by Ian Wright
Amongst the sea of German luxury vehicles in corporate parking lots across the world, Volvo's current crop of models stand out and stand proud. For those that want to make a less vanilla choice, the Volvo is a stylish gem with a simple, well built, elegant interior. While it doesn't pack as much power under the hood as some of its contemporaries, none of the S90's engine options lack power. However, the plug-in hybrid model packs a surprisingly big punch. It takes Volvo's unconventional 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged engine and adds electric power to generate a total of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque.
Volvo's step up into the premium market is starting to mature, and the S90 has a wealth of added features for 2020. The S90 was already a well packed full-size sedan, but for 2020 some small but incrementally significant additions help round it out into a genuine contender against other European rivals like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6.
Not too much has changed for the 2020 S90 range as a whole, but it does gain some additional standard features. These include leather upholstery on all variants, front parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert. The hybrid battery pack is now also larger than before, increased in size to 11.6 kWh. The R-Design trim has also been made available, giving buyers a sportier alternative to the previously range-topping Inscription for the same money with a lower, stiffer chassis, and sporter interior accouterments.
See trim levels and configurations:
As usual with Volvo models, the LED headlights feature the signature "Hammer of Thor" running lights, while the imposing front grille adds visual width and bulk. Chrome accents are used with tasteful restraint, while 19-inch wheels fill the arches as standard with 20s optional. R-Design models feature gloss black accents in place of chrome for most of the highlights, along with a slightly more aggressive body kit. A panoramic sunroof features too, along with dual-exit exhaust tips.
The Volvo S90 suits its premium billing with an imposing presence. Length measures 200.1 inches, with the wheelbase measuring 120.5 inches. Body width (no mirrors) measures 74 inches on the dot, while height is 57.1 inches. Curb weight is where these T8 hybrid models differ substantially from the regular models that weigh under 4,000 lbs, as this tips the scales at a starting point of at least 4,589 lbs, making it 438 lbs heavier than a comparable T6 model.
The R-Design model only gets one no-cost paint option, with Black Stone as your standard solid paint finish. Five metallic hues can be had if you're willing to spend $645 extra, with Osmium Grey, Bursting Blue, Onyx Black, and Bright Silver, as well as the classic Crystal White. The Inscription model gets the same standard Black Stone, but instead of the Bursting Blue option, you get Mussel Blue, along with Pine Grey.
The S90 T8 comes with a single powertrain option, featuring an eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system. The front wheels receive motivation from Volvo's 2.0-liter four-pot that is both turbocharged and supercharged, while the rear wheels receive thrust from an electric motor that produces 87 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. Combined output translates to 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, allowing the luxury sedan to accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 130 mph. While this may seem low, the acceleration is brilliant and it's worth remembering that this is not an all-out sports sedan. Instead, this car makes for a great balance of sprinting ability and economical fuel consumption.
The standard power plant and the only variant available for the S90 hybrid utilizes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is both supercharged and turbocharged. Along with an electric motor over the rear wheels, the powertrain sends 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with all four wheels being powered. The Polestar Performance Optimisation option brings with it a new state of software tuning from the now-standalone sub-brand for improved throttle responses.
Acceleration from the hybrid powertrain comes with a smooth surge that turns into a satisfying and urgent woosh. It's a big upgrade on the gas-only S90, but not the furious power of a sports car. It's a more appropriate feeling that the car will never feel like it's straining when loaded with passengers and luggage and, if you are in a hurry, there's plenty of power on tap. That power delivery is smooth and adds to the overall ride, which is designed to keep the driver and passengers relaxed while going about their business. Helping that is the eight-speed transmission which is close to seamless, and, unless you're paying close attention, it quickly becomes invisible to the driving experience.
While the S90 Hybrid's ride is comfortable and quiet, it doesn't quite register as best in class - even with the optional rear air suspension fitted. Some of that likely has to do with our R-Design tester coming with optional 20-inch wheels and thin summer tires. While the tires offered great grip, the S90 Hybrid's handling suffers from an excess of weight and lack of steering feel. Slow things down, though, and it becomes apparent that the S90 Hybrid's sweet spot is when cruising or hustling, not hurrying.
Sport mode doesn't improve things much, but the sharpening of throttle response and gear changes provides a thrill from a dead stop. That acceleration doesn't suffer much in the wet due to the standard all-wheel-drive, which will no doubt be a strong selling point for those that have to deal with snow regularly.
