Publication date: 27 June 2016
Volvo S90

Volvo S90

Beauty without splendour

Review - Anyone who drives a Volvo is driving something special. Not only because of its specifically Swedish style, but also because a Volvo offers more than just another car. At the same time, Volvo is not a distinctly "premium" brand. This should change with the S90: with the S90, Volvo competes with German and Japanese premium brands. Will the S90 succeed in that aim?

It's easy to talk in hindsight, but anyone paying close attention in recent months and years could have predicted what the Volvo S90 would look like. After all, in 2013 Volvo showed the "Concept Coupé" at the Internationale Auto Ausstellung in Frankfurt. Take that coupé, add two doors and the S90 is there!

Everything that made the concept car so attractive has been carried over into the new sedan. The S90 is characterised by a low, wide nose with a relatively small grille. Despite its hefty exterior dimensions, the S90 has the civilised yet confident look that characterises Scandinavian design.

Volvo S90

The rear is a bit busy by Volvo standards, and there are several reasons for this. Mounting the number plate lower than usual allowed the coupé style of the original concept car to be retained. At the same time, this gave more space for the Volvo logo. Finally, a sedan is especially popular in America and Asia, and the S90's design took this into account. The estate car (V90) was designed more for Europe and thus adapted to European tastes.


The S90 is 496 cm long, making it the longest car in its segment. For the sake of economy and good looks, the S90 is also lower than usual. The space in the front is good, the space in the back so good that the S90 could also serve as a chauffeur-driven car.

Volvo S90
Volvo S90

The interior decoration is Scandinavian to the max. The "Inscription" version shown here is upholstered in "Blond" leather and finished with real wood. Here, little paint making the wood shine smooth like plastic, but real wood that feels like wood. All "technical" elements are encased in glossy black panels to create a sense of distance between the occupants and the technology.


Most functions can be controlled from the centrally located display, which is why the dashboard has only eight buttons. As in the other new Volvo models, the traditional dials (speedometer and rev counter) have been replaced by a large display. The layout of all functions is logical and well thought-out. Drivers familiar with modern tablets and smartphones will feel right at home in the S90.

What makes the S90 more than an average car is its attention to detail. Note the subtle Swedish flag in the upholstery or the text "Since 1959" on the seatbelt buckle to indicate that Volvo invented the seatbelt in 1959 (and deliberately did not patent it, so that every car would be safer!). The optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system sounds tight and neutral, for hours of listening pleasure without tiring.

Of course, at Volvo, safety is at the forefront. This involves much more than airbags and strong construction. Much more important is preventing accidents. Thus, the "City Safety" system is now able to recognise cars, pedestrians and large animals (read: reindeer) and make decisions based on this.

Volvo S90

Going one step further is "Pilot Assist". This allows the S90 to drive autonomously on the motorway up to speeds of 130 km/h. This is a first step towards a self-driving car, as humans are still the main cause of accidents. By reducing the human factor as much as possible, Volvo aims to reduce Volvo road fatalities to zero by the year 2020.

Volvo S90

"Pilot Assist" is more than adaptive cruise control and active lane assist, as many cars now offer. Active Lane Assist makes a steering correction when the lines on the road surface are crossed, while Pilot Assist actively keeps the car in the middle of the lane.

Volvo goes a little less far with autonomous driving than its direct competitors. For example, it does not automatically adjust speed based on traffic signs recognised by the camera. Also, the S90 cannot park autonomously after the driver gets out of the car. When asked why the S90 cannot do this, Volvo merely replies, "gadgets are nice, but we focus on solid cars".

Volvo S90

Chassis and engines

The Volvo S90 is based on a new platform and therefore bears many similarities to the new Volvo XC90 under the skin. Depending on the chosen version, the S90 can be equipped with "FOUR C", which allows to choose a comfortable, dynamic, economic or customisable ("individual") character.

The difference between these modes is clearly noticeable in practice. In sporty mode, the suspension tilts slightly less, giving the whole car a more confident feel. In all cases, Volvo emphasises comfort, which is why the S90 feels grand and refined.

The S90 brakes fine, but the feeling in the brake pedal leaves something to be desired. Moreover, in an emergency stop it is noticeable that the S90 is heavy, as the anti-lock braking system (ABS) has to intervene almost immediately to keep the car steerable. Indeed, unlike many other brands, Volvo has not opted for weight reduction, as that would reduce safety.

Volvo S90

To save costs, Volvo has been supplying the same engines in all cars since 2013. However, by adding one or more turbochargers, a compressor or other techniques, the same engine is available with varying power outputs and characters.

For this test of Volvo's top model, the top engine was also driven: the T6. While T6 in the past indicated a six-cylinder engine, the S90 T6 features the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder as all other models. But thanks to a turbo as well as a compressor, the output is 320 hp / 400 Nm and a six-cylinder would not be ashamed of that!

Volvo S90

However, Volvo deploys the abundant power mainly to offer suppleness, not crushing performance. Thereby, the T6 comes with all-wheel drive as standard. The power is therefore transferred to the road surface under all conditions effortlessly and without any spectacle. Add to this the lack of exciting engine noise and the T6 is a real wolf in sheep's clothing.

A gentle tap on the accelerator is therefore enough for mighty acceleration. After that, the S90 is so quiet (low revs, little wind noise thanks to double-glazing) that it is imperceptibly driven much (too) fast. The S90 therefore gives the grand and almost majestic feeling that comes with a top model.


With the S90, Volvo wants to definitively establish itself as a luxury brand. A test drive with the S90 T6 shows that Volvo succeeded in that aim. The S90 drives just as well, offers just as much luxury, is just as innovative and makes one feel just as privileged as top models from established "premium" brands.

At the same time, the S90 is different from other luxury cars. While the S90 offers the same qualities, it wraps them in a much more basic jacket. Where other brands like to show off their technology or power, the S90 is instead restrained and modest. Beauty without splendour, in other words.

  • Good design
  • Superior yet very modest
  • Innovative (safety) technology
  • High consumption
  • Little feeling in the brake pedal
  • Poor headroom in combination with panoramic roof