by Ian Wright
The Volvo S90 is a large executive sedan that's too classy to ooze its class. While the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series are making sure everyone sees them as top-level luxury sedans, Volvo is sticking to its understated guns. The 2022 Volvo S90 remains sophisticated and stylish inside and out while packing a turbo and supercharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. There are two flavors of drivetrain available, both all-wheel-drive (AWD) and both hooked to an eight-speed transmission. The "entry" level model generates 308 hp and 310 lb-ft with help from a mild-hybrid system, while the upgraded drivetrain makes 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque with Volvo's eAWD system taking advantage of an 87-hp electric motor at the front.
Make no mistake, though. Even with its 400-hp drivetrain, the Volvo S90 isn't trying to be a sports sedan. It's all about smooth elegance and a serene ride. The question is: Is it close enough to perfection?
For the 2022 model year, Volvo has equipped a new mild hybrid system for the base model. Codenamed B6, this powertrain replaces the previous T6; it produces 308 hp and 310 lb-ft. Elsewhere, the S90 now gets the brand's new Android-based infotainment system, while the sensors for the driver-assist suite have been upgraded.
The entry-level S90 B6 in Momentum trim has an MSRP of $52,850. Inscription and R-Design models both retail for $55,950. The plug-in hybrid T8 is only available in Inscription and R-Design trims, both with an MSRP of $61,050. The base price of the Volvo S90 excludes the automaker's destination charge of $1,045 in the USA. It's worth mentioning that the S90 PHEV qualifies for a federal tax credit.
See trim levels and configurations:
If you want your full-size executive sedan to be grandiose and exciting to drive, then you'll want to look elsewhere. If you want your big executive sedan to take all the stress and discomfort out of driving, then read on. The car in front of you is doing 35 mph in a 55 zone? No problem. You'll likely not feel the urge to try and push them by tailgating. Is freeway traffic flowing along some mph over the limit? No worries, you'll keep up without exerting any real effort on the car's behalf. However, it's not all easy sailing. Power is readily accessible, but there can be a delay with the T8's power system between a sharp prod on the accelerator and feeling the go - an issue we didn't get at all in our week with the B6 drivetrain model.
On long stretches of rougher roads (in our case, California freeways around LA), the standard suspension can be a little jittery and transmit that into the cabin. If that's something you'll contend with often, you'll want the softer-feeling air suspension upgrade for sure. The steering has a nice balanced weight to it but isn't as direct as it could be. However, that would only be a real complaint if the S90 was trying to be sporty. What's important here is how predictable and easy the S90 is to drive, particularly over long distances, where we learned how non-fatiguing the driving experience is.
If you ever get the urge to push the S90 around a curvy road, it quickly becomes apparent that it's not what the car is designed for. If there had been a sport mode in our B6 drivetrain equipped model, we would only have prodded it out of curiosity, then forgotten about it.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
Standing alone, the S90 is an excellent luxury sedan but with a few caveats. The ride quality isn't quite as polished at the edges as the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6, and the four-cylinder engine isn't as refined, even with electrical assistance, as more straightforward blocks.
However, and it's a big "however", the overall experience of driving and riding passenger in the S90 is top-notch. Upper trims with the optional adaptive suspension are smooth and cosseting. The interior excels in any trim level, both in quality, styling, and atmosphere - but there's another caveat unique to the R Design trim. The sporty styling is confusing as a design choice and jarring once you've experienced any Volvo with a more traditional upscale interior. We'd stick with the Inscription.
The best way to figure out which Volvo S90 model to buy is by process of elimination. If the B6 model sounds underpowered, you have just two trims to decide between for the T8 model. You may feel differently, but we would cross off the R Design as it just doesn't suit the S90's personality in any way. That leaves you with the luxurious Inscription trim. If you're not spending hours at a time driving and moving passengers around, the Lounge Package can be skipped but is essential if it's going to used like that. The Advanced Package with its surround-view camera, head-up display, and air-cleaner is a no-brainer to us at the T8's price point, but a power tailgate should be standard. For what the S90 is designed to be, the Polestar Performance upgrade is a "pass" for us. The $1,200 C adaptive air suspension upgrade is a must in our book, though.
If the B6 powertrain is plenty for you, a little more thought is needed. The Momentum trim is the value-for-money choice and one we would be happy to spend a lot of time with. If we knew our S90 would be carrying passengers in the rear every day, we would pay for the Inscription model and pretend it's for the four-zone climate control and not the front heated and ventilated seats and audio upgrade. At that point, you may as well add the Lounge Package. You can't get the C adaptive air suspension system with the Momentum trim, but with the Inscription trim, we would absolutely tick that box.
The Audi and Volvo are similar in execution. Both have a sleek, sinister exterior and an upmarket interior with an emphasis on comfort. Like the Volvo, the Audi is available with a turbocharged four-cylinder, but there's also a turbocharged V6 engine that offers more excitement but less power. The latter engine is silky smooth, even when treated aggressively. To outsprint the Volvo S90 T8, you'll need to spend way more money on the powerful Audi S6. The Volvo T8 is more frugal than the V6-engined A6, yet also more powerful. Being an Audi, quattro AWD is standard across the A6 range. Audi has had a lot of time to develop and refine its AWD systems, and it shows; out of these two cars, the Audi handles and feels the best. We reckon that people interested in these two cars will be looking for something less obvious than a BMW 5 Series. The Audi is still very Germanic, and thanks to the Volvo's Swedish charm, we're more inclined to steer you in that direction.
We just referred to the 5 Series as the obvious choice. There's an excellent reason for this - it's been the segment leader for decades. BMW has the recipe for this segment so refined that we have no real criticism to level against it. We suppose the current generation isn't as involving as previous iterations, but its ride and handling are still good enough to trump the competition.
BMW offers four powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid. Overall, the lower-powered 5 Series models are more frugal than the S90. BMW's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is just as responsive as Volvo's unit, but a lot more refined. And there's always the option of upgrading to turbocharged six- and eight-cylinder models; by comparison, the Volvo is limited to four cylinders.
Volvo offers a more modern take on the segment, but BMW has been at it for longer, and it shows. If buying something less obvious is the main concern, we highly recommend the Volvo. It's a great car, and you'll be highly pleased. But the 5 Series is too good to be dismissed for simply being the default car in the segment.
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