The Volvo S90 is not a sports sedan. Sure, you can put it in "Dynamic" mode for slightly firmer steering and higher-RPM shifting, but even then, it's not really sporty. This is what makes the S90 so great.
It is, unrepentantly, a luxury sedan, completely sure in its mission to provide a rolling oasis for those who can afford the monthly payments. It might be the best car in the world for sitting in traffic. Not a car that inspires you to drive, but one that carries you from Point A to Point B quietly, efficiently, quickly, and with supreme comfort.
I recently had the opportunity to try a fully-loaded all-wheel-drive S90 T6 Inscription in both Montauk and New York City, which are, ostensibly, terrible places for driving. More than pretty much any other car I've driven this year, though, the S90 made dealing with their congestion infinitely more bearable. That's a big part of the appeal.
Volvo currently has two engine options for the U.S.-market S90, the turbocharged T5 and the turbo and supercharged T6. Despite what their names may suggest, both are 2.0-liter inline-fours producing 250 hp in the front-drive T5, and 316 hp in the all-wheel-drive T6. A 400-hp T8 hybrid–which mates the internal-combustion engine from the T6 with an electric motor at the rear axle–is also on its way. All engines are paired to an eight-speed gearbox.
It's not hard to imagine luxury buyers shying away from a four-cylinder in this sort of car–especially one with an as-tested price of nearly $67,000–but it works well in this application. Torque is abundant, and thanks to its supercharger, turbo lag isn't an issue. Off the line, there are moments when you can tell that this is very much a four, but those times are few and far between. It's fairly refined too, with not much noise or vibrations transmitted to the cabin. You can thank the S90's ample sound deadening for that.
No, this four-cylinder isn't as silky as a BMW straight-six, but it's more than adequate for the package. If not having the option of six- or eight-cylinders is the only thing holding you back from the S90, I'd urge you to reconsider.
This motor does work more effectively in the S90 than in Volvo's new XC90 SUV, despite their many similarities. The S90's (slightly) lighter weight means the power goes further.
One place where the XC90 has the upper hand is overall ride comfort. My S90 tester came equipped with Volvo's $1200 air suspension, but because of the sedan's packaging, it uses conventional springs at the front. Combine that with optional (unnecessary) 20-inch rims, and the S90 can't match the XC90 for waft-ability. The S90 doesn't have a harsh ride, and it's very composed over rough surfaces, but it's stiffer than you might expect for this sort of luxury car. After driving an XC90 on air suspension, you might be a little disappointed. Just a little, though.
The S90 also comes standard with a semi-autonomous system called Pilot Assist, which uses adaptive cruise control to follow the car in front of you, and makes subtle steering corrections. It's not a system designed to replace the driver. Rather, it's designed to offer a little extra assistance in traffic and on the highway. If you pretend the car can drive itself, the S90 will very politely ding at you if you take your hands off the wheel for an extended period.
On the highway, it works well, but in Manhattan rush hour traffic, I never fully trusted it. In Volvo's defense, New York is a challenging place to drive, but ultimately, this system seems is better suited for long-haul trips on the freeway.
The S90's engine and chassis aren't designed to inspire like those in say, a Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, or BMW 5-Series, but are meant to support the overall luxuriousness of the car. The Volvo is less of a BMW and more of a Lexus with style. They offer a totally smooth, composed driving experience that lets you enjoy the S90's interior to the fullest.
And what an interior. You get the sense that Volvo's engineers and designers obsessed over every little detail, from the little click of the engine start switch, to the finish on the open-grain wood trim, and the little Swedish flags stitched in the seats. It's Mercedes-level quality, wrapped up in a gorgeously minimalist package. It all centers around a portrait-oriented touch screen display that handles virtually all the S90's infotainment, HVAC, and vehicle functions.
It's one of the better touchscreen displays on the market, and it's thoughtfully accompanied by a row of physical controls right underneath the iOS-esque home button. If you've ever used an iPad, the Volvo's touchscreen will feel instantly familiar, though it can be somewhat difficult to use while driving. The two things that really stick out about the interior though, are the seats, and the Bowers & Wilkins audio system.
These seats are the sort that melt all your troubles away as soon as you plop yourself down. They're not overly h, but supportive in the all right ways. You also get adjustable bolsters, which seem pointless in a luxury car like this, and lumbar support that can only be described as exquisite. You wish you had seats like this in your office.
The Bowers & Wilkins sound system is a $2650 option on the S90, which is expensive, but it might offer the best audio of any car on sale. Even playing tracks on an iPhone over Bluetooth gives a warmth and crispness that's hard to find elsewhere. Icing on the cake is Volvo's Gothenburg Concert Hall setting, which adds eerily realistic spatial depth to classical and other acoustic music.
One of the most enjoyable things I did in the S90 was just sitting parked, playing all sorts of different music on the sound system, and enjoying the seats. Seriously. This was an experience so gloriously luxurious, I didn't really want to go back into my house. As a place to relax, the S90 is just that good.
It's this combination of smooth dynamics, active safety technology, and world-class interior that makes the S90 a fantastic tool to eat up miles. You'll never wake up early on a Sunday just to carve up backroads in it, but for the sort of driving you have to do every day, it's perfect.
The S90 is not a sports sedan. It's all the better for it.