No longer tagged as staid, the Volvo club is expanding its appeal to a wider audience. In the past, traditional Volvo buyers have tended towards a more idiosyncratic outlook, those that like to set themselves apart from mainstream buyers. Also more risk averse, they are the perfect match for the safety-focused Volvo brand.
Given the brand’s safety ethos, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Volvo following is gathering momentum. But accelerating sales can also be attributed to the quantum leap in design style that locals first got a taste of when the Swedish brand introduced its award-winning SUV, the Volvo XC90.
It was at the Geneva Motor Show last year that I first laid eyes on the S90, Volvo’s large luxury sedan and replacement for the S80. And I recall musing over the unique combination of the S90’s muscular rear – which closely resembled that of an American muscle car – and its svelte and elegant front end.
Yet, it is when you see the car on the road that that rather unique look pays off. It’s long, wide and fairly low with just the right number of sleek curves and muscular lines to give it real presence on the tar.
Dynamic design and styling includes some inherent Volvo DNA. Flanked by Volvo’s signature full-LED headlights that feature the “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running light pattern, the concave vertical ribs of the S90’s grille take inspiration from a Volvo classic, the P1800 Coupé of the 1960s.
That dynamic styling, together with its attractive pricing point, is certain to find favour with more than the normal run-of-the-mill local Volvo buyer.
It’s as good inside as it is outside. Greeting those who enter the S90’s sophisticated and spacious cabin is the perfect example of understated elegance so typical of Swedish design. Refined luxury (offered in three trim levels) is displayed through the combination of wood, aluminium, glass and stitched leather, the S90’s dashboard being dominated by the central infotainment 9-inch touch screen and vertical air vents with their metal shutter knobs.
The plush interior of this elegant sedan – the largest in Volvo’s range – boasts ergonomically designed, sublimely comfortable leather seats and heaps of room, especially in the back. The rear with its more than ample legroom also has an unexpected feature, ashtrays, perhaps to cater for the idiosyncrasies of big bosses.
Describing the boot as cavernous is probably a bit of an understatement. It’s huge, even coming with a ski hatch door between boot and rear seats that allows for that typically Scandinavian sporting equipment. Innovative locals are sure to put this feature to good use.
The arresting S90 is not only big on dimensions; it is also big on tech and standard feature offerings. Aside from satellite navigation, entertainment, connectivity, smartphone integration and voice control, the vehicle sports a host of semi-autonomous driving features like Adaptive Cruise Control and Pilot Assist.
Initially, the S90 offering in SA comes in the form of two 2-litre engines, the diesel D5 and petrol T6 (both with all-wheel drive), the front-wheel drive D4 and T5 derivatives following later in 2017. The top of the range T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will make its way to local shores at a later date.
Whether in Eco, Comfort or sporty Dynamic mode, this large and luscious 4-door sedan is sublimely comfortable on the road, its handling polished.
Cruising is effortless with Volvo’s semi-autonomous feature Pilot Assist, making the time spent behind the wheel even more effortless. The system works a treat both in stop/start heavy traffic and while cruising up to 130km/h, the S90’s path maintained via road markings, its distance and speed determined by the vehicle in front, or any that may enter that space.
finweek’s pick for the test was the D5 diesel variant, not only for the added torque that this twin-turbo engine offers but also to experience the gains made in turbo lag technology.
Ask any buyer of a petrol variant and they will invariably cite two issues that may have dissuaded them from the diesel: diesel engine noise and turbo lag.
But turbo lag, a characteristic of high-output diesel engines, may soon become a thing of the past. Well, certainly in a Volvo.
The S90’s robust D5 diesel variant features PowerPulse technology to eliminate that lag. And in the D5 with its smoothly changing 8-speed automatic gearbox, that wane in lag was noticeable.
While straight-line performance might be tamer than some of its competitors, both the efficient diesel and petrol Drive-E engines are responsive and quick, more than capable of hauling this not-so-small, long wheelbase animal at a spanking pace.
The S90, though, is less about speed than it is about luxury, an effortless driving experience and the car’s many, very clever, capabilities.
All this is perhaps less important to the growing number of Volvo fans than the plethora of safety features that the Swedish brand is so famous for.
The safety arsenal is lengthy and varied, part of the brand’s goal that by 2020 nobody should be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo. Suffice to say you are highly unlikely to ever hit a pedestrian, cyclist or even a cow in this car. Nor are you likely to run off the road, stray from your lane, impact the car in front or at an intersection. That’s just the short list and all are standard.
Aside from its 5-Star Euro New Car Assessment Rating (NCAP), the S90 is the first car to score full marks in pedestrian autonomous emergency braking. It joins its siblings the V90 and XC90 as the three cars leading the NCAP’s list of safest cars tested by that European car safety performance assessment programme. They’re all Volvos – if that’s not attention-grabbing, nothing is.
The S90 catches the eye. That means half the job is already done. Nor do you need pots of money to join the Volvo club, the executive luxury car one of the most affordable in its segment. It will be equally hard for buyers to overlook the attractive pricing point and the realisation that they will be getting as much, if not more, for less money.
This article originally appeared in the 9 February edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.