The EPA's official figures for the S90 T8 hybrid show that it scores combined figures of 30 mpg and 60 MPGe on the combined cycle on electric motivation alone. This is an improvement of 1 mpg with gas alone compared to the 2019 model. Total range from the 13.2-gallon gas tank when running on gas alone is estimated at 490 miles, while electric-only power will give you around 21 miles. The newly updated 11.6 kWh battery that is fitted will charge the battery in less than three hours if you're using a 240V socket.
The hybrid version hits a home run on fuel economy, given its size and performance. In colder weather, we still hit the 20-mile mark on electric power alone. We also found ourselves close enough to the EPA figures despite some mountainside driving and enjoying the acceleration the hybrid system provides.
The S90 features one of our favorite interiors around, particularly in this segment. Where the Germans are cold and clinical, the S90 is typically Scandinavian, blending warm colors, natural wood elements, and a simple layout for a sensation of openness and a welcoming environment. Plush, ultra-supportive seats are spectacular regardless of what spec you opt for, and the various heating, ventilation, and massage functions leave you more energized when you get out than you were when you started your journey. While the interior is identical to lesser models, the T8 hybrid model does, however, receive model-specific instrumentation with details on charge levels, as well as a hybrid mode display that shows you at what throttle input level the combustion engine will kick in. Clean, simple, magnificent.
The S90 measures at over 16 feet long, and the interior reflects that. Five can be seated comfortably, but just two in the rear seats will take advantage of the 35.8 inches of legroom and the roomy back seats. There's plenty of headroom all around as you would expect in a midsize luxury sedan and the overall ambiance of uncluttered calm. Seating is extremely comfortable, and the 14-way adjustable front seats on our test model leave even less excuse for an aching back after a long journey. Our R-Design tester featured the sportier designed seats, which, while comfortable and supportive, aren't necessarily the better option, but won't leave anyone but the largest occupants complaining.
There's little to fault in the materials chosen for the S90's interior, and plenty to enthuse over. Leather upholstery is standard depending on trim, and of high quality. Our tester came with luxurious leather and nubuck sports seats with metal mesh inlays, while Inscription will give you Nappa leather and walnut wood inlays as standard. R-Design seats are only available in Charcoal black, but Inscription offers Blond, Light Amber brown, Charcoal, or Maroon Nappa leather. The Inscription trim also changes the leather shifter knob to an Orrefors crystal knob that looks sublime.
Volvo designs its cars from the outset to accommodate hybrid powertrains. The benefit to this is that there is no minimization of the available space, both in the cabin and the trunk, the latter of which offers 13.5 cubic feet of volume - enough to comfortably carry medium-sized luggage for four. An available power trunk lid helps make loading easier, while the 60/40 rear seats can fold at the press of a button.
In the cabin, small-item storage is contained in door pockets, a decently sized and refrigerated glovebox, and a large center console and center armrest bin. Four cupholders are included too.
As standard, the S90 T8 R-design features a 12.3-inch digital driver info display, along with adaptive cruise control, parking sensors at the front and the rear. You also get the usual rearview camera, LED headlights and fog lights with a cornering function and auto high beams. Quad-zone climate control is standard too, along with power rear sunblinds, power-adjustable and heated front seats, front and rear collision mitigation systems, hill start assist, rain-sensing wipers, a drowsy driver alert, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry with push-button start, while the options list includes features like massaging and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, a 360-degree camera, automatic parking, and adaptive air suspension.
The interior is the highlight of the S90, and the infotainment only helps elevate it. The digital driver info display is crystal clear, as is the responsive and intuitive-to-use nine-inch portrait-style touchscreen. Volvo's software treads a fine line of simplicity for the end-user while complicating the back end. Still, it pays off in seemingly small touches like virtual buttons that dynamically size themselves based on what's happening on screen and predicting what the operator might need to use.
Apple Carplay and Android Auto integration are standard, as is Bluetooth, while a Bowers & Wilkinson or Harmon Kardon sound systems are both available, and both excellent. Navigation is also included and made even more useful by the portrait layout of the infotainment screen. HD Radio and SiriusXM are also present for those that like their infotainment old school. If we were shopping, we'd make sure to spend on the Bowers and Wilkins sound system, as it elevates music to a new level and is one of the finest systems we've experienced in any car.
Thus far, the 2020 Volvo S90 T8 has been subject to a single recall for an issue that plagued all new Volvo models. This was for the automatic emergency braking system that would not engage as intended.
Should any further issues become apparent, the S90 is covered by a limited warranty that covers the car for four years/50,000 miles. Complimentary scheduled maintenance is included for three years/36,000 miles too. The hybrid components are covered for eight years/100,000 miles too, and you get four years of roadside assistance as well.
The NHTSA has not yet rated the S90 in any guise, but the IIHS has, with impressive results. The 2020 model received a best overall score of Good, while the 2019 model won a Top Safety Pick award.
