A Volvo that turns heads, especially in the swankiest part of town, would have been something unimaginable for those following the automaker’s fortunes over the past few decades. Having wallowed in stagnation, financially, technologically and stylistically for many years, the Swedish brand had earned the general perception of being one of the most boring in the automotive world. So it is with an element of surprise that I note people eyeing the all-new S90 with admiration as it pulls up near the patio of Downtown Dubai’s swish Armani Hotel. It takes just a brief walk around to realise why. With its swept-back profile, athletic stance, long bonnet with short front overhang, and simple, clean yet elegant lines, Volvo’s new saloon looks like no other on the market today, and represents a major styling departure from the brand’s previous three-box cars.
The prominent grille with vertical slats is flanked by the “Thor’s Hammer” headlights, lending oodles of character to the front fascia, while the rear gets an upright bootlid and a taillight design that makes the S90 look wider and lower than it is. It also gets a generous dose of brightwork that adds to the car’s overall striking design. Distinctly Scandinavian with its minimalist lines, distinctly Volvo with cues taken from historic models like the P1800, the S90 also manages to look distinctly modern. For the first time in many years, here is a Volvo that turns heads.
The overall theme of understated elegance carries over to the cabin, too, where the same great quality of materials and workmanship seen in the XC90 have been replicated or even bettered. The interior is an eclectic mix of supple leather, open pore wood panels, and matte finish metal trims. The driver-oriented dashboard is uncluttered thanks to the 9.0in LCD screen that’s made a number of buttons and knobs redundant by incorporating controls for most of the basic functions. The downside, though, is that adjusting some oft-used functions such as air-conditioning now entail a few extra steps and will require you to take your eyes off the road as these are controlled via the touchscreen. Adding to the cabin’s overall upmarket ambience are vertically oriented metallic louvres.
Getting into the perfect driving position behind the impeccably proportioned steering wheel is easy, thanks to the electrically adjustable seat that also provides great back and thigh support. They are the same ergonomically designed seats that were introduced in the XC90, and the result of years of extensive research. The seats at the back are also roomy enough to seat two six-footers with two equally tall occupants in the front. However, tall individuals could find getting in and out of the rear compartment a bit tricky owing to the lower roofline.
Under the long, sloping bonnet of our S90 T6 is the same four-cylinder engine that powers the XC90, and makes 316 horsepower and 400Nm of torque. Both supercharged and turbocharged, the four-pot gets off to a luke-warm start, with an audible raspy note seeping through the firewall, but as the revs climb up, power delivery becomes noticeably smoother. While power and performance are more than enough for comfortable cruising, the gruff four-pot drone does take away a little from the overall sense of refinement in an otherwise extremely sophisticated car. A smoother six-cylinder engine would have placed this car right up there as one of the best luxury saloons, but Volvo seems to be sticking to its bold decision to go with just four-bangers in all its models. However, the eight-speed automatic transmission does a great job in providing smooth, quick, and near seamless shifts in Comfort and Eco modes, while the gear changes are a bit more aggressive in the sportier Dynamic mode, which also alters the brakes, suspension and steering responses. But I would have liked the electrically assisted steering to be a bit less ponderous than it is.
Talking of steering, the S90, much like its SUV sibling, is a car that can steer itself thanks to Pilot Assist function, which comes as standard equipment along with the adaptive cruise control. Although it works spookily well on roads with clear lane markings, it will take a lot of getting used to before you could leave everything to the on board computer, especially as it works at speeds of up to 130kph now. Being a Volvo, it’s also packed with a host of other safety features including blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, and airbags all around. The 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system is arguably one of the best, not just in class but in any car we’ve tested of late.
The XC90, which won the wheels Car of the Year award early this year, pointed at a brighter future for the Swedish carmaker. The S90 follows it up brilliantly, and for the first time in decades, Volvo has a flagship luxury saloon that can take the fight to segment-dominating German stalwarts Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series and the Audi A6, as well as other players like Jaguar’s XF and the Cadillac CTS.
If you’re in the market looking for a stylish-looking premium saloon that can seat five, provide a smooth, refined, comfortable ride, keep you and your family as safe as a car can, then the Volvo S90, with a Dh170K starting price, deserves serious consideration.