-saloons on the autobahn, although a 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds is quicker on paper than it feels in reality. Top speed is 140mph. Opt for the D5 and the 0-62mph time drops to 7.0 seconds, with the top speed rising to 145mph.

Is it comfortable?

This is where the Volvo S90 is able to steal a march over its rivals, boasting a supremely comfortable and cosseting interior. Sällqvist’s claim that Volvo has “the best seats in the car industry” is not without some degree of justification. The driving position is superb and the seats are supportive.

Will I enjoy driving it?


If your idea of enjoyment revolves around razor-sharp dynamics, instant throttle response and the joy of a manual gearbox, look away now. But if you want to be set adrift on motorway bliss, the S90 is the car for you.

There are three drive mode settings available: Eco, Comfort and Dynamic. It soon becomes apparent that Comfort is all the driving mode you’ll ever need; it’s the default setting and you need never touch that dial.

In fact, you hardly need to drive it at all. The S90 features an improved Pilot Assist as standard, with an ability to control the steering, accelerator and brake inputs up to speeds of 80mph. We tried it on the M4 where it was near faultless in its operation.

The way in which it applies the throttle when you move out of a lane in order to overtake a vehicle is impressive, as is the way it operates seamlessly in heavy traffic. If a system can remove the misery of the M4, it needs to be applauded. As we say, the S90 offers a different flavour of driver enjoyment.

Fuel economy and running costs

Officially, the Volvo S90 D4 will return 64.2mpg on a combined cycle, but after an hour or so of driving we saw a figure of 52.0mpg. In fairness, we weren’t attempting to hypermile, and the front-wheel-drive D4 was far more efficient than the all-wheel-drive V90 D5, which was showing 38.0mpg on a similar route.

There’s also a difference in the CO2 emissions, with 116g/km in the D4, compared to 127g/km in the D5. Small margins, perhaps, but although both vehicles will cost nothing to tax in the first year, the D4 costs £30 from year two, compared with £110 for the D5.

What’s the interior like?

The S90’s interior looks and feels every bit as special as that in the XC90. That it lacks the surprise and associated wow-factor of the XC90 cannot be avoided, but the cabin remains a class act in a fiercely competitive sector.

It’s dominated by the huge nine-inch central touchscreen and the Momentum’s eight-inch TFT driver display. You sense that Volvo spent a lot of time perfecting the interior, realising that comfort, technology and safety could combine to create a rather compelling offer.

Without wishing to state the obvious, it’s all so very Swedish: minimalistic, simplistic and – if you opt for the glass sunroof – flooded with light. You could enter the S90’s cabin in a foul mood, before exiting in a better frame of mind.

Is it practical?


If you want traditional Volvo practicality, you’ll opt for the V90, but the S90’s accommodation could hardly be described as bijou. Instead, this ‘des res’ boasts a huge amount of cabin space, especially in the rear, where passengers will revel in a huge amount of leg- and knee-room.

The boot holds 500 litres of space (only 60 litres less than the V90), and is so long you’ll find it a struggle to stretch across to reach the back of the rear seats. Though the entry to the boot is rather narrow, it is wide, and you get a power-operated bootlid as standard.

Tell me about the tech

Where do we start? The Volvo S90 is loaded with standard equipment, the majority of which is fitted to the entry-level Momentum trim. Volvo’s touchscreen system remains one of the best in the business, while the voice-control system is similarly impressive.

If you’ve used an iPad or another generic tablet device, you’ll find the portrait screen child’s play to use. The pinch, zoom and swipe functionality will be familiar to all, although the jury’s out as to whether a touchscreen is superior to traditional switches and dials.

What about safety?

Along with the updated Pilot Assist, you’ll find a world-first, run-off-road mitigation system, which applies the steering if it detects the car is about to leave the road.

Another world-first is the large-animal detection system, which alerts the driver to large animals lurking by the side of the road, applying the brakes if necessary. Given the fact that there are reportedly 42,000 deer-related accidents in the UK every year, this could prove rather useful.

City Safety auto braking is fitted as standard, and although the S90 has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, you wouldn’t bet against it setting a new benchmark for safety.

Which version should I go for?


If we’re honest, we were a tiny bit underwhelmed by the S90 Momentum. Alhough the fit and finish is extremely good, the Inscription trim just feels that extra bit special. The leather is softer, the TFT driver display is larger, the seats are powered and – dare we say it – the exterior upgrades mask the S90’s slightly unwieldy styling.

Don’t get us wrong, from the front and side profile, the S90 is a thing of svelte Swedish style, but the rear end is a bit too American for our tastes. The V90’s bottom is a thing of beauty; the S90 is an object of bewilderment.

What’s the used alternative?

Search online for the S80 and Volvo will point you in the direction of the S90, which makes it the default choice on the used market. Compared to the S90, the S80 will be showing its age, but if you love deep-pile carpets, a wafty ride and are prepared to let the Germans win the traffic-light grand prix, it’s an easy car to like.

Should I buy one?

The longer we spent with the Volvo S90, the more we appreciated it. It’s not perfect: the diesel engine is too noisy, the transmission is a tad lethargic and the D4 lacks the urgency of the D5, which boasts PowerPulse technology to eliminate turbo lag.

But once you accept that the S90 D4 doesn’t really do urgency, it all begins to make sense. We doubt we’d ever tire of sitting in the cabin, while the £3,000 Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system is a feast for the ears. That said, we do think Volvo is being a bit stingy asking £300 for Apple CarPlay. It’s standard on the Suzuki Baleno…

Pub fact

The forthcoming T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid model features a supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine driving the front wheels and an electric motor that drives the rears. It delivers CO2 emissions of 44g/km in the S90, plus a range of up to 28 miles.

In the XC90, the T8 model has been more popular than Volvo had forecast, accounting for 20% of all sales in the UK. We suspect it will be just as popular on the S90 and V90.

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