by Adam Lynton
To redefine the idea of luxury - that was the aim of the Swedish dream team when designing the 2019 Volvo S90. Merging Scandinavian design and advanced technology, it may have done just that, putting together its flagship midsize sedan with as many comfort and convenience features as possible. Oozing charm and elegance without being overly ostentatious, the S90's sophistication and refinement is quite a heady recipe. Add to the mix class-leading safety and the result is an excellent sedan that rivals class favorites like the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class, and BMW 5 Series. With equally stylish interior appointments, efficient and powerful engine options, and smooth driving styles, the three German giants go toe-to-toe for bragging rights as the top luxury sedan. Will Volvo be able to step ahead of the venerable German powerhouses in this latest iteration and make the gods bleed in the process?
Launched as a brand new model in 2017, the current version of the S90 still benefits from a contemporary design and has had only moderate updates for the 2019 model year. Some features have been reshuffled, and synthetic leather has replaced the standard leather appointments on the base model. Attention has been given to the minor details in the cabin, too, and new air blades have been added that are fitted vertically, flanking the Sensus user interface.
The S90 is characterized by its low-slung body, long hood, low roofline, and short overhangs. Broad-shouldered and muscular, it hugs the road with intent while still looking classy and elegant at the same time. The front end boasts classic Thor's hammer daytime running lights within the LED headlight clusters and a high-gloss black grille with chrome accents, while a panoramic moonroof is standard; bright exterior decor accents are added on the upper-level Inscription trim. The base model sweeps in on standard 18-inch wheels, while the Inscription is shod with 19s. Integrated tailpipes and contemporary rear LED taillights - with the Volvo logo stamped on the trunk - offer a distinctive parting view.
Long and low, the S90 sits six inches from the tarmac and measures 200.1 inches in length across the range, making it longer than both the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series. With its wide shoulders, it has a width of 79.5 inches, while standing 57.1 inches tall. A long wheelbase of 120.5 inches ensures a spacious cabin, too, and is three inches longer than its BMW rival, and five inches more than the Audi. The base model Momentum in front-wheel-drive configuration weighs in at 3,870 pounds - around 230 pounds lighter than the base model Audi - while curb weight maxes out at 4,135 lbs for the top-end T6 Inscription AWD.
The available palette for the S90 seems to follow the trend of sophistication and class, avoiding gaudy colors and sticking to more subdued options. This includes standard Black Stone, and various extra-cost metallics in the form of Magic Blue, Crystal White, Bright Silver, Osmium Grey, Onyx Black, and Mussel Blue. While we miss a few warmer tones on this spectrum, we like the contrast of the black or white paint options with the chrome accents.
Volvo has designed its Drive-E powertrains to reduce emissions and promote fuel economy, while still providing adequate power. The S90 range has access to two engine options, namely the T5 or T6, with the T5 available with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drivetrains. The T6 can only be had with all-wheel-drive.
The T5 designation refers to a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Although sufficiently responsive, it is by no means as powerful off the line as it's German rivals, but it will manage the 60 mph dash in 6.9 seconds with front-wheel-drive, and 7.2 seconds with all the wheels doing the work. Tweaking the engine for the T6 variant by means of a twin-charged setup (turbo and supercharging), the 2.0-liter unit kicks out a more satisfying 316 hp and 295 lb-ft, allowing it to get to sixty in just six seconds, much the same as the base BMW 530i Sedan. Both powertrains have a limited top speed of 130 mph. Audi's optional 335 hp V6 engine does a much faster sprint, getting to 60 mph in only 5.1 seconds before plowing onwards to 155 mph. With the competitors offering more sporty performance overall, the Volvo sedan straddles the line between real, genuine performance and sedate, comfortable driving. If hotter performance is what you're after, consider adding the optional Polestar Performance Software (not to be confused the Polestar Engineered derivative of the T8 Hybrid model), but will deliver more kicks and excitement by enhancing throttle responses, allowing for quicker gearshifts, and turning engine output up a notch to 258 hp and 295 lb-ft for the T5 engines, and 330 hp and 325 lb-ft on the T6. It adds $1,295 to your total price tag.
The base engine in the T5-badged models is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor paired to the standard eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. With both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive available on this trim, the T5 develops 250 hp and 258 lb-ft. The T6 powertrain adds a supercharger and retains the turbocharger to up those figures to 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque and is exclusively available in all-wheel-drive on both the Momentum and Inscription trims.
