With its jewel-like presence and details that delight the eye, the S90's sharp appearance suggests that Volvo has finally joined the top tier of luxury brands.
But much of the S90's appeal goes only skin deep. In order for this aspiring model to deserve a place among other $60,000 luxury midsize sedans, it needs to match them on refinement and performance. As compelling as this Swede seems to be on the surface, we found the S90 to fall short on key traits that are crucial in this segment.
Following Volvo's contemporary four-cylinder-only doctrine, the S90 offers a choice between two turbocharged four-cylinder engines. All-wheel drive comes standard with the turbocharged and supercharged T6, and it will eventually be offered on the less-powerful, turbo-only T5.
We recorded a decent 23 mpg overall with our T6. While the T6's mill supplies sufficient real-world power, acceleration numbers fall behind the norm in this swift class, as the Volvo takes over seven seconds to complete the 0-60 mph dash.
More noticeable in day-to-day life is the unpleasant noise this engine emits -- a powertrain cacophony unbefitting of a premium luxury sedan. The stiff ride is another major letdown. The suspension allows pronounced impacts to enter the cabin, and an underlying jitter makes the sedan feel unsettled. These two key shortcomings rob the flagship Volvo of the smoothness needed to truly compete in this cultured class.
Unlike Cadillac, Jaguar, and the German competitors, the Volvo doesn't reward with a sporty and athletic driving experience. Handling manages to be competent, sound, and secure in the corners, but nowhere does excitement enter into the equation.The S90's cabin is gorgeous. Beautiful details create ambiance while surfaces are adorned with matte wood, brushed aluminum, and buttery soft leather, making the cabin an inviting place to be. The modern theme appears uncluttered yet luxurious, managing to be thoroughly fresh and decidedly unique.
Some strong points carry over from the XC90 SUV sibling, including very supportive front seats and a roomy backseat. However, not everything inherited from its big brother is a strength. We are not fans of the controls, particularly the touch-screen infotainment system. While the iPad-like display looks slick at first glance, actually using it while driving proves to be overly distracting. Small fonts and lots of tapping and swiping between screens are major frustrations. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help a bit.
Volvo's Pilot Assist system is offered as an option. It combines steering assistance and adaptive cruise control to try to make driving easier. It has no proven safety benefit, but can make driving more convenient in stop-and-go traffic. Drivers still need to constantly pay attention and be ready to take over when needed.
Forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, including pedestrian detection, are standard -- appropriate given Volvo's safety reputation.
With its plush interior, roomy cabin, extensive safety equipment, and standard high-tech features, the Volvo S90 could be a compelling alternative to the established German competition. But with manners that are less than polished (namely a rough ride, noisy engine, and befuddling controls), you might want to look elsewhere.