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Review of the 2017 Volvo S90: Ready To Take On The Big Boys?

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On: Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 8:54AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2017 Volvo S90:  Ready To Take On The Big Boys?

This just in: German carmakers are good at what they do. Very good, in fact. Over the last few decades, the big three Germans—BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have dominated the luxury sedan market with a convincing mix of style, poise, posh, attitude, and attention to detail. They took all of the complaints that consumers had about other luxury vehicles and made them into strengths. No longer were people forced to choose between a Cadillac boat, floating along down the highway, or a sorely underpowered Mitsubishi Galant that struggled to get up to the speed limit. Once the populous realized they actually had a choice, and could opt for a more refined, better engineered, and more agile vehicle, the monopoly began and the new Big Three left many cars and companies in their collective wake.

However, every so often an outlier car company creates a vehicle that can and does come to spar with the big boys and try their luck. Cadillac, for example, has upped their luxury game significantly in terms of style and performance in order to stay relevant. The same can be said for Acura and Jaguar. But there is a new car on the market for 2017 that may have just what it takes to give the big boys a run for their money. You may not realize it, but yes, a car from Sweden may just be what you’ve been looking for in a luxury sedan.

The 2017 Volvo S90 is a giant step forward for the Swedes. Gone is the unreliable and goofy car with the five-cylinder engine that a few saw as a trademark, but most just viewed it as a little too much quirkiness to live with day-to-day. In its place is a true flagship that the brand can stand behind. It’s not perfect, but it is a significant step in the right direction. The exterior of the S90 has a distinctive German feel to it. Long hood, short deck—and, from its profile, actually looks like a car that has a BMW-sloped windshield and hood, combined with an Audi front end. Of course, there are some badges that will tell you otherwise upon closer inspection, but don’t be surprised if you see this car and think it’s one of its competitors. It has strong, defined lines that give it a significant presence outside, with no gaudy or excessive body-cladding to muck-up the works. Of course, those Swedes have to make their mark somewhere, and they’ve chosen the front and rear lights to do so with the S90. Up front, the company employs what it calls its “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights that bisect the fixtures and are used as daytime running lights. They appear to take the shape of a hammer on its side, hence the mythical name. It seems to work much in the way that Audi has been uses LEDs for its signature headlights. Out back, the S90 takes a bit more of a gamble with its tail light design. The look seems to frame the rear in kind of a pair of c-shaped brackets. While not as visually off-putting as say, the newest Honda Civic’s taillights, the Volvo version could be described as… a calculated risk. They are very distinct, that is for sure, but are they going to turn-off potential buyers as being too quirky once again? It’s hard to say. We do like these lights better than an inline-5 though, so at least there’s that.

Inside, the Volvo treats you with what feels like an Ikea showroom. There are soft an wonderfully supportive seats that contour to the body while you bask in the glow of wood grain and Nappa leather. Sit back and listen to a very sweet-sounding Bowers & Wilkins sound system that is activated by an intuitive interface called Sensus, which does seem to have its merits when it comes to ease of use. The cabin is spacious and well thought out, and even includes things like CleanZone technology, which is an air purification system that filters out nasty particulates and allergens, helping you breathe a bit easier. There is ample room for five, and even the backseat passengers have enough legroom to feel like adults.

Like most of its competitors, the S90 comes with so many technical aids that Volvo actually markets the car as “Semi-Autonomous”. Pilot Assist basically drives the car for you up to 80 mph. It can speed up, slow down, or brake all on its own. You have the option to turn it off or on, thank goodness, but it is there if you don’t really want to drive while you’re driving. A 360-degree camera is also part of the safety package and helps things like Park Assist or City Safety and Large Animal Detection work better. The latter two can automatically engage the emergency brake if it deems necessary. Another nice perk, is the Volvo On Call app that is basically a remote control for your car to get things ready for your departure. Volvo also offers a complimentary concierge service specifically for S90 owners.

Three options are available for potential S90 buyers: The T5 FWD Inscription, T6 Momentum and T6 AWD Inscription. Both the T5 and T6 Momentum are front-wheel drive cars powered by the same 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes a reasonable 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The T6 AWD is, as you might expect, all-wheel drive and powered by a significantly stronger 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged and supercharged engine that makes a sizable 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Both engine configurations are backed by the same smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. Of course, the T6 AWD has 4,222 pounds to haul around versus 4,012 for the other two, but it seems to do well enough. What is nice, though, is that even though the T6 AWD is heavier and more powerful, it only gives up a slight amount of fuel economy in trade: 22/31 city/highway mpg versus 23/34 city/highway for the other two. All three variations qualify as ULEV-II environmental classification cars, so you can feel good about your car even if it isn’t a hybrid.

When it comes to performance, the S90 can more than hold its own against its German rivals, so long as you’re comparing apples to apples. Volvo doesn’t have the equivalent of an M, AMG, or S division, so the high-end performance variants of these cars can’t come to play because it just wouldn’t be fair. But, compared to say… a standard 5-Series, A6, or E-Class, the S90 does rather well. Depending which engine configuration you choose (the double-charged engine being the faster of the two), this Volvo can sprint from 0–60 mph in 5.1 or 6.7 seconds, from 0–100 mph in 15.0 seconds or 16.2 seconds, through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds or 15.3 seconds, and all cars have an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. It even pulls an very impressive 0.90 g around the skidpad. Not bad for a five-passenger family sedan.

The 2017 S90 has a base price of $46,950 for a base T5, which climbs up to $52,950 for the T6 AWD. This pricing keeps it well within spitting distance of all of its major competitors, and undercuts the BMW 5-Series by a considerable margin—probably not a coincidence. But the real question is this: Can a Volvo compete with the big boys of luxury? In short, we don’t know yet. Up until now, the answer was a resounding “No!” But 2017 is a new model year, and the S90 gives Volvo the best chance it has had in some time to actually try and grab a notable amount of market share from its German rivals. And while we would personally wait for the next redesign of those quirky taillights, we know there are plenty of potential buyers out there that may just want a little more of an unconventional look. And as long as there is a very competent, well-performing, extremely comfortable sedan beneath that unorthodox style, there might just be enough of a package to create a suitable David to take on all three Goliaths, and, maybe, just maybe, come out on top for once.

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