The same gearbox is paired to the more powerful engine too, and was designed to minimize power loss and enhance performance - it doesn't do this all that successfully, though, with both the Audi and BMW having more responsive transmissions that result in more eager take-offs and much more engaging driving experiences in general. Still, the S90 offers the option of switching to manual shift mode, which enhances the fun-factor a little. At the very least, the S90 will do right by you when needing to overtake at speed, especially with the T6 engine equipped. More of a serene cruiser than anything else, the S90 performs well in town driving, managing the ebb and flow of traffic effortlessly, and accelerating briskly when asked to. However, both engines are gravelly in tone and lack the refinement and smoothness found in rival four- and six-cylinder engines.
The S90 feels polite and yet confident to pilot at the same time; precise steering that has a good on-center feel is great, but it does feel like a lot of work for a luxury sedan. Ride quality is excellent though, with comfort levels clearly prioritized overall. Four drive modes are available for selection, too, with Comfort, Eco, Dynamic or Individual adapting throttle responses, steering, and the optional active chassis to suit your desired style of driving. While the S90 is more than capable of absorbing road scars and imperfections, and it does a brilliant job of isolating any jarring noise or feeling from the cabin, it does feel a little ponderous in comparison to the more agile BMW 5 Series - it's also a little hoarse, which doesn't suit its cultured character very well.
Nonetheless, it's a soft ride that can take corners as needed but will be less than impressive at speed despite all-wheel-drive and grippy tires striving to control it. Braking, however, is solid and inspires confidence. Overall, the S90 suits languid road trips and sedate Sunday cruises much better - save your athletic sprints and speedy winding road stints for the Germans, who just do it so much better.
Say the word Scandinavia, and the brain conjures up pictures of efficiency, minimalism, and environmentally-friendly living. The expectation is thus that the S90 would boast efficient powertrains - which is true, at least, for the most part. The 2.0-liter T5 engine in front-wheel-drive guise achieves EPA estimates of 23/35/27 mpg city/highway/combined, while the all-wheel-drive variant fares only marginally poorer, at 22/31/26 mpg. Both the Audi and the BMW counterparts in 2.0-liter configuration manage similar figures, although the S90's highway figure comes out tops. For the T6 engine, estimates of 21/31/25 mpg are attained, with only highway figures beating what the A6 and 5 Series have to offer. Otherwise, the S90 is quite on par.
The most efficient variant is the T5 2.0-liter front-wheel-drive Momentum, which can manage a 390-mile voyage on a full tank of fuel.
Volvo's interiors are the embodiment of their design philosophy, and with the idea that small details can make a big impact, the Swedes have invested a great deal of effort in fine detailing, luxurious materials, and ergonomic design. For 2019, the base model uses high-quality leatherette for seating surfaces, while upper trims get genuine leather throughout. Heated seats feature on top-end trims, while space abounds for all five passengers (although a third adult in the rear would be a squeeze). The Sensus Connect infotainment system is installed across the range to provide access to audio and media, and full integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included from the get-go. Seats are power-adjustable - even in the rear. The cabin is a wonderful place to be, with rivals hard-pressed to do any better.
The S90 is a five-seater sedan, with Volvo priding themselves on offering top-end seating and a lounge-like ambiance in the cabin. For the front passenger and the driver, supportive, sculpted seats that can be power adjusted (with four-way lumbar settings included) allow for ideal visibility, with all the controls angled towards the driver; the back seat has class-leading legroom at 40.4 inches (three inches over the A6 and four more than the 5 Series). Headroom is ample up front, and on par with segment contenders in the back, where the moonroof and low roofline can be problematic for the vertically blessed. Doors open wide and provide a broad aperture, making ingress and egress effortless.
One of the changes for the 2019 model year includes the switching out of leather seats on the base trim for leatherette; the Inscription gets the leather treatment, though both trims can be had in Charcoal, Maroon, Amber, or Blond color schemes. These are matched to respective accents, but the Momentum has standard Dark Flame Birch Wood inlay, while the Inscription gets Linear Walnut Wood. A distinctive diamond pattern features on control knobs and surfaces and looks as good as it feels to the touch.
A very average 13.5 cubic feet of trunk space is available in the 2019 S90 range, although the back seats can drop down to open up the additional volume you may need for longer items. The trunk lid can be optioned as power-operated and activated by hands-free motion beneath the rear bumper, and it opens to a long, deep space. Both the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series offer more, although not by more than a cubic foot overall.
Thoughtful in-cabin storage includes door pockets on all doors, a well-sized center console with cup holders, a standard-sized glovebox which is cooled for your convenience, and seatback map pockets.
