Now that Volvo has nestled into the booming luxury SUV market with the redesigned XC90, the Swedish automaker is taking aim at another premium segment ruled by AudiBMW, or Mercedes-Benz. The jewel-like Volvo S90 sedan is certainly sculptural and an appropriate successor to the Volvo S80, but is this aspiring monarch worthy of a place in the court of European luxury nobility?

We rented the all-new 2017 Volvo S90 in top-trim Inscription form so that we could spend some time getting to know the sedan before buying one to run through our full battery of tests. Our first drive left our aesthetic interests piqued but didn't stoke our enthusiast fires.

There's no denying that the S90 is a beautiful car. Even the rather dull rear end can be forgiven in the same way the kingly and fondly remembered Volvo 164 of the 1970s suffered from a lackluster rump. Like contemporary rivals such as the Jaguar XF, the design of the 2017 Volvo S90 is focused on the ornamental front. It’s a bit like brushing only the front of your hair because you can’t see the back of your head in a mirror. Still, the S90 maintains a regal and glittering presence. 

2017 Volvo S90 Sedan interior
The interior of 2017 Volvo S90 sedan

Inside, the S90 is gorgeous. Beautiful details swathe surfaces with matte wood and brushed metals that allow this gemstone to sparkle. The warm ambiance is almost more Jaguar than even Jaguar seems to be able to manage. The sunroof definitely enhances the airy and light mood, although it does seem on the small side, with the vast majority of luxury sedans blanketed by slabs of glass above the cabin.

Just like its XC90 sibling, the 2017 Volvo S90 has great front seats and a very roomy back seat. However, not everything inherited from the big Volvo SUV is a strength. We haven’t been a fan of the gargantuan touch screen Volvo uses with its new infotainment system. While the screen size is commendable, the fonts are distractingly tiny in comparison, and we find the system to be unintuitive. Also, an odd omission is a power adjustment for the telescoping steering wheel.

Where the S90 shows off its smarts is in its semi-self-driving features. While not as well-tuned as the Mercedes-Benz DrivePilot system or the Tesla AutoPilot, the enhanced lane-keeping assist can be a welcome aid on long trips.

The S90’s driving dynamics are rather ordinary for a $60,000 car. The T6 uses a four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged. While power from this 316-hp mill is certainly sufficient, pulling the car along easily, the resulting engine whine is unbefitting of a premium luxury sedan. In fact, this engine can’t even match the refinement of other turbocharged four-cylinders, such as those offered by Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and even Lexus. The T5 also has a 2.0-liter turbo four, but it drops the T6's supercharger, resulting in 251 hp. All-wheel drive is standard on the T6; the T5 is front-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive will be available eventually as an option.

The ride with the optional air suspension in the rear wasn’t quite as stiff and unyielding as typically found in Volvos. But there is nothing remarkable to say about the handling, other than how unsporty and ordinary it is. There’s pretty much nothing else in this segment that is less inspiring to drive. You get far more excitement in the Ford Fusion, a mainstream midsized sedan that's less than half the price.

Our plan is to buy the 2017 Volvo S90 with a T6 in the Momentum trim level, which should make it about $6,000 less than the version we rented. That is something of a bargain compared with the German cars, which typically sticker for around $65,000 with plenty of options still left for the taking. Once we get our S90 up to miles, we'll share our test results.

This fall we'll release our latest reliability data, which will include the XC90 and its entirely brand-new platform. That might give an early indication of what buyers can expect from the first-year of the S90 since it shares so much with its sibling.

With the redesigned XC90 and new S90, Volvo finally has some nice options for those who don’t want a German brand. To be sure, with its plush interior, roomy cabin, safety, and technology, the 2017 Volvo S90 is a compelling flagship worthy of its own coat of arms, but at first blush it might have to settle with a fiefdom for now instead of an entire kingdom. 

2017 Volvo S90 Sedan rear