My family owned the most recognizable Volvo of all time- the Volvo 240 DL sedan. Originally bought by a college professor in Glendale, CA for practicality, it became his wife's car, who then drove it with her kids and grandkids for a total of 235,000 miles.
The sedan was bought by my sixteen-year-old son, who drove it in high school and through college, and adding another 35,000+ miles and a college diploma. Even though the odometer quit, the 1983 Volvo 240 DL drove through another four winters in Virginia up until 2016, because my son’s friend bought "Martha the Car." Martha delivered another five years of service and another college degree before resting in peace. The professor would be so proud!
This heritage is the legacy of Volvo sedans. They have been the poster cars for reliable, safe, and functional transportation and often earned a family's love. Volvo cars and wagons have utilized boxy exteriors with terrible interior trim, and Swedish engineering, in the USA for more than six decades. After many uses as a family business, some owners have come and gone. A Chinese investment firm named Geely now owns Volvo, with the capital to spend on design, development, and engineering. Volvo is now producing some magnificent automobiles, which are no longer boxy or poorly trimmed.
“With the launch of the XC90, we made a clear statement of intent. We are now clearly and firmly in the game. With USD 11 billion of investment over the past five years, we have not only reimagined what Volvo Cars can be – we are now delivering on our promise of a resurgent and relevant Volvo Cars brand,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President & CEO, Volvo Car Group.
The new 2017 Volvo S90 T5 and T6 is an entirely new flagship for Volvo, with innovation and quality controls which solidify that Volvo is here to play with the likes of BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Cadillac CT6, and even the all-new Mercedes E-Class. The S90 takes the best of the styling cues from the new XC90, and I submit, brings Volvo's new sedan into the lead of modern luxury sedans.
The front fascia and headlights are unique and handsome, still retaining a look that implies solid engineering. The front headlight LED lights are described as “Thor's Hammer”- denoting power and divine invincibility, from a Norse Viking symbol- Mjöllnir. While I enjoy some humor here, I have to say the new S90 does feel like a solid sedan that is ready to do battle with the elements. LED is used throughout the vehicle and highlight this creative design. The feeling of the S90 is still substantial, trustworthy in harsh weather, and reliable but now with something just a little extra!
Thankfully, the Norseman's lighting features produce a very well-lit road ahead of the Volvo which I experienced on country roads. The Active Bending Lights (ABL) use the LED headlights with Thor’s Hammer Daytime Running Lights and fog lights, to illuminate the roadway ahead and around corners. The infrared system can also highlight persons or animals beyond the light on a digital display in the instrument panel, to help avoid severe impacts. The Active High Beam (AHB) also senses on-coming traffic before blinding the on-coming driver much quicker than some other manufacturers.
The most attractive interior designs I have seen in recent years replace the drab plastic interiors of yesteryear. The plush leather and real, recycled wood flow from inside the aluminum trim with a beautiful Scandinavian flair. The seats are comfortable and supportive for drivers of any size, including my large 6'3" frame. The controls are intuitive and similar to the controls on a Tesla-like center touch-screen that functions as a tablet. This touchpad is very intuitive.
The T5 model designation is turbocharged and not a five-cylinder engine; likewise, the T6 models are turbo and supercharged and not six-cylinders. Currently, the 2.0-liter four-banger is the only engine option and running both a blower and a turbo on such a small displacement is an engineering marvel. There is a T8 (twin-engine) plug-in hybrid planned for the US market with AWD. The 2.0-liter gasoline engine integrates with a starter/generator motor and an 8-speed automatic transmission up front. Then Volvo uses a 65 kW electric motor to drive the rear wheels.
Sticking with mythological characters, the only possible Achilles' Heel in the new flagship might be these four-cylinder engines. After recent announcements that Volvo is moving toward electric motors in all their vehicles by 2019, it is clear why they are moving towards smaller and more efficient engines. However, luxury sedan owners have traditionally leaned towards larger engines with a low-end grunt and exhaust burble. Volvo has chosen two four-cylinder engines, which utilize only 2.0 liters of displacement, and S90 does not grunt or burble. Even so, there is plenty of power when leaning on the accelerator.
Our test S90 Inscription AWD T6 produces 316 horsepower and 295 lb. ft. torque using a direct-injected intake system, turbocharging and supercharging, for smooth power from start to over 80 miles-per-hour. The eight-speed “Geartronic” automatic was flawless and did not hunt for gears on the hills and valleys, thanks to a computer-controlled “Adaptive Shift” program. The start/stop function is also smooth but can be deactivated for stop/go traffic situations. The AWD worked non-stop and helped cornering on the wet and dry pavement with torque control to all four wheels (Volvo labels this “Instant Traction”).
A legacy Volvo cars have carried into modern times is their focus on passenger safety. Still utilizing a safety cage construction, Volvo has excelled in driver-assist safety systems using cameras, sensors, radars, and a little computer magic. In fact, I was brave enough to test the S90 autonomous-driving systems at freeway speeds, which took over the steering, accelerator, brakes, and lights. The sensors in the steering wheel will not allow the driver to travel hands-free for more than a few seconds, but the S90 was happy to drive itself. This amount of safety technology is quite unnerving to a driver and control-freak like myself.
Volvo calls all this technology IntelliSafe™. It includes a semi-autonomous Pilot Assist which operates up to 80 mph on roads with painted lines and clear lane definitions. According to Volvo, “Pilot Assist is another step towards Volvo’s Vision 2020, which states that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.” A superhero goal for certain, but Geely/Volvo are seriously pursuing this goal with computer programs with automatic braking and collision avoidance systems.
Another standard S90 safety feature includes a “Large Animal Detection” algorithm designed to help avoid or mitigate collisions with large animals such as moose. When the moose steps onto the road, an auto-steer function helps keep the S90 on the road. In short, someone has programmed the S90 to decide which objects to avoid and which ones to possibly hit, and try to keep the car from hitting something like a tree. These human decisions can be made quicker by a computer, but the question is what “animal” takes priority when a choice is imminent for the car’s path.
As for the driving experience, I found the S90 a joy to drive on long trips. It also has a great turning radius, so parking lots are easy to navigate. The 360-degree camera view and automatic parking assistance make parking less stressful.
Like other luxury sedans, Volvo allows drivers to select Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, and Individual mode which adjust engine mapping, steering feel, transmission responses and suspension dampening. Unlike other sedans, these settings do make a noticeable difference in the way the S90 feels on the road, especially with the optional air suspension.
My test 2017 Volvo S90 T6 Inscription came with every feature, some available through option packages in addition to the starting MSRP of $56,250 (Destination Charge $995). Included is Volvo’s On-Call Telematics connectivity which consists of a remote lock/unlock door operation, remote engine start, diagnostics, etc. for the first 6-months, and 19” wheels and tires. This S90 T6 came with ultra-low profile 20” wheels, and these tires increased road noise and gave us a harsher ride quality. Even at fully optioned, our Volvo S90 came to $66,105, competitively priced for such a stunning sedan that averaged 25.5 mpg.
The list of options is almost endless, and yet the list is shorter than the other luxury sedans. Nice touches worth mentioning is a 4-Zone climate control & cooled glovebox, Apple CarPlay, heated washer nozzles, and a heated windscreen that clears frost almost instantly (available when Heads Up Display (HUD) is not included).
None of these creature comforts would have impressed my college professor, but he would have recognized the quality and workmanship of the S90 and appreciated the noble feeling of this flagship sedan. The professor would have never said, “Whosoever holds this the key to this car, if he be worthy, shall possess the power this fine luxury sedan.” However, I will twist a quote from the superhero Thor at this point in highlight Volvo’s progress.