The S90 sedan is based on Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, which is definitely one of the most flexible platforms in the automotive world today. The platform that underpinned the XC90 SUV serves as the basis for a completely different vehicle, the S90, which is a luxury sedan. Nothing about the way physics affects these two vehicles is same and yet they are based on the same platform. A key reason why the SPA can underpin everything from a hatchback to a large SUV is the fact that all vehicles use a 2.0 litre petrol or diesel engine, tuned differently for all vehicles. The S90 hence uses the same engine, that powers the XC90 SUV. Add to this a new design language, both inside and outside the vehicle and the S90 sounds intriguing. Let's get cracking for more details then.
The Volvo S90 will replace the ageing S80 and more importantly mark the company's entry into a segment that has heavyweights like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and the updated Jaguar XF. If you close your eyes for a moment and think about the design of all these cars for a moment, the most noticeable similarity is the aggression in the design, almost to the point of intimidation. Now this isn't a bad thing at all and I personally like some of these cars but there are people who prefer subtlety and elegance and sadly for them, there was no choice in this segment till the S90 hit the headlines in India.
The S90 catches an onlooker's attention with its Thor-shaped DRLs in the sleek headlamps and concave metallic rings, which have been designed to look as if they're suspended in the air. The inspiration for this and some bits on the rear comes from the iconic Volvo P1800 ES. The S90 also gets a long hood, which has been designed to look straight and despite a slight curve it does look almost straight when viewed from a fair bit of distance. The reason to not have any power bulges or scoops was to curb the aggression and add elegance and the S90 does that in style. On the side, the low-slung body with the length of the car creates an impressive sight. The S90 looks longer than its competitors because it is the longest in its segment and Volvo designers have done a good job of lending a visual accentuation through a play of lines.
Yes, the front resembles the XC90 but that's perfectly fine since the XC90 isn't an old design. Plus, the side looks different and the rear section can simply leave one captivated. The S90's rear once again takes inspiration from the P1800 ES and does what no other car in the segment does – create a perfect harmony of classic design language and modern design elements and merge them to create a gaze worthy result. The sharp creases at the top of the tail lamp extend and merge into the pronounced boot line, which also sits on top of the VOLVO branding.
Overall, the S90 not only comes across as a fresh breeze within the Volvo portfolio, it looks totally different from its German and British competitors. For that reason, there is little doubt that consumers will take the S90 seriously once it gets launched in November.
The cabin of the S90 is similar to what one can find in the XC90 and that's a good thing because that's a way more expensive car and yet the S90 has the same quality and doesn't miss out on features as well. The cabin is draped in Nappa leather in a rich looking shade of white, further complemented by actual wood inserts on the dashboard. Material quality and build quality is impressive and the diamond-cut finish on the drive selector, ignition knob and air vent regulators highlights the level of attention to detail in the cabin. There's not a bit in the cabin that looks out of place and perceivable quality is right up there with segment standards and better in some areas.
At the centre, there's an iPad like colour touch screen, which provides access to all infotainment functions. As a result, there are very few buttons on the console, which combined with the white colour gives the cabin a clean and airy feel.
Then there are the front seats, which with the extendable supporters and a brilliant design seem to cocoon the occupants, irrespective of their size. Support is great all round and headroom isn't a problem. Visibility to is great from all sides, making it easier to negotiate our country's erratic traffic.
Now onto the important rear seat, which is where a large number of buyers in this segment spent their time in. For a chauffeur-driven person, the S90 offers impressive leg room, which should suffice even for a combination of a tall driver and tall rear passengers. The centre tunnel is quite high, though, making the rear seat usable for two adults. The reason the tunnel is so high is because this space comes in handy for storing the batteries of the plug-in-hybrid S90, which might make it to India at a later stage. The seat itself is comfortable and offers good headroom, shoulder room and decent under thigh support. For people above 6 feet, the under thigh support might be a bit less but for most, the rear seat will keep you in comfort for long.
