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2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Review - By Carey Russ +VIDEO

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Volvo’s unique approach to efficient luxury


                • SEE ALSO: Volvo Research and Buyers Guide

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If, when you think of high-performance, high-tech European luxury cars and all seem to be German, expand your thinking a bit northward. To Gothenburg, Sweden, home of Volvo. A massive cash infusion, eleven billion dollars worth, from Chinese owner Geeley over the past five years has enabled Volvo to thrive, with new products and engineering.

The latest Volvo is the S90 flagship luxury sedan. As the name suggests, it’s not a new version of the previous flagship S80. The S90 is a bit larger, not much heavier, noticeably more powerful, and goes farther on a gallon of premium unleaded. It introduces styling cues that debuted on the XC90 crossover to Volvo’s sedan line, for a simple, understated Scandinavian Modern look in a class that is getting ever more stylistically Baroque.

Two models of the S90 are currently offered, the front-wheel drive T5 and all-wheel drive T6. That sort of nomenclature used to denote five- and six-cylinder engines, respectively. Not any more. Both are powered by Volvo’s latest 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. With important differences. That in the T5 is turbocharged, for an output of 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, equivalent, says Volvo, to a five-cylinder engine. The T6 combines mechanical supercharging and a turbo for 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. The 3.0-liter turbo inline six in the second-generation S80 had 281 hp and 295 lb-ft — but that car was a second slower to 60 mph — 6.6 seconds to 5.7 — and during my test period got 20 mpg. This week’s S90 T6 got 25, not bad at all for a two-ton, 300-plus horsepower, all-wheel drive luxury sedan. Gasoline may be cheap now, but don’t count on that lasting…

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The S90’s interior is also a fine example of Scandinavian design, and can be outfitted with nearly all reasonable comfort and convenience items. Sorry, no massage seats, just your wonderfully ergonomic Volvo seats, with full adjustability and then some. Most notable is the “tablet” center stack, which neatly solves the problem of access to a myriad of electronic comfort, convenience, and safety systems in a manner that is intuitive if you have any experience at all with smartphones or tablets. Swipe, pinch, zoom, and press, not a sub-sub-submenu to be seen!

Volvo isn’t quite a Swedish synonym for safety, but it is close. Besides all of the mandated safety equipment, all S90s come with the City Safety low-speed collision avoidance system, Pedestrian, Cyclist, and Large Animal Detection, Run-Off Road Protection and Mitigation, and most interestingly the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system. More on that later.

The “base” S90 trim level is called Momentum. Above that is Inscription, adding interior and exterior cosmetic and comfort. My test car was an Inscription, of course. It also had the Vision Package, 360-degree outside imaging and blind-spot detection, the Climate Package with HUD, heated steering wheel, headlight washers, and rear seat, and a convenient head-up display, Bowers & Wilkins premium audio, and more upscale conveniences that made it a wonderfully comfortable car during a wet winter week. Those options were nice, but not absolutely necessary — even a “basic” Momentum T5 would be a fine executive sedan, to use the European term. Look beyond Germany, go north!

APPEARANCE: Back when the original S80 debuted almost twenty years ago the tag line was “we threw away the box and kept the toy”. That design language did well, and still looks good today. But change is inevitable, and the biggest risk of changing something that looks good is that the changed version won’t. No worries here, and Volvo still stands out, now with simple lines and a reasonably-sized grille when many competitors have gone toward complexity and huge gaping grilles. The trademark “Ironmark” is readily visible. Most automakers now use LED running lights to distinguish their cars, and to that end the S90 Inscription has t-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” lights in its LED headlight clusters. C-shaped taillights are a departure from previous designs. Chrome trim is used for accenting, and not over-used.

COMFORT: Welcome to the S90’s interior: simple shapes, high-quality materials, and ergonomic design where form follows function. It’s a blend of classic, with perforated leather seating, leather on the instrument and door panel tops, matte-finished wood that looks and feels like wood, and real aluminum trim — and contemporary, with electronic displays for instrumentation and center stack controls. It looks good and works very well. Nearly anything expected in a luxury car can be found, although a manually-adjustable steering wheel is an anomaly. Call it character, it’s not something that needs to be adjusted often. Seats are as expected in a Volvo, here with adjustable cushion length and bolster width. With the fob in pocket, a touch of any door handle locks or unlocks. Start/stop is by a twist of a knob on the console, with drive mode selected by a roller switch behind that, all very convenient. The main instruments are bright and visible, with no glare. In Comfort and Dynamic modes the tachometer shows on the right side of the display; in Eco it’s replaced by an efficiency meter. If fitted, the head-up display is projected on the base of the windshield in front of the driver. It’s useful and not distracting.

Convenient interior storage includes a large locking glovebox and small console box with inputs for phone, iPod, and other accessories. The optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system has variable equalization and audiophile-quality sound. Audio choices are comprehensive, with AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, external device, and streaming including Pandora and Spotify. And Apple Car Play. Climate control here is separately adjustable for both front and both outboard rear positions. Front cushions have heat and ventilation (and heated steering wheel); outboard rear cushions are heated. The trunk is huge, with a space-saver spare under its floor.

