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New Car Review

1998 VOLVO S90

by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 34,300
Price As Tested                                    $ 36,005
Engine Type                DOHC 4-valve 2.9 Liter I6 w/EFI*
Engine Size                                 178 cid/2922 cc
Horsepower                                   181 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               199 @ 4100 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  109.1"/68.9"/191.8"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3583 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  20.8 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      205/55-16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.38


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            18/26/22
0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 81.5 mph
Top-speed                                     125 mph (est)
     * Electronic fuel injection

(Volvo has been a favorite of Bob Hagin since its earliest days in this country. Matt Hagin believes this is because Volvo is a "traditionalists" car and the new flagship Volvo S90 fits that mold.)

BOB - I guess that one of the reasons I have such a soft spot for Volvos is because of its original offering in this country, the PV444 of the early '50s. It looked for all the world like '40s-era Ford two-door sedans which were favorites of your grandfather, your Uncle Don and I. The Volvo S90 that we're reviewing this week is more than a little like that original Volvo in that it's a no-nonsense machine that's built rock-crusher tough and not given to "trendy" innovations. It carries an in-line six-cylinder engine up front and it drives through the rear wheels. It's the kind of car that makes you feel that you could drive it a quarter-million miles and enjoy every one of them.

MATT - That inline engine is pretty sophisticated, Dad. It's all- aluminum, carries twin cams that operate four valves per cylinder and is just a little under three liters with 181 horsepower. The same engine put out 201 horsed in the '94 version of this car but Volvo engineers felt that what it needed was more middle speed pulling power so they retuned the cams for more torque. It didn't seem to affect the top-end performance any but it dropped the 0 to 60 time down to 9.5 seconds. That's not bad for a 3600 pound family car that can only be had with a four-speed automatic transmission. However, as a consolation to those buyers who want to put a little performance zest in their driving, the automatic has three positions: Sport, Economy and Winter. The first two are self-explanatory but the Winter position is designed to reduce wheel spin in the snow or on ice. Nice for heavy-winter areas in this country but almost a necessity for the S90s that stay home in Sweden.

BOB - The car got a couple of other changes in '95 too, Matt. The coil springs in the back were done away with and the five-link independent rear suspension is now carried by a single carbon-fiber composite transverse leaf-spring very similar to the system used on some Corvettes. It must be a superior system because Volvo isn't know for making changes just to appeal to upscale baby-boomers. The mileage isn't great, however, and the EPA gives its highway averages at 26 MPG and only 18 around town. If fuel mileage is the major criteria for buying a car, shoppers had better look to the little econoboxes of which there plenty on the market.

MATT - The traditional squareness of this S90 might have something to do with that mileage, Dad. While most modern high-MPG cars have a drag coefficient of around 0.28, the S90 is up around 0.38. I guess you can't have that comfortable upright seating position without sacrificing something. From a safety standpoint, my family really liked the S90. It came with three-point safety belts on all five seat locations and those three-point belts trace their heritage back almost 40 year. Volvo had them in its PV544 sedan clear back in '58. There are air bags in both front doors as well as up front and all of the passenger seats can be optionally equipped with factory-provided infant seats.

BOB - That would make for a pretty good sized family, Matt, but it still wouldn't have been enough for us when you kids were growing up. The only drawback I can see in the S90 is that the head rests are built into all five seats and aren't adjustable. It takes a little practice to look around them through the rear-view mirror. An interesting and very Swedish safety innovation is the fact that there are built-in fog lamps in the back as well as in the front. I'm not crazy about the leather upholstery our car came with and I got flashed several time by other drivers who are as unaccustomed to day-time running lights as I am.

MATT - Now that all of us kids are grown and out of the house, I'm surprised that you and Mom don't get rid of your van and get something more scaled down and fancy like this Volvo S90 or even one of those sporty C70 Volvo two-door coupes.

BOB - Are you kidding? With all the grandchildren you kids are producing, we may have to turn in the van on a full-sized school bus.