After decades of staid, respectable cars that looked fine and drove well, Volvo shocked the world with the reinvented XC90. That SUV, with its refined looks and polished character, nabbed our inaugural Shift Car of the Year award -- and plenty of other trophies, too.
Now, here's the follow-up. This is the Volvo S90, and you can think of it as a shorter XC90. But, with a starting price of $47,000, it's also a fair bit more attainable. It's also lovely, it's certainly comfortable and, overall, it's nothing short of superb.
A cover that suits the book
A cynic might call the S90 bland in appearance. They wouldn't be wrong, but the words "clean" and "sophisticated" feel far more apt to me. The S90 features the next evolution of the Scandinavian lines that debuted on the XC90. They flow from front to rear without raising much of a fuss along the way.
The most striking aspects of the car are, far and away, the lights at either end. Up front, the S90 has the same "Thor's Hammer" headlight design that shines on its bigger brother. The integrated turn signals also bear a passing resemblance to that divine tool -- at least, in its mythological, non-Hollywood execution.
It's the rear lights that will divide opinions: They're dramatically oversized and sculpted inward at the top, again not unlike the XC90, but weightier here. They may be the least aesthetically soothing aspect of the car's appearance, but they're quite large and difficult to miss -- important attributes in a safety-minded auto like this.
The same understated style continues into the interior, which is among the best of any car available for less than $50,000 -- and it's better than many cars that cost quite a bit more. The interior materials are very good on the lower end cars and only get better when you step up to the T6 Inscription that I tested here. The seats are wide and plush, definite reminders that this is not a sports sedan by any stretch of the definition.
Tech for convenience and for safety
Impressively, Volvo has managed to continue that trend of simplicity right on through the Sensus infotainment system, which manages to offer all the functionality of the competition and do so in a clean, intuitive package. The dark, moody UI is perhaps not as visually engaging as the competition from Audi or BMW, but it's also far less distracting.
Here you have the usual bevy of audio sources, including SiriusXM plus support for Bluetooth audio, an easy-to-use navigation system with voice recognition that actually works and quick toggles for frequently used features, like viewing the display from the 360 camera or enabling the auto-park functionality.
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And, if none of that floats your boat, there's support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too, so you can let your phone do the driving.
That's just the beginning of the tech to be found in the S90. Add the $1,000 convenience package to get the Park Assist functionality, plus a Homelink garage door opener and power trunklid, while the $1,950 Vision package gives you the 360 cameras and blind-spot assist. But, even the base S90 comes with a very comprehensive adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist system.
There are two engine configurations on the S90, the T5 with a 250-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 34 mpg on the highway, and the T6 that brings another 66 horses to the party thanks to an added supercharger. That'll cost you an extra $6,000, and bring you down to 31 mpg, but also brings AWD to the table.
While the T6 necessarily offers the more urgent drive, neither of these models would be described as thrilling when it comes to acceleration. And that's just fine. With its pliant ride quality (even without the $1,200 optional air suspension) and relaxed handling, the S90 is a car that's more about settling in than leaning forward.
The S90 is unflustered by road imperfections and its adaptive cruise and the comfortable seats will ensure that you're totally unstressed by any unexpected bouts with inclement traffic. Meanwhile, if you're worried about inclement weather, you may want to spend the extra to get the AWD T6. This is, after all, a big car, and you'll want all the help you can get to keep it moving in the right direction.
Volvo's new $47,000 S90 certainly feels like it's punching above its class, and what a class indeed. While priced similarly to the BMW 5 Series, which starts just over $50,000, in some ways it almost feels more like a 7 Series, which starts at $81,500. At least, it feels that way in terms of refinement and interior spaciousness. In terms of driving dynamics, the 5 Series will run circles around the S90.
The S90 similarly comes in larger than Audi's $47,600 A6 and splits the $52,150 Mercedes-Benz E-Class and $96,600 S-Class. The main difference here is that while you get similar convenience and safety features as you would on the higher end of those pairs, the performance of the S90 definitely lags more towards the lower.
The S90 wears its simple lines and unassuming character like a gray suit that's been perfectly tailored. Performance is clearly not its priority, but when you compare this kind of refinement and value with the competition, it's hard not to fall for Volvo's latest success -- and to be excited for what's coming next.
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