2017 Volvo S90 Test Drive Review: We Learned Why Germany Should Fear Sweden

Test Drive

The S90 is so very close to being a legitimate threat to Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

For years Volvo was known for building safe cars. That’s a great image to cultivate and one that the Swedes should rightfully be proud of. The problem is that safety isn’t always sexy, especially in Volvo’s case. That has all changed. The S90 is one of the best looking cars on the market. Its turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine is also an intriguing proposition. This was a car we really wanted to drive. Our wish was recently granted when we spent a week with the top-tier 2017 S90 T6 AWD Inscription.

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The T6 engine is a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Entry-level models are powered by the T5, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 250 horses. The Inscription starts at $53,945 (including destination). With options our tester came in at $66,105. Despite having a turbocharger, supercharger and all-wheel drive the S90 is not the sports sedan you might think it is. Off the line it’s a stud. AWD combined with peak torque available at just 2,200 RPM equals an official 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. Blowing past cars on the highway takes no planning thanks to the union of the supercharger and turbocharger.

At speed, the 4,222-pound S90 is easy to corral thanks to its superb brakes. However, the steering isn’t all that communicative and is a bit too heavy. That was a bit of a surprise, as was the relatively small steering wheel (that was a good surprise). Throwing the S90 into dynamic mode makes the wheel heavier and the throttle and shift points more aggressive. The eight-speed automatic transmission can be manually shifted but paddles are not on offer. The suspension is tuned more for comfort than performance, with a $1,200 air suspension system available (ours wasn’t equipped as such). Fuel economy is rated at 22/31/25 mpg, although we only managed a disappointing 22 mpg in combined highway and city driving.

The S90 isn’t a sports sedan. It can be sporty, to a point. But that’s not the point. This is a comfort cruiser. Pilot Assist, which allows for limited self-driving, is standard. The tech lets you take a bit of a break during monotonous highway drives. Keeping a few fingers on the wheel and avoiding curves at all cost allows said break to be longer. Once you figure out how to game Pilot Assist the S90’s cabin can truly be enjoyed. Those Nappa leather seats with the Swedish flag stitched to them are 10-way power adjustable and include adjustable bolsters and leg extensions. They’re as comfortable as they look. All seats are heated and the front ones are also ventilated.

Strangely enough the passenger seat can be controlled by the driver’s seat via a button on the infotainment screen. We were told this was so chauffeurs can give rear passengers more legroom. There’s a decent amount of that already, and headroom isn’t a problem for someone standing around six feet either. If nothing else it’s a fun way to scare the crap out of someone. The only knock against the seats is that they don’t feature a massage function. If everyone else is offering it why not do the same? The S90 we drove came equipped with the optional $2,600 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Volvo went to great lengths to show it off. When we took delivery the satellite radio was set to a classical station and the audio setting was on concert hall.

With the right music you legitimately feel like you’re in a concert hall. A digital symphony is the perfect soundtrack to appreciate the design of the cabin. You can feel the grain on the walnut wood inlays. The exposed speakers on the door panels are a brilliant touch, adding an industrial feel to an otherwise elegant and sterile environment. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is slick, although not the best we have come across. Cabin complaints are small and include the fact that the white leather is highly prone to scuffs and stains and the use of cheap feeling plastic on the front air vents. Some may hate the S90’s 9.0-inch infotainment screen. We liked it, although the massive vertical touchscreen was intimidating at first.

After a few trips through it becomes easier to navigate. There are a ton of buttons and menus you’ll never need to press, and the ones you will use most often are easy to find. The digital owner’s manual is a breeze to flip through and makes figuring out the sedan’s quirks—why do the side mirrors adjust downwards when I go into reverse?!—simpler than any book could have. Volvo deserves props for going its own route, as in not copying BMW, and designing a system that is both functional and eye-catching. Of course the most eye-catching thing about the S90 is its exterior design. The fastback look is sleek and elegant from every angle. We caught quite a few pedestrians and fellow drivers staring long and hard trying to figure out just what they were looking at.

The S90 is one of the best-looking mid-size luxury sedans on the market and one of the best new offerings the segment has had in years. Sweden has stepped on the scene with a bang and should be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Germans shouldn’t feel threatened just yet. That's because the S90 lineup isn't complete. The 410-hp hybrid T8 is on the way. Once a Polestar-branded S90 hits things will really get serious. With a fully realized model lineup and relatively affordable pricing—the bang for your buck is pretty good here—Volvo will go from attractive alternative to serious sales threat.