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New Car Review

1998 Volvo S90 Four-Door Sedan

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  2.9-liter inline six
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  181hp @ 5,200 rpm/ 199 lb. ft.@ 4,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  18 mpg city,  26 mpg highway,  19.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  109.1 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  191.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  68.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3,491 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  20.3 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  16.6 cu. ft.
TIRES:   205/55VR16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and CD player, anti-lock braking, dual air bags, lumbar support for front seats, cold weather package.

Just when I had the old system figured out, Volvo went and changed its model identification system. What was the 960 is now the S90 (sedan) or V90 (wagon). What was the 800 series is now the S70 or V70 or C70 (coupe).

I guess the system makes sense, but was this a change that was necessary?

The S90 has graduated from being a safety geek's car to a luxury car par excellence. The first thing that hits you as you enter the S90 is the smell of leather, good leather. Some cars have leather interiors but they are cheesy leather that smells like plastic and you know it isn't the real thing. In the S90, the smell is the real thing.

The exterior of our tester was a metallic burgundy or dark red. The interior was tan leather with wood accent strips on the doors and through the instrument panel and into the console.

Volvos have a reputation for being square and the S90 maintains that reputation. But the S90's lines are becoming softer, more aerodynamic. Even inside, the corners are gone and you can see a roundness starting to develop in Volvo styling.

The S90 is powered by a 2.9-liter inline six-cylinder engine that develops a healthy 181 horsepower. It drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with an overdrive override. Our tester also had the optional cold weather package that offers an automatic locking differential. Power was more than enough with the S90. We were able to use it on local highways, back roads, and interstates and it was a delight to drive. We tended to use the cruise control as often as possible because the S90 seems like a luxury car, even though it is classified as a compact. It is one of the biggest compact cars we've ever driven.

Being a luxury car it has all the required accessories; power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, power sunroof, AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette and in-dash CD player, and an excellent HVAC system.

Volvo has some touches that I like very much. One is the separate power mirror controls so you only have to feel for the right or left switch and move the mirror. I don't know how many times I've changed the wrong mirror because I was too busy to look at the switch control.

The S90 has three switches for the automatic transmission; winter, sport and economy. We generally drove in "S" because we liked the performance. The transmission has higher shift points.

The front seats are extremely comfortable and offer good side support. They are big enough that the side support isn't critical. The head restraints are comfortable and not only provide protection in the event of a rear-end accident but can be used as a head rest as well.

Volvos, of course, are noted for their safety. The S90 has a multitude of air bags, two in the dash and two in the doors. Add to this a strong safety cage and the Volvo is a nice, safe package.

In addition, no matter what kind of road surface you're on, you get a feeling of solidity in the S90 that you don't get in a lot of other compact cars. Here is a car that feels substantial going down the highway. Because of this feeling of substantiality you get a feeling of safety that is as important as the real safety features built into the car.

The Volvo S90 has a new name, but it's still the top-of-the-line Volvo sedan. At $36,000, it's not cheap, but when you compare it to some of the other vehicles around in that price range, you're getting an excellent package. It's well built.

What Volvo doesn't offer is a fantastic aerodynamic package. The styling is still conservative, but that's often what you're looking for in a luxury car.