By Derek Price
Volvo has long been known, first and foremost, for safety.
Forget about that for a minute, though, because this Chinese-owned Swedish brand has just built one of the world’s best luxury cars in the new S90.
With one exception, this is among the top luxury sedans I’ve ever driven. It has sophisticated features to pamper you, materials that make you feel like royalty and stunning design to match, putting it squarely in the same caliber as — and in some cases surpassing — the best that Mercedes, BMW and Lexus have to offer in this class.
That one exception? The engine.
My tester came with what Volvo calls the T6, a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter that — despite the “6” in its name — has but four cylinders. It looks great on paper, with a 316-horsepower output, but is less impressive on the road with a slightly raspy exhaust note and less low-end torque than I’d like to have at my toes’ disposal.
Granted, that’s getting very picky. And with a starting price over $48,000, I’m going to be.
Nitpick as I might, there’s not much else to complain about on the S90.
The digital interface, usually my first gripe in today’s luxury cars, is spectacular. Other than on Teslas, I can’t think of any digital systems that have a better interface than Google or Apple can create. This is one does. It feels as good as anything out of Silicon Valley with controls that are quick and easy to operate with the flick of a finger.
It’s also the first car to come with semi-autonomous driving features as standard equipment, Volvo says.
The Pilot Assist feature in the S90 uses adaptive cruise control and sensors to steer the car in a lane and follow traffic. Under the right conditions, it can virtually drive itself for short periods of time, but the driver still has to pay attention. I found it veering closer to roadside mailboxes than I would like, for example.
When it works right, though, Pilot Assist is a breathtaking and relaxing experience, made all the more so by S90’s spa-like cabin design.
Every time I sit inside this car, I feel like exhaling a slow, deep breath. It’s like driving a yoga class. Wood, metal, glass and clean European design tend to have that effect, and they all come together beautifully in the solid, silent cabin of the S90.
The exterior design is eye-catching — a bit more aggressive than most of its competitors in this conservative luxury class, perhaps — but not as unusual as its interior. To my eye, it’s sleek and handsome without crossing the line into ostentatious.
If you want to have a car with monstrous power and some Earth-saving cred at the same time, Volvo offers the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain. It makes 400 horsepower and a mind-blowing 472 pound-feet of torque while still delivering 29 mpg on the highway. While I haven’t driven the T8 powertrain in the S90, I have experienced it in the bigger, heavier XC90 SUV and thought it was brilliant.
Pricing starts at $48,100 with the base T5 engine and ranges up to $63,650 for the T8 hybrid. For the luxury Inscription line, the T8 will set you back $68,150 before adding any options, which can easily push it over $80,000 if start to load it with upgrades.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD ($52,950). Options: Inscription package ($3,300), vision package ($1,950), climate package with HUD ($1,950), convenience package ($1,000) Bowers & Wilkins premium sound ($2,650), metallic paint ($560), 20-inch wheels ($1,010). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $66,365
Wheelbase: 115.8 in.
Length: 195.4 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 56.8 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (316 hp, 295 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 31 highway
Why buy it?
It’s a luxury sedan that pampers you in every way: style, materials and technology. It’s a compelling car even when you don’t factor in Volvo’s advanced safety tech.