Yes, the all-new 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription is by far the most impressive luxury sedan I’ve ever tested in the midsize segment. It combines minimalist Scandinavian design principles with one of the most beautifully imagined and exquisitely crafted interiors currently available, and propels it all with the auto industry’s most advanced standard powertrain, period.
A real thing of beauty
For starters, the S90’s exterior design is unlike anything else on the road. From its elegant waterfall grille and distinctive “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlamps to its unique, rectangular backside and completely original, yet wonderfully shaped taillights, it’s sensational from every angle.
Meanwhile, finding a more exquisitely executed cabin would be difficult in the segment. Volvo covers nearly every surface of the top-line T6 Inscription’s interior in something soft and luxurious. They even painstakingly stitch together seemingly handcrafted leathers, especially finely finished where the dash top pointedly meets up with the instrument panel below, and the door uppers are executed differently albeit with a similar level of artisan precision. Just below, rounded planks of open-pore hardwood hover in relief above metal inlays and yet more leather, the wood also stretching across the instrument panel and lower console. Satin-silver metals add yet more eye-dazzling twinkle, highlighted by drilled aluminum speaker grilles that provide a glimpse of the Bowers & Wilkins hardware beneath (there’s a single speaker atop the dash that’s pretty cool, too).
In sharp contrast to the rest of the 2017 Volvo S90’s purposefully understated elegance are the bling-y, diamond-patterned metal ignition switch and the equally flashy drive mode button, both seeming out of place in this otherwise contemporary cabin (although I’m in love with Volvo’s new leather-wrapped, diamond-pattern metal key fob; I’m so conflicted). The awkward protuberance needs to be twisted rightward to start the engine and left to shut it off, an annoying process that could be more effectively managed by a simple button.
Likewise, choosing Dynamic (sport), Eco or Comfort (default) mode requires pressing the other textured metal button before scrolling through options on the infotainment screen, a tedious process that would be much more conveniently dealt with by a simple toggle or dial. In fact, Volvo should swap these contraptions around and use a fixed version of the scrolling switch for ignition duties and the rotating one for selecting drive modes. After all, why overcomplicate simple tasks?
On the positive, the S90’s Sensus infotainment interface is nearly best in class. If you’ve ever used a smartphone or tablet, you’ll feel comfortable with this touchscreen as it’s a matter of simple swipes up and down or from side to side, depending on functions (navigation, climate control, audio, phone setup, etc.). As for graphics, the team responsible for creating the ignition jewelry was obviously not involved, because there’s hardly anything colourful to be found, unless you consider grey a colour. Then again, if you pay extra for the 360-degree overhead monitor, which is the best I’ve ever experienced, you’ll be eyeing finely detailed, bird’s-eye images in their full, vivid, glorious original hues ― really, it’s the Google Earth of parking cameras.
The configurable TFT gauge cluster ahead of the driver is equally crisp, clear, and easily legible. And thanks to blues, reds, and metal chromes, it’s downright cheery in comparison to the more monotone infotainment display.
With no panoramic sunroof available, rear-seat passengers are denied natural overhead light, so they might as well block the sun entirely with the side window shades. They also benefit from a fairly comprehensive automatic HVAC touchscreen with integrated outboard seat heaters, part of the Volvo S90 Inscription’s quad-zone climate control system, while B-pillar-mounted directional vents increase rear airflow.
The rear seats are phenomenally comfortable, by the way, and there’s no shortage of room. I had about 10” ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was set for my 5’8” frame, plus at least 4” above my head, meaning mid-six-footers should have plenty of room to spare.
Volvo also incorporates powered switches for lowering the headrests, which improves rearward visibility, and lets them tuck behind the front seats when dropping the 60/40-split seatbacks to expand the already sizeable 500L trunk. The cargo area is nicely finished with carpeting, but no chromed tie-down hoops or brushed stainless sill protector plates dress it up. There’s a handy centre pass-through, however, although I’d prefer 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks that allow more gear, such as skis, down the middle.
Uniquely advanced powertrain
Most luxury brands utilize 4-cylinder powertrains in base trims these days, even in their midsize offerings. The majority of said powertrains are direct-injected, some turbocharged, others supercharged, but none incorporate all three technologies into one single engine design except Volvo.
This version of the new 2.0L Drive-E engine, dubbed T6, is the only powerplant currently available in Volvo Canada’s S90 lineup. We can expect a T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid in the near future, probably identical to the 475-horsepower version used for the top-line XC90 crossover, but until then we get a robust 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Thanks partly to standard all-wheel drive, the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD pulls off the line with gusto, although instead of frantic excitement it’s more of a smooth, creamy, whipped gusto, the latter aided by its impressively refined 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. It features manual Sport mode, adaptive shift control, and auto start/stop that, when switched to Eco mode, even disengages the engine during coasting. These technologies and more no doubt help the S90 achieve impressive fuel economy, although official Canadian numbers have yet to be announced.
Volvo does claim Drive-E AWD as the world’s cleanest combustion drivetrain relative to power, mind you, with an emissions rating of 148 g/km of CO2, which means it delivers more than 2 hp per gram of CO2.
The S90’s standard air suspension mixes European firmness (for solid stability and easily controllable handling) with extreme comfort. It really absorbs all but the worst bumps and deep dips, while feeling light and agile when pushed hard, and a lot easier to coax through a curve than some of its peers. Truly, the new Volvo S90 takes to corners more assertively than all but the brand’s most aggressive Polestar models, while the engine has that classic 4-cylinder feel I happen to love, complete with high-revving power and visceral delivery, albeit much smoother and more refined than anything from Volvo’s past.
I was a bit put off that paddle shifters aren’t offered, but these will likely be added when sportier R-Design trim arrives. Instead, you can swap cogs via the shift lever, which makes for spirited performance in Dynamic mode. Credit for that performance also goes to my tester’s upgraded 20” alloy rims circled by 255/35R20 rubber, not to mention the incredibly strong brakes.
The well-priced $56,900 base S90 model gets 18” alloys, but is nevertheless equipped with much more standard kit than its German peers, including fog lights, adaptive LED headlamps, proximity access, keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control, an 8” multi-info display, touchscreen infotainment with navigation, road sign info, Volvo On Call, Wi-Fi, satellite radio, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power moonroof, power-folding rear headrests, and a power trunk lid.
In terms of safety, lane keeping assist, tire pressure monitoring, Volvo’s City Safety suite of electronic driver aids now including large animal detection and run-off road mitigation (both world firsts), and more result in the 2017 Volvo S90 earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.
Along with larger wheels, $6,100 Inscription trim adds the colourful 12.3” configurable gauge cluster mentioned earlier, plus Scandinavian-sourced Linear Walnut inlays, higher-grade Nappa leather upholstery, full leather interior detailing, and more.
My tester also included a Climate (HUD) package with heated washer nozzles, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and head-up display; a Vision package with visual park assist, power-folding, auto-dimming side mirrors, blind spot information, and rear cross-traffic alert; a Convenience package with front and rear parking sensors, fully automated parking, a garage door opener, and more; and finally an amazing 1,400W, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio upgrade. You can also get Volvo’s ultra-safe and convenient pop-up child booster seats integrated into the rear outboard cushions.
Minor complaints aside, I’m very positive on the new 2017 Volvo S90. It not only deserves comparison with its luxury rivals such as the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Lexus GS, but in many ways it’s more advanced, more refined, and just plain better than the previous best in this segment. Don’t buy a different car without first investigating the S90.