Most noteworthy is the tablet-like touchscreen center stack. It’s an elegantly simple solution to the complexity of modern car electronics but logically designed so that hours with a manual are not necessary.

SAFETY: Being a Volvo, the S90 has all mandated safety equipment more standard. I’ll concentrate on the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system. It’s the second generation of the system introduced in the XC90. That system allowed the vehicle to accelerate, decelerate, stop, and steer in road conditions with clearly-marked lanes at up to 30 mph as long as there was a “pilot” car ahead for reference. In the S90, the pilot car is not needed (so the only pilot is the driver) and it works at speeds up to 80 mph. I’m not going to take my hands off the wheel, and my phone has an answering service. Still, it gave an interesting nudge to the steering when coming near a painted lane line, unless the appropriate turn signal was on. I have mixed feelings on this — drivers need to *pay attention* to driving as priority number one. But there are plenty who seem incapable…

RIDE AND HANDLING: This is a contemporary European luxury car, and unsurprisingly its suspension is tuned moderately, for good compliance, even with the optional 255/35R20 Pirelli P-Zero performance tires. Steering effort is appropriate, a bit heavy but solid and not over-assisted. Dynamic mode not only changes engine and transmission mapping, but also seems to firm the dampers a bit, for a sportier ride, with less body roll. There is enough power at hand to move down the road, even a good twisty secondary road, at a good clip. The brakes stop quickly and uneventfully, with moderate pressure. The all-wheel drive system can automatically send up to 50 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels if necessary, but usually operates in front-wheel drive mode to reduce friction and improve efficiency. The term “grand touring” comes to mind, the ability to cover distance quickly and in comfort. And safety. Interestingly, those P-Zeros were not m+s (all season) rated. But no problems during a wet week. Of course my winters are a lot like summer in Gothenburg…

PERFORMANCE: It’s more a broad, complex personality than multiple personalities. Even in Eco mode, the 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged, direct-injected engine moves the S90 plenty quickly, if with a bit more throttle effort than in Comfort. Dynamic increases throttle sensitivity, and disable the stop-engine-at-a-stop function. So Comfort or Eco around town and on the highway, and Dynamic on the open, interesting road. The eight-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with torque peaking (at 295 lb-ft) from 2200 through 5400 rpm there is little reason. Volvo’s rationale for the boosted four-cylinder engine is light weight, contributing to efficiency. Compound boost, with a mechanical supercharger and exhaust-driven turbo, is used for further efficiency and power. Both provide boost without lag below 3500 rpm, at which point the supercharger is declutched, stopping its power drain. Direct fuel injection allows higher compression than with port injection, for further efficiency and power.

The horsepower peak — 316 hp — is at 5700 rpm, but torque is what really counts in everyday driving, and that wide, strong midrange means quick acceleration without downshifting in most cases. EPA ratings are 22 mpg city, 31 highway, and 25 overall. That seems accurate, as I got 25 mpg for my week. Not bad for a two-ton, 316-horsepower, all-wheel drive luxury sedan. About the same as the 1969 VW Bug that was my first car, actually.

CONCLUSIONS: Volvo’s unique approach to efficient luxury shows well in its flagship S90 sedan.


2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

Base Price $ 52,950

Price As Tested $ 66,105

Engine Type supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 316 @ 5700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 295 @ 2200-5400 rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 115.8 in. / 195.4 in.

Curb Weight 4080 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 12.9

Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires P255/35 R2097W Pirelli P-Zero

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, and EBA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / integral axle with transverse composite leaf spring and hydraulic dampers

Drivetrain transverse front engine, on-demand electronically- controlled all-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 31 / 25

0 to 60 mph 5.7 sec


Inscription Package — includes: Active Bending Lights (ABD) added to standard LED headlights with Thor’s Hammer DRL and automatic highbeams, headlight high-pressure clearing, illuminated sill plates, high-level interior illumination, linear walnut wood inlays, Apple Car Play and USB hub, ventilated front seats, leather dash and upper door panel trim, power side support and cushion extension front seats, rear seat manual sunshades,4-Zone electric climate control, cooled glovebox, laminated side windows, Nappa soft leather upholstery $ 3,300

Vision Package — includes: 360º Surround View camera system, retractable rearview mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, BLIS blind-spot and cross traffic alert system $ 1.950

Climate Package with HUD — includes: heated headlight washer nozzles, graphical head-up display (HUD), heated steering wheel and outboard seating positions $ 1,950

Convenience Package — includes: power trunklid, Homelink, 12VDC power outlet, compass in insider rearview mirror, Park Assist Pilot $ 1,000

Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System $ 2,650

Metallic Paint $ 560

20” Inscription Allow Wheels with summer performance tires $ 750

Destination Charge $ 995

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