As standard, the Volvo S90 features Pilot Assist, a system that includes semi-autonomous driving ability with adaptive cruise control and forward collision assist with automatic emergency braking. Also included are features like blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision mitigation, post-collision braking, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, and frontal, side-impact, and curtain airbags, along with a driver's knee airbag.
We're big fans of Volvo, and the S90 Hybrid doesn't disappoint overall. The interior is the centerpiece, and the hybrid powertrain fills in some of the gaps from left by the forced-induction four-cylinder engine and creates a compelling amount of refined power to match its German counterparts using larger engines. Styling may be a little muted overall for some, but for those looking for something understated, the S90 should absolutely be on the cross-shopping list for a full-sized premium sedan. At around $8,000 more than the gas-only S90, the fuel savings wouldn't pay off for a long time. However, if it's charged in the garage regularly for shorter mileage days, that will change the equation for some. For others, the extra power will be worth the extra cost alone.
The 2020 Volvo S90 T8 Hybrid starts at a base price of $63,200, before a $995 destination charge. This pricing applies to both the R-Design and the Inscription trims. Fully loaded, you can spend around $80,000. However, as a plug-in hybrid, buyers qualify for up to $5,419 in federal tax rebates, while various incentives apply in specific states, such as discounts and use of the HOV lane.
The S90 T8 is available in two trims: R-Design and Inscription. Both models feature all-wheel-drive and produce a total of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque from the hybrid powertrain, all of which is controlled via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The R-Design features sportier styling and gloss black accents including mirrors. This model also features sporty padding on the seats with metal mesh interior trims and an R-Design steering wheel. Standard features include heated front seats, a 12.3-inch driver info display, a Sensus infotainment system with navigation and functionality for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other standard features include 19-inch wheels, leather/nubuck upholstery, adaptive cruise control, front and rear collision mitigation systems, blind spot monitoring, and quad-zone climate control.
The Inscription model is largely the same, but builds on these features with different styling and seating. The steering wheel is also changed and you get ventilated front seats draped in perforated Nappa leather, along with Linear Walnut wood inlay trims and more options in terms of colors. This trim receives a more comfort-biased suspension setup, too.
The R-Design model is available with R-Design seats front seats for $750, or you can spend the same amount on heated rear seats and heated steering wheel. The Advanced Package costs $2,850, and adds headlight washers, full LED headlights with cornering, a 360-degree surround-view camera, a head-up display, and a power trunk lid. The Inscription is available with the Luxury package, which costs $3,450 and adds heated and ventilated rear seats, a luxury rear armrest, massaging front seats, and a heated steering wheel, along with a nubuck headliner. A 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system is also available for $3,200, or if you want a plusher ride, a standalone air suspension system will cost $1,200.
Since they cost the same and since the S90 T8's two trims are not especially performance-focused, we'd opt for the Inscription model. In addition to standard ventilated front seats and a more elegant interior and exterior styling package, this model also has access to luxury features like massaging front seats and ventilated rear seats. Since there is so much excellent safety equipment as standard, we'd splash out on the astonishingly immersive Bowers & Wilkins sound system. We'd also be tempted by the automatic parking system, which costs just $200. This would give you a truly luxurious package for under $75,000.
The regular Volvo S90, otherwise known as the T6 AWD, is lighter and therefore more agile in the corners than its hybrid sibling. In addition, it is a much more affordable option, starting at just a little under $55,000. The same brilliant eight-speed automatic transmission also features, as does the internal combustion engine found in the T8. It produces a respectable 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, although this clearly some way behind the figures of the T8, and leads to a higher 0-60 mph sprint time of around seven seconds. However, it also falls behind in terms of fuel economy, only offering 25 mpg on the EPA's combined cycle, five behind the score of the T8. If you value luxury and comfort with a bit of dynamism, this is a decent option, but the T8 hybrid is certainly a better all-rounder.
BMW's luxury hybrid sedan, the 530e, also comes with a 2.0-liter four-pot, but only makes use of turbocharging and not supercharging. Nevertheless, 111 hp from the electric motor helps achieve a total output of 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. This is considerably behind the figures of the Volvo, and the 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds reflects this. However, in the BMW, you can have traditional rear-wheel-drive if you don't want all four wheels gripping the tarmac. You also get greater electric range, with the Bimmer offering up to 28 miles - seven more than the Volvo. In addition, a larger trunk and a base price of just under $54,000 really makes the 530e an attractive choice. Furthermore, thanks to better chassis tuning and a curb weight that is lower than that of the S90, even when both feature all-wheel-drive, the BMW is more fun to drive. In this case, we'd have the German.
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