The executive saloon segment has been bolstered over the past year by two polished newcomers — Volvo’s suave S90 and the fifth-generation Mercedes E-Class.
Although the S90 replaces the S80, it’s a far superior package to its outdated predecessor, using as its basis the latest Scalable Platform Architecture chassis (SPA) that also underpins the excellent XC90. This switch means the S90 shares the big SUV’s safety tech, as well as making a huge step forward with its premium cabin ambience.
The S90’s innards are lined with fine leather and real wood, and the dashboard and centre console — with its portrait-layout infotainment screen — are beautifully laid out. The seats are superb and there’s loads of legroom in the back. Even the entry-level T5 variant — with 251bhp and front-wheel drive — gets along briskly enough, but you need to work the four-cylinder turbo motor hard to do so. The S90’s chassis is also oriented more towards comfort than dynamism. Push hard and you’ll encounter far greater levels of body roll and understeer than you would in the best of the executive saloon bunch.
In contrast, the Mercedes E-Class manages to meld safety, opulence and dynamism in a near flawless blend. The new E is armed with enough on-board intelligence to drive itself for up to 30 seconds, change lanes automatically and be parked remotely.
Other pioneering tech includes ‘Pre-Safe impulse side’, which nudges you closer to the centre of the car if sensors detect a side impact is imminent, and ‘Pre-Safe Sound’, which emits a short, sharp audio signal to prepare your inner ear for the extreme noise levels associated with a crash.
Previous E-Classes haven’t been the most dynamic offerings, but the W213 generation is a welcome departure from the norm. Even the four-cylinder E200 we brought to the CotY finals bolted across our twisty test loop with eye-opening rapidity. The 2.0-litre turbo motor serves up bags of torque across the rev range, and the chassis is brilliantly tied down, enabling the car to be flung into corners with great gusto.
The E-Class nails it aesthetically, too. In a category notable for vanilla styling and sombre cabins, it ushers in a welcome dose of design flair. The exterior may be hard to distinguish from the larger S-Class, but that’s certainly no bad thing. The interior is also immaculately conceived, with great use of sweeping surfaces and contrasting trim materials. Job done. The new E is everything an executive saloon should be.