VO OLVO S90

To truly com­pete with the Ger­mans, Volvo needed a panacea. Its all-new S90 sedan and V90 wagon may just be that car

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - BY­RON MATHIOUDAK­IS

RE­CENTLY a car com­pany boss con­firmed what many have long sus­pected… that re­spectabil­ity only comes when “you get your 5 Se­ries ri­val right”.

That’s why Jaguar be­came rel­e­vant again only af­ter the XF sur­faced in 2007, Hyundai chose the G80 to go global with Ge­n­e­sis, and now so­cial-climb­ing Volvo is tar­get­ing the BMW with its new S90 (and V90 wagon sib­ling due mid-2017). Like mak­ing it in New York, suc­ceed­ing in the large lux­ury class is the Swedish brand’s ticket to pre­mium le­git­i­macy.

Shar­ing 40 per­cent of parts with the XC90 launched last year, the S90 ac­tu­ally drove ini­tial de­vel­op­ment of Volvo’s all-new Scal­able Prod­uct Ar­chi­tec­ture when work com­menced dur­ing the dy­ing days of Ford con­trol in 2008. “Sedan buy­ers are very fussy, so we had to get its pro­por­tions ex­actly right first,” says pro­gram di­rec­tor Kent Falck.

SPA is es­sen­tially a set of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion-ready com­po­nents based around a fixed “wheel to heel” front-end struc­ture, with ev­ery­thing else at­tached be­ing flex­i­ble lon­gi­tu­di­nally and ver­ti­cally.

Even Volvo ad­mits that out­side Swe­den no­body was ex­actly clam­our­ing for S80 and V70 re­place­ments, so the S90 and V90 couldn’t just be BMW clones. They needed to be gen­uinely com­pelling. Longer, wider and lower than most ri­vals, the 54X pro­ject was bench­marked against “ba­si­cally the Ger­mans”.

For­mi­da­ble op­po­nents, but Volvo reck­ons it’s push­ing bound­aries. Though the S90 adopts the lat­est XC90’S safety sys­tems, it de­buts: ‘Run-off Road Mit­i­ga­tion’ that senses the edge of the road as well as painted lines to help reign in a stray­ing ve­hi­cle; ‘City Safety Large An­i­mal De­tec­tion’ (specif­i­cally for iden­ti­fy­ing and avoid­ing moose); and ‘Pi­lot As­sist’ – semi-au­ton­o­mous radar-con­trolled ac­cel­er­a­tion, brak­ing and steer­ing at speeds up to 130km/h.

The big Volvo also con­tin­ues the brand’s 2.0-litre four-cylin­der pow­er­train strat­egy, from the en­try-level 187kw/350nm T5 front-driver to the T8 AWD petrol­elec­tric plug-in hy­brid (with about 407kw/640nm) ar­riv­ing in 2017. It’s all a tight fit, but the down­sized en­gine pol­icy has al­lowed the lux­ury of a dou­blewish­bone front-end. As a re­sult, it’s un­likely we’ll ever see sixes or a bent-eight shoved un­der­neath the bon­net.

Only the higher-end T6 petrol (235kw/400nm) and D5 diesel (173kw/480nm) were avail­able for trial at the S90’s in­ter­na­tional launch in Spain, pow­er­ing all four wheels (a part-time Haldex sys­tem) via a con­ven­tional eight-speed torque-con­verter auto also found in the T5 petrol and 140kw/400nm D4 diesel front-driv­ers.

Al­most in de­fi­ance of its 1969cc capacity, the T6 AWD is no slouch, leap­ing into ac­tion and main­tain­ing a crack­ing pace as long as you don’t spare the throt­tle. Power tops out at a fairly high 5700rpm, but there’s lit­tle need to hear the four-pot turbo shriek since there’s a size­able wad of torque and smartly spaced gear ra­tios to keep things hum­ming along sweetly.

How­ever, the auto’s oc­ca­sional jerky down­shifts, propen­sity to not up­shift un­til the en­gine is scream­ing in Dy­namic, and lack of steer­ing-wheel pad­dles sully an other­wise slick mechanical en­sem­ble.

The brawny D5 AWD is what re­ally – and lit­er­ally – blows ex­pec­ta­tions clean away, thanks to Volvo’s Pow­er­pulse sys­tem. Con­ceived in just 18 months, it uses com­pressed air to mul­ti­ply tur­bine speeds, slash­ing turbo lag for a strong and stir­ring stream of per­for­mance, with­out the off-boost blues to im­pede

progress. A neat 7.0sec to 100km/h isn’t too shabby. Other mod­els are slated for this tech in the near fu­ture, in­clud­ing the new Gep3-se­ries 1.5-litre three-pot turbo-petrol in next year’s 40 Se­ries hatch.