A cherry point for the rear occupant is the air suspension at the rear of the S90, which simply glides over smaller undulations as if they didn't exist and larger speed breakers too fail to make the rear occupant uncomfortable. The ride quality is unquestionable this is something that is bound to become a key consideration for buying decisions. In addition, the cabin remains almost insulated from the engine's sound. Even at high speeds, very little of wind whistle make it into the cabin and the specially compounded Pirelli P Zeros ensure minimal tyre-roll sound.
Powertrain & Dynamics
Based on the SPA platform, the S90 is powered by a 2.0 litre four-cylinder E-Drive turbocharged diesel engine, which develops 190 hp and 400 Nm of torque. The numbers are right up there with the competition and so is the real world performance, partially helped by the eight-speed automatic transmission, which shifts without any lag in most situations. The engine starts with a typical diesel clatter, which can be heard only when outside the car. With the windows up, very little of this sound makes through the NVH proofing.
The engine has a hint of turbo lag but that is masked well by the smart transmission, which does its best to offer optimum power at all times. Through the narrow roads of Jodhpur and on the Jaisalmer highway, the engine felt adequately powered and overtaking long trailers was never a problem. One can choose from different driving modes too but given the easy-going nature of the powertrain, we found it best to be in Dynamic most of the times. One can also opt for slotting the transmission into manual mode and shift her/ himself, taking care of the wee bit of lag that shows up at times.
The S90 isn't meant to be a sporty car so it doesn't deliver its power in one big dollop. Instead, the S90 accelerates in a linear manner, reaching speeds in respectable time but a comfortable manner more importantly. As I mentioned earlier, the cabin is a quiet place to be and even when hovering close to the 4,000 rpm mark, the sound from the motor isn't too loud.
From a handling perspective, we've already discussed how great a place the rear seat is, even for longer durations. For the driver too, the S90 is a good pick as it offers sure-footed handling and respectable performance from the engine. The fact that the S90 is lighter than the XC90 helps the engine move around the S90 quicker than the XC90. The length of the car and the soft suspension setup mean the S90 prefers to take long corners in a composed manner. Point the steering wheel through a turn and the S90 happily follows without any drama. There is a bit of body-roll but the grip from the Pirelli rubber helps the car carry a lot of pace through corners.
The steering itself is quick and offers decent feedback. In addition, there's an option to alter how heavy the steering will get with an increase in velocity.
The Volvo S90 is a huge departure from the cars we've known them to make over the last few decades. The XC90 started the range of cars with a radically new feel and look and the S90 follows its elder sibling's footsteps. The S90 is a contrasting contender in its segment because no design elements in the car scream at you or an onlooker. The power doesn't beg you to go sideways with the tyres spewing out smoke. You know the power is there when you need it but you don't always need to push the pedal to the metal. Similarly, the interior is a relaxing and calm place with soothing shades to go easy on your vision. After a stressful day in the office, the S90 's interiors coupled up with the wide glass area can be helpful in mood rejuvenation.
The Volvo S90 will be offered only in one variant, which means almost everything comes as standard so no need to bother about options pushing up the price into another segment altogether. Since it's a Volvo, safety needs no mention and the car comes with segment-leading active and passive safety features. It's a good car to drive and comfortable to be seated in and has all the bells and whistles for its segment. However, those who prefer to drive themselves too shouldn't overlook the S90 because if this engine doesn't excite you, sometime around mid-2017, Volvo will launch the D5 engine with 235 hp and the radar-based safety system witnessed on the XC90 plug-in-hybrid.
The prices aren't out yet as the launch is slated for November 2016 but expect the S90 to be priced competitively close to the Rs 55 lakh mark. At that price and for the S90's kit, the car should prove to be quite a worry for the Germans, especially Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The S90 isn't as sporty as the 5 Series so BMW might have a lesser worry but only till the D5 arrives to challenge the 525 d and 530 d.