The purge of Volvo’s ageing line-up continues, with the genuinely excellent XC90 and its ‘Scalable Product Architecture’ now underpinning the all-new S90 saloon and V90 estate. Size wise, you need to think BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. Cars outside of that trio - like the Jaguar XF - seem to be very much cut from the same cloth, but that’s not the case with this Swedish pairing.
What they do, is offer something genuinely, refreshingly different. Here’s why:
In the world of mid-size execs, aggression seems to be a key theme - just look at the Lexus GS and its angry Predator face. With the S90 (from £31,950) and V90 (from £34,555) though, it’s all about exuding a simple and effective air of classiness. Yes, that front grille is a whopper, but it works. Look elsewhere, and you’ll see clean, crisp lines, and not a hint of fussiness.
All this is finished off with generously proportioned headlights (when speaking to XC90 project leader Lars Langstrom recently, he spoke out against the design trend of making ultra-thin clusters), featuring Volvo’s uber cool ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running light design. The latter is something we’ll eventually see on all cars from the Swedish manufacturer.
Now, I admit this one’s going to be hard to relate to a bunch of hardcore petrolheads, but not everyone wants to go belting around country roads at every opportunity. That’s certainly not something Volvo expects its customers to get up to, which is why the cars’ Senior Product Manager Stefan Sällqvist told us that “we’re not going after the Germans” in the handling department.
Instead, the idea is to create something called ‘Relaxed Confidence’. In other words, it won’t feel at home on the Nurburgring, but it isn’t going to be a floppy mess either.
This translates pretty clearly on the road. Both the front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions offer more than enough grip for most, but press on and you’ll feel understeer and body roll fairly easily. There’s also the ‘dynamic steering’ which is weirdly springy - it’s very keen to return to the centre point, like a gaming wheel.
So, it’s not a car for driving hard, but it is utterly relaxing. Not much in the way of noise enters the cabin, and the ride is nice and smooth - smoother still with the optional air suspension. And if you do want something a little more dynamic, the eventual R Design trim package will give you 15mm lower suspension.
Until the T8 arrives, 80 per cent of UK buyers will go for the 188bhp D4, leaving a modest 20 per cent share for the 232bhp, four-wheel drive D5. That’s a shame, as those D4 buyers will miss out on the D5’s clever Power Pulse system.
What it aims to do is kill off lag, through a jolly clever but simple idea. Fresh air is fed via a compressor into a tank, which is shot into the exhaust manifold when you put your foot down. This gives a near-instant spool-up for the turbocharger, killing off turbo lag.
On the road, you can feel this working: the difference in responsiveness between the D4 and D5 is noticeable, and gives the D5 an almost EV-like feeling to its smooth power delivery. Thanks to the extra power it’s a decent margin quicker too, reducing the 0-62mph time from 7.2 seconds to 6.2 seconds.
The S90 and V90 get double wishbone suspension at the front, and integral link at the rear. Nothing weird about that, but what is unusual is what you’ll find in the middle of that rear setup: a leaf spring.
But don’t worry: Volvo hasn’t gone all old fashioned and hipster on us. For starters, the leaf spring is composite, and secondly it’s used for a very specific reason: packaging. Using a leaf spring means no bulky coil springs are present, which would otherwise be cutting into interior space.
Most S90 and V90 buyers aren’t going to give a damn about this factoid, but it’s another welcome sign that Volvo is thinking a little differently.
We’re arguably in a golden age of car safety, but Volvo takes this part of car design to extremes, exploring places the German lot - nor anyone else, for that matter - aren’t even looking at.
There’s the obvious stuff like a festooning of airbags and the strategic placing of high-strength steel to make the body strong, but you also have to consider ‘Run Off Road Protection’. Through clever measures like seatbelts that know exactly when to tighten and an energy absorbing seat frame, Volvo can counteract the nasty vertical forces you might experience when running off the road and crashing into a ditch. It’s a common form of accident that - surprisingly - most cars aren’t really designed to go up against.
The S90 and V90 also do a lot to stop accidents from happening in the first place. ‘Run Off Road Mitigation’ aims to prevent those aforementioned ditch excursions by applying small amounts of corrective steering, while ‘Large Animal Detection’ will warn the driver if a ruddy great elk or similar is running out in front, applying the brakes if you fail to react.
You could write a whole damn article on the safety stuff alone, so we’ll leave it there and move on to, erm, another safety point…
As much as it pains me to admit this as a keen driver, cars are known to be safer when the idiotic squishy bit behind the wheel is taken out of the equation. So, while I’m keen to take care of the driving duties as long as I feasibly can, the crappy driving standards on British motorways mean I quite like the idea of Volvo’s Pilot Assist and similar systems becoming more popular.
It’s a ‘semi-autonomous’ system that can look after the throttle, braking and steering on dual carriageways and motorways. It’ll keep you in lane, but unlike Tesla’s Autopilot you still have to do the lane changing yourself. Also separating the system from Autopilot is the fact that you still have to hold the wheel: pressure sensors mean that if you let go for around 10 seconds or more, it starts getting angry at you.
It’s for that reason I’m not quite so keen on Pilot Assist. I get why they’ve done it: Volvo engineers have said before that they don’t want a system that gives users a false sense of security, but holding onto the wheel while letting the car do the steering is an odd feeling. What’s more, on a short trial with the mode, it did have a tendency to stray closer to one line than the other from time to time.
We need to spend more time with the system before we give our full verdict, but it is a promising start.
While the rear leg room is respectable, the space occupied by those in the front doesn’t feel all that commodious. I’m not sure ‘cramped’ is the right word, it’s more cosy, and I like that. But more importantly, pretty much everything you touch just feels expensive and nice. Obviously it’s a little dependent on spec - we’d have ours with tan leather and the delectable open grain wood.
The one bugbear? I’m still not sure about putting so many key features - like the climate control - into the ‘Sensus’ touchscreen. But overall, like the exterior, the cabin is a triumph of classy Swedishness.