Although feature-rich, the S90 isn't necessarily as comprehensively specified as we would have liked for a vehicle in this segment. Despite offering 14-way power-adjustable seats, the steering column must be adjusted manually. Still, the purpose of all the on-board tech is to make life easier, as the Swedes would say, and that's why dual-zone climate control (with four-zone an optional upgrade), a cooled glovebox, hill start assist, automatic brake holding, navigation, and voice recognition are all available. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped for all models, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror is equipped as standard, too. A graphical head-up display can be added, as well as a surround-view camera and parking assist to automatically park your vehicle for you. The IntelliSafe suite of driver aids is stock for both the Momentum and Inscription trims and includes oncoming traffic mitigation, lane-keep assist, run-off road mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert and full LED headlights with automatic high beams.
Although Volvo's Sensus Connect system isn't the worst infotainment suite in the segment, it's sadly not near the top of the ranks either. A nine-inch touchscreen is centrally mounted and operates the majority of vehicle convenience functions - audio, media, climate control, seat adjustments and the like. It's oriented in portrait format for easy reading and scrolling, and can ostensibly be used even when wearing gloves. However, the system isn't particularly intuitive and takes a while to master. BMW's iDrive infotainment system is a much easier setup to use. On the plus side, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, and a wide variety of apps are installed to start with. USB connectivity, Bluetooth audio streaming, and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities are also stock. The base model has a standard ten-speaker system, which can be upgraded to the 14-speaker Harman Kardon setup which is standard on the Inscription trim. An upgrade to a 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins unit is also available as an optional extra, and is highly recommended for the Gothenburg Concert Hall acoustics option, turning Bohemian Rhapsody from a mere Spotify selection to a full-on concert with Freddie riding shotgun.
Two recalls have been issued for the 2019 S90, pertaining to front seats that could potentially move in a crash, and secondly, for no GPS location provided in a potential collision. While the 2019 range has not yet been rated by J.D. Power, the 2018 models received a score of 78 out of 100, which is not particularly impressive. At least Volvo offers peace of mind through a four-year/50,000-mile limited and powertrain warranty, as well as complimentary scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.
Although the NHTSA has not released crash test results for the 2019 S90, the IIHS has run the sedan through various evaluations and awarded it top scores in all six categories. Collision mitigation systems have been rated as Superior, and the S90 was named as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS for 2019. With a host of features, such as the City Safety technology and Pilot Assist working towards Volvo's aim of eradicating death or serious injury in any new Volvo by 2020, buyers can be assured of Volvo's commitment to passenger safety.
Built from the ground up on Volvo's advanced modular vehicle platform, and favoring boron steel, Volvo claims the current iteration forms part of the strongest Volvo vehicles ever produced. The consignment of safety features in the S90 falls under the IntelliSafe banner, which has the City Safety suite as its foundation. This system uses pedestrian detection (as well as being able to identify cyclists and large animals, even at night), oncoming vehicle mitigation, automatic braking, lane-keep assist, cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams to lessen chances of a collision. The Pilot Assist suite also allows the vehicle to adjust steering and keep the car centered, while run-off mitigation steers and brakes for you if you leave the road at any time. A driver alert system recognizes fatigue and will prompt the driver to take a break. Road sign detection, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are also standard. This makes navigating stop-and-go traffic effortless, as the S90 will be able to engage semi-autonomous driver aids to maintain a safe distance from other cars, use map data to identify acceleration or deceleration zones, and brake when needed. A surround-view camera and front and rear park assist can also be optioned on additionally.
With only a few negatives that really detract from the S90's appeal, the answer to this question seems obvious. Handsome styling, a divine interior, powerful engine options, and excellent fuel economy are already many of the boxes ticked when discussing luxury sedans. Add to that, class-leading safety ratings, brilliant semi-autonomous driving technology, and a well-priced package overall, and there really isn't much to gripe about. Unless, that is, you were hoping for a sedan with a sportier persona, nimbler handling, and an intuitive, easy-to-use infotainment system - if this is the case, sadly, the S90 will disappoint. Both the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series have these bases covered, so look in that direction instead. However, if your mission is to find a comfortable, luxurious, sublime drive, with all the benefits of high-quality cabin materials and space, then the S90 is the perfect fit. Top safety ratings also make this an ideal family vehicle, and with the top-end Inscription priced at $7,650 less than the top-of-the-range Audi A6, the Volvo S90 has got to be on your list of sedans to test drive.
