Driven: 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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If Volvo’s stunning XC90 SUV served as the brand’s hard reset, then the S90 sedan represents the first chapter in the company’s new common era.

Based on the company’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) shared with the XC90, the S90 (and its V90 wagon twin) is a long, angular and svelte car that has a face like its sibling and the powertrains to match.

Noteworthy about SPA is that it is the basis for a whole raft of new Volvo connected-car and safety technologies that the company can customize a variety of ways, depending on the application that all work in concert with one another.

Because this is Volvo we’re talking about, safety is a central focus of SPA, to the point that it is a key plank in the company’s goal of not having anyone killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.

Lofty stuff to be sure, but Volvo is deeply committed to the marriage of safety and autonomous technology, and the S90 offers ample evidence, as I’ll explain.

With respect to engines, everything built from SPA will come with a four-cylinder powerplant. In the case of the S90, that means the 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged inline four that generates 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. of torque is the only engine on offer. Ditto for Volvo’s eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, which comes paired with standard all-wheel drive.

In terms of trims, Canada gets two variants, the T6 AWD Momentum (starting at $56,900) and the T6 AWD Inscription (starting at $63,000). Separating the two are mostly cosmetic differences, with the latter getting mostly more exterior brightwork.

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My tester, a very well-stocked Osmium Grey Inscription model outfitted with almost $11,000 in options (scroll down for the full list), likely has a more than most buyers would opt for, but even without some of these add-ons the S90 has a lengthy list of standard features.

Standard kit for the Inscription is a leather-trimmed interior, power sunroof, navigation, LED headlights, heated front seats, and a full suite of collision mitigation tech (lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, etc.) and a lot more.

As I said off the top, the S90 offers a cool, sleek and very Swedish take on luxury.

The large, concave front grille features a large Volvo iron mark badge and bending LED headlights lifted from the XC90 that come with Thor’s Hammer DRLs – how Swede it is!

The S90 has a wide track and slab-sided looks, but it’s not boxy and boring like Volvos of old. Rather its lines invoke a clean-edged, modern look that has a feeling of strength and confidence.

Inside, the S90 offers a blend of fabrics and harder trim materials that have both the look and feel of quality, yet also exude a sense of warmth that stands apart from the rather dreary cabins of the competition.

The wood panel inserts, molded metal speaker covers on the Bowers & Wilkins sound system and brushed metal accented door pulls and dash panel trim pieces all look and feel great, as do the stitched leather centre console pieces and leather-wrapped steering wheel and switch gear.

As great as all of that is, however, it's the small details Volvo has incorporated here that are the most memorable aspects of the S90 for me.

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The 1959 wordmark on metal seatbelt fittings (which honour the company’s pioneering work in the development of the three-point seatbelt for mass automobile production) and the tiny Swedish flags stitched into the sides of the front seats are evidence of the impressive amount of care Volvo designers have put into the S90. Even the square ice cube-like engine starter on the centre console is unlike any I’ve encountered.

Frankly, it’s a type of nationalistic pride not often seen in modern cars, many of which are intentionally marketed as stateless global products designed to obscure their countries of origin. While the S90 is also a global car, its Swedishness is on full display.

Before moving on, it’s worth mentioning that Sensus, Volvo’s touchscreen interface for the infotainment system is stunning.

Oriented vertically, like an iPad, Sensus operates like a smartphone or tablet and its three main screens enable the user to quickly swipe and tap their way through the S90’s deep functionality with ease.

Unlike systems I’ve encountered in other luxury brands of late, there is no console-mounted wheel / mouse / trackpad-like device one must learn how to use in the S90. While useful, these knobs often work with systems that also have touchscreens, which makes one wonder why they’re there in the first place.

Most car buyers these days have smartphones, so putting an infotainment system into a car that also employs the same gestures (tapping and swiping), makes a lot of sense. Hopefully other automakers will begin to follow suit and begin to remove console knobs.

Volvo has included hard keys for features such as front / rear defrost, hazard signals and radio on / off and volume, but everything else is touchscreen. It’s beautifully intuitive. The only real downside is the fingerprints left on the screen, but you can always wipe those away.

On the road, the S90 offers a very comfortable, quiet and mostly serene driving experience. The supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre four is surprisingly quick, particularly in dynamic mode. Even in comfort, the S90 is anything but a slow car.

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There is some supercharger whine at lower speeds, but once the accelerator is mashed, those sounds recede and all that one can hear is a lusty growl. Volvo’s eight-speed Geartronic autobox offers precise and smooth shifting.

I found the S90’s ride quality to be very good overall. Winter roads in the Toronto area can be jarring to drive on, but all but the most frost heaved and broken sections were absorbed well by the S90’s MacPherson strut (front) / integral axle with composite leaf spring (rear) suspension.

Front and rear stabilizer bars also helps to keep the car composed through twisty roads and during cornering, although admittedly, performance driving isn’t the S90’s forte.

Safety is, however, and there’s a lot of it here.

In addition to the standard stuff such as airbags, ABS and a rearview camera, Volvo has some innovations of its own. The following features are all standard issue on the S90.

Pilot Assist II is a semi-autonomous safety feature, and a world first. Unlike adaptive cruise control systems, it goes a step further by not requiring a car in front. Rather, the system will automatically maintain a set speed or distance and provides gentle steering inputs to keep the vehicle centred in the lane. It accomplishes the task with the use of a windshield-mounted camera and radar sensor, and works at speeds up to 130 km/h.

Large Animal Detection allows the S90 to not only identify pedestrians and cyclists, but also large animals, even at night. A warning will alert the driver of imminent danger and if no action is taken, the brakes will be applied to avoid collisions. It will avoid collisions completely at speeds up to 45 km/h and reduce the severity of impacts between 45 and 80 km/h.

Road Edge Detection & Run-off Road enables the S90 to steer, slow and even apply the brakes if car begins to leave the road accidentally. If a collision can’t be avoided, the system will automatically tighten the seat belts to keep occupants safe.

Volvo has long been a pioneer and champion of safety innovations, and the S90 carries that proud tradition forward with a package that is both stylish and fun to drive.

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SPECIFICATIONS2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $63,000 / $75,320 (incl. $1,395 destination)
2.0L Turbocharged and Supercharged 4-cylinder
316 hp @ 5,700 rpm
295 lb-ft. @ 2,250 – 5,400 rpm
1,851 kg
front engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
10.8 / 7.6 / 9.4
48 / 80,000
Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti Q70, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class

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Optional Equipment

Convenience Package ($1,500)
- Park Assist Pilot + Park Assist Front & Rear
- Homelink
- Compass in Inner Rearview Mirror
- 12V Power Outlet (Cargo Area)

Climate Package ($1,150)
- Heated Rear Seats (outer positions)
- Heated Steering Wheel
- Heated Washer Nozzles

Vision Package ($2,000)
- Automatically Dimmed Inner + Exterior Mirrors
- Power-Retractable Rearview Mirrors
- Blind Spot Information System + Cross Traffic Alert
- Visual Park Assist + Front ‘Fisheye’ View

Stand Alone Options:
- Metallic Paint – $900
- Graphic Head-Up Display – $1,150
- 20-inch 8-Spoke, Silver Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels – $975
- Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound – $3,250

Total – $10,925

Photography by Lee Bailie

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