In between Summer People traffic and bites of fried clams, Volvo’s new S90 is quietly compelling.
– Montauk, New York
Earlier this summer you may have read Steve Siler’s excellent writeup of this very same 2017 Volvo S90, brought to you from the twisting, sun-drenched roads of Spain. So why did I fly to New York City, and then haul out to the moneyed end of Long Island to drive it again? A simple answer would be: context.
Much as you and I love to imagine good cars forever driven on mountain roads and canyon trails, the money lives in the city. Montauk is not Manhattan, of course, but it does offer up some conditional driving that city dwellers and expectant commuters will be familiar with: traffic, cops, low speed limits, and generally obstructed travel.
When asked about the kind of customer Volvo was expecting or targeting for this ground-up new sedan, Volvo VP of Corporate Communications, Dean Shaw, quipped, “Anyone with the money to buy one.” His pragmatism taken as read; the S90 did seem particularly at home at this vacation-y end of Long Island. The Hamptons’ roadways are alive with Range Rovers, Porsches, and Bentleys, with the big three German luxury brands in heavy rotation, too. SUVs and crossovers seem to dominate the numbers – and I did see a smattering of Volvo’s own XC90 in private hands – but the big-wheeled S90 feels as though it would sit correctly in most of the driveways hereabouts.
The Swedes have absolutely nailed the exterior design for this long sedan.
The Swedes have absolutely nailed the exterior design for this long sedan. The S90 is a front- or all-wheel-drive car, but the long hood and impressive dash-to-axle span harken to classic, front-engine, rear-drive proportions. That formula, combined with a very clean, strong bodyside and abbreviated front and rear overhangs, makes the profile view my favorite way to look at the car.
I have genuinely enjoyed this generation of Mercedes-Benz car design, but in a way Volvo is presenting an opposite-equal with the S90. The German cars are all sloping lines and shallow parabolas, where Volvo has gone for defined bone structure and dramatic angles. Different enough from the competition to stand out, and beautiful in the bargain.
Volvo has crafted a magnificent interior for the S90, too, in a marketplace that increasingly demands nothing less. Audi and Mercedes cabins are routinely phenomenal, of course, and with matching technology, but I’ll admit to being partial to the understated vibe of the Volvo.
The space is clean, bright, comfortable, and smacks of richness without clubbing me over the head with it.
Every S90 available for me to drive was optioned the same way, meaning a fully loaded Inscription trim with the T6 all-wheel-drive drivetrain. From the driver’s vantage point behind the wheel, that means soft Nappa leather everywhere, open-pore walnut wood inlays, and the best-yet version of Volvo’s legendary seats (here heated, vented, and power-adjustable for a dizzying number of vectors). The space is clean, bright, comfortable, and smacks of richness without clubbing me over the head with it. And, critically, it seems very well suited to de-stressing the kinds of long commuters and gridlock warriors that drive through major metros every Monday through Friday.
All models come with the excellent Sensus interface and software, meaning a nine-inch, tablet-style touchscreen and a processor powerful enough to make it worth having. Apple made the pinch-to-zoom motion so ubiquitous that the lagginess inherent in most automakers navigation displays can be maddening. Sensus has its own logical rabbit holes to fall down, to be sure, but the fact that its touchscreen works so fluidly lets me enjoy its inclusion, most of the time. And – probably because there’s a physical “home button” and a single giant knob at the bottom – I didn’t hear any of the old fuddy-duddy car writers bitch about it… typically one of their favorite pastimes.
I kicked this story off with a note about city driving context, which is why it’s taken me so long to talk about how the S90 goes down the road. Montauk in the summer, even during the week, is not an ideal place for a brisk drive. Sure, coastal roads and tree-lined inland streets are just as pristine as you might hope, but the speed limits range from 15 miles per hour (24 kilometres per hour) to 30 (48 km/h) in most places, and the 55-mph (88 km/h) highways have more police cruisers than fried clam shacks. It’s not an ideal place to test the top-end velocity or at-limit handling profile of anything more aggressive than a balloon-tired bike.
The supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre T6 engine is a monster of specific output, creating a generous 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque from its small displacement.
The good news is that the S90 came together nicely in those very pedestrian circumstances. The supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre T6 engine is a monster of specific output, creating a generous 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque from its small displacement. The engine had enough gumption to blast through occasional holes in the locals-plus-sightseers traffic; all the torque available at just over 2,000 rpm allowing for virtually no lag when I felt the urge to scoot. The twin-charged engine works in quiet concert with Volvo’s eight-speed transmission, too. Changes of ratio are pretty hard to notice, unless you dial them up yourself by way of the shift lever, or change velocity dramatically with the drive mode set to Dynamic.
Sadly, there were no T5 iterations of the S90 on hand for me to drive – too bad, because I think that engine with the Inscription trim might be the best solution for posh urbanites. Sure, the 0-60 sprint times drop from 5.7 seconds in the T6 to 6.5 in the 250-hp, 258-lb-ft T5. But the driver seeking understated luxury and a good-looking four-door probably doesn’t drag race much.
Ride quality and interior stillness were excellent, at least within the modest envelope of speed in which I tested the car. A slightly higher-than-expected bit of roar from the 20-inch wheels (optional) was the only negative to noise, vibration, and harshness, in a cabin that’s well suited to the Gothenburg Concert Hall setting on the optional Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi system.
With MSRPs ranging from $56,900 for the T6 Momentum car, to $63,000 for the T6 Inscription, Volvo is matching steps with its biggest perceived rivals.
For the few, fleeting corners I was able to push the S90, I could feel good, not great, handling behavior. It’s likely that there’s some safe-default-understeer lurking in the DNA here, but I’ll defer to our original review’s more dynamic conditions on that front. Steering was light, but still easy to control, and my general sense was one of the car sort of athletically doing the driving for itself. For those seeking a Swedish flavor of motive repose, this is your car.
Volvo calls out cars like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 as primary competition for the S90, which is probably correct in terms of sales and segment. I actually think there’s plenty that, say, a Lexus GS buyer would enjoy, though, what with the strong reputation for safety, and cosseting ride. With MSRPs ranging from $56,900 for the T6 Momentum car, to $63,000 for the T6 Inscription, Volvo is matching steps with its biggest perceived rivals. The nearly loaded test car I drove netted out to more than $66k USD (US model tested), too, so don’t think you’re all-in at the headlining price. Still, those are competitive numbers as long as brand-prestige is equal for you.
The Hamptons aren’t a place I’ll steer other driving enthusiasts to visit, after my first trip. But for a relaxing cruise up the shore, be it the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, or even a Great Lake coast, Volvo has something to show you.
Photos: Seyth Miersma / Motor1.com