An entry-level model T5 Momentum will set you back $47,350 if you want it in front-wheel-drive. For the all-wheel-drive variant, an MSRP of $49,850 can be expected. Swapping out the base engine for the T6 version on the Momentum costs $54,350, while the range-topping T6 Inscriptions remains under the $60k mark at $59,450 without taxes, licensing, registration, or Volvo's $995 destination fee.
Two models are available in the range, namely the Momentum and the Inscription. The entry-level Momentum trim can be had with either of the two available engines, as well as a choice between front-wheel and all-wheel-drive, while the Inscription variant has the more powerful engine and all-wheel-drive as standard.
At the bottom of the range, the Momentum is fitted with either the 2.0-liter inline-four that produces 250 hp and 258 lb-ft, available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, or the twin-charged T6 powertrain delivering 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. It features leatherette upholstery, 18-inch wheels, power-adjustable front seats with lumbar settings, a leather-wrapped steering wheels, and folding exterior mirrors. Dual-zone climate control and a stock ten-speaker premium sound system are standard fare, as is a 12.3-inch digital driver display. A nine-inch touchscreen is standard across the range, with voice control and steering-mounted controls for added convenience. The City Safety suite and Pilot Assist system are included from the base model and add lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, run-off road mitigation, and collision avoidance technologies, to name a few. A panoramic moonroof is factory-fitted to all models as well.
For even more luxury and refinement, the Inscription model receives 19-inch alloy wheels, Bright exterior enhancements, an embossed logo on the side profile, and color-keyed door handles. The Comfort seats are upholstered in fine Nappa leather, and illuminated metal treadplates are your way into the cabin. Linear Walnut Wood inlays and a Harman Kardon premium sound system are stock fitted to this trim, as are ventilated front seats with optional massage function. The Inscription model is available exclusively with the T6 twin-turbo engine and all-wheel-drive.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Gas
With such well-specified models, the available packages are minimal. Still, for $750, you could add heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel to your S90. For $2,850, a graphical head-up display, full LED headlights with active bending lights, high-pressure headlight cleaning, and a surround-view camera can also be fitted by means of the Advanced Package, and, on the top-end Inscription, you can add the Luxury Package at a price of $3,450 to equip ventilated rear seats, a luxury armrest, massage function to the front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a Nubuck headliner. Numerous standalone options are available too, most notably the $3,200 Bowers & Wilkins sound upgrade, the Adaptive Air rear suspension enhancement for $1,200, and the Polestar Performance Software, which - for $1,295 - enhances engine performance and tweaks throttle responses and gearshifts for a sportier, more performance-focused drive.
A loaded question, to be honest; depending on your priority, the Volvo S90 can cover both ends of the comfort versus performance spectrum, or at least make an attempt and meeting the latter's demands. Overall, the Inscription is the model that offers the most to meet these needs, is fitted with the more powerful engine, and will require the least optioning on of packages - it has all the safety boxes ticked, and upgrades the interior to the fine Nappa leather seating, also boasting the more premium sound system. With it's MSRP still under $60,000, it feels like a worthy outlay for what you get in return. Still, if you're happy with the T5 engine as we are, there's nothing to regret about purchasing the Momentum - just add on the available packages (both the Heated Seats and Advanced Packages), which puts the pricing to around $53,450, which is still good value for money in this segment.
Facing off against the Audi sedan, the two vehicles stand toe-to-toe in terms of performance at the entry-point to the range. With both sporting 2.0-liter powertrains, the Audi makes 248 hp to the Volvo's 250 hp but offers more torque at 273 lb-ft. It comes standard with all-wheel drive and is known for its ability to nip through corners with superb grip and respond much quicker to the beck and call of the driver. It has also been redesigned for 2019 and has a host of exciting new technologies on board. Its interior is no less stunning, although the S90 has much more space - especially in the back - for comfortably carrying around passengers. Its much-higher starting price does warrant giving the Volvo S90 some consideration though - with neither being cause for regret - we're inclined to give the Volvo the benefit of the doubt at a base level.
Comparing the Volvo to the BMW is very much like a classic rom-com - does the leading lady go for the gentlemanly nice-guy who treats her right, or the cheeky bad-boy that leaves her slightly breathless in anticipation? In this case, the BMW 5 Series is the rebel, with its much more enthusiastic range of powertrains, on-road zeal, and generally more engaging drive - a recipe for head-spinning trysts on the track or twisting back road. On the other hand, the Volvo S90 offers a polished and secure environment, where your comfort is prioritized above all else, you feel safe and valued, and the world is much more predictable. This is a close call (and at risk of being cheesily subjective), we'd suggest a blind date with the BMW to get the rebellion out of your system before settling down with the Volvo and living happily ever after.