Bet­ter still, the more pow­er­ful of the twin-turbo diesel of­fer­ings is barely any less eco­nom­i­cal on the EU com­bined cy­cle, av­er­ag­ing 4.8L/100km, which is as­ton­ish­ing for a full-size five-seat lux­ury car.

But the big­gest shock is how the S90 T6 has dis­cov­ered lev­els of steer­ing feel and feed­back for­eign to any pre­vi­ous large Volvo.

As with the XC90, Drive Se­lect of­fers overly light and softly sus­pended Eco and Com­fort modes, but in the pitch-per­fect Dy­namic set­ting the whole car gels ter­rif­i­cally. Thank the op­tional 20-inch rub­ber, lower cen­tre of grav­ity or re­duced mass, but poise and re­sponse are the happy by-prod­ucts.

Turn-in is in­stant and lin­ear, the han­dling re­cep­tive, the chas­sis planted. Even the wagon ver­sion shrinks around you blast­ing along a tight and twist­ing road. Op­tional air-sprung rear sus­pen­sion elim­i­nates the V90’s trans­verse leaf spring for a sup­ple and iso­lated ride, fur­ther boost­ing our ad­mi­ra­tion.

Nei­ther model is ac­tu­ally sporty, but there’s a new­found ath­leti­cism that keen driv­ers can work with. Volvo calls it “re­laxed con­fi­dence”. Let’s hope such com­fort and con­trol trans­lates to Aus­tralian roads.

In­scrip­tion spec equals in­te­rior sump­tu­ous­ness, mean­ing the S90’s hushed cabin (thanks to op­tional dou­ble-glaz­ing on our test ve­hi­cles) is more than a match for most ri­vals. The lack of wind and tyre roar was quite re­mark­able over the Span­ish roads sam­pled.

Sim­i­lar but bet­ter re­solved than the XC90’S in­te­rior, the lush leather, wal­nut, brushed alu­minium and chrome meld seam­lessly with the tech-heavy (and ini­tially in­tim­i­dat­ing un­til fa­mil­iari­sa­tion sets in) mul­ti­screen dis­plays, gor­geous in­stru­ments, lav­ish seat­ing front and rear, and de­tail­ing exquisite enough to worry Audi. A big au­dio vol­ume knob is such a lux­ury nowa­days. This thing reeks of op­u­lence.

At nearly five me­tres long, the S90 com­fort­ably ac­com­mo­dates five six-foot­ers, de­spite the slop­ing roofline, while cargo vol­ume – in­clud­ing un­der­floor stor­age – is on a par with a Com­modore’s at 500 litres (only 60 litres less than the al­most-as-swoopy wagon).

“In Swe­den, peo­ple wanted square wag­ons like the old 700 Se­ries just in case they needed to buy a wash­ing ma­chine.” Falck said. “And that was prob­a­bly once ev­ery 20 years.” Seems the days of the boxy Volvo es­tate are gone.

Sore points in­clude the $3K Tech Pack gouge that in­cludes the dis­tract­ingly awk­ward Drive Mode switch, gim­micky en­gine-start dial, dig­i­tal ra­dio (it should be stan­dard), sur­round-view re­vers­ing sys­tem, head-up dis­play and Ap­ple Carplay/an­droid Auto.

The $79,900 S90 T5 Mo­men­tum in­cludes adap­tive cruise, lane-keep as­sist, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, re­vers­ing cam­era, au­to­matic park­ing, leather, four-zone cli­mate con­trol, key­less start, elec­tric front seats with mem­ory, elec­tric bootlid, and LED head­lights with bend­ing tech.

In­scrip­tion in the D5 AWD ups the ante with more per­for­mance and grip, 19-inch al­loys (up from the base 18s), Nappa leather and am­bi­ent lighting. The T6 equiv­a­lent adds an­other $2K.

Ex­pen­sive for a Ford-era Volvo per­haps, but the Geely-funded S90 might have just made it as a blind­ing BMW 5 Se­ries both­erer. Maybe not top of the heap, but cer­tainly Vi-kings of the hill.

Model Volvo S90 T6 AWD In­scrip­tion En­gine 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo Max power 235kw @ 5700rpm Max torque 400Nm @ 2200-5400rpm Trans­mis­sion 8-speed au­to­matic Weight 1915kg 0-100km/ h 5.9sec (claimed) Econ­omy 7.2L/100km Price $ 98,900 On sale Oc­to­ber

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