Why The S90 is the Volvo We’ve Always Wanted
Big news from Volvo! The brand sold 49,055 vehicles worldwide last month, making it the most successful month in the company’s 88-year history. A cool 6,903 of those Volvos founds buyers in the U.S., thanks in no small part to the excellent new XC90 SUV, as well as hints that the company’s ambitious turnaround program may be finally finding some traction. The news comes hot on the heels of last month’s Concept 26 interior, which debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show and previewed the cockpit we can expect in future autonomous Volvos.
Oh, and today at its Gothenberg, Sweden headquarters, it officially unveiled its S90 flagship sedan, a car that’s set to take on the BMW 5 Series, revitalize the entire brand, and establish Volvo as a worldwide powerhouse in the premium segment. That’s pretty big news too.
Volvo says the S90 is its “entry ticket into the premium sedan club,” but to us, it’s more of a gate-crasher. Back in September, photos of a scale model were leaked from a Chinese toy factory, and to put it mildly, it was one hell of a good looking toy. Today, we know the model was spot on. Volvo has based its current/future styling language on its 2013 Concept Coupe, a car that brand enthusiasts have been begging the company to build ever since. We probably won’t ever get the coupe (or the equally gorgeous shooting brake Concept Estate), but Volvo has beautifully transcribed their styling cues for both the XC90 and S90, with seven future models to benefit from their good genes on the way by 2019 too. But with the introduction of the S90, Volvo now has two of the best-looking production models out there, price and segment be damned.
More than most other car companies, Volvo tends to move in eras. The ’40s through ’60s gave us the jellybean-shaped PV cars. The ’70s through ’90s brought on the iconic 700 and 900-series bricks. And from 1998 to last year or so, its lineup took the lead from its S80 flagship, which was part and parcel a production version of the 1992 ECC concept. But the Safety Brand’s models had begun to play it too safe in the styling department, and over the past decade it’s been taking a beating in the U.S. market. With the XC90 and S90, however, Volvo is where it hasn’t gone since the P1800 over half a century ago: Sexy. Very, very sexy.
With cars like the Cadillacs CTS and Jaguar XE asserting their individuality in premium car segments, we’re beginning to see a break in the German hegemony that’s dictated the market for far too long. And come next summer, the Swedes will take the game to the next level. Because the S90 doesn’t look like an Audi. Or a Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, or anything else for that matter. Volvo at its best has always had a styling language all its own, and if the S90 proves anything it’s that the brand has found its next great design.
Like the concepts of a few years back and the XC90, the S90’s front fascia is dominated by a prominent grille and the arresting “Thor’s Hammer” headlights, and is capped off out back by aggressive boomerang taillights. In between you have a car that’s refreshingly proportioned — no odd creases, useless vents, or too-big wheels here. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a premium car that looks the part. It’s not an outsider looking to break into the market or a decent first try; it’s the real deal. Above all else, the S90’s sheet metal exudes confidence.
And if you didn’t get the message on the outside, the interior is — let’s drop any remaining journalistic objectivity here — drop dead gorgeous. We can’t think of any dash we’d rather look at day after day during long commutes. It’s the antithesis of the cold, inoffensive interiors in most of today’s German cars (and frankly, in most of Volvo’s current lineup too). When we drove the XC90 Inscription back in August, we loved the Nappa leather seats, intuitive Sensus infotainment system, and refreshing lack of clutter on the dash. The S90 interior shares some common design points with its SUV stablemate (supple leather, large touch screen, ample wood inlays) but in our opinion looks even better. Volvo has always been known for its comfortable interiors, but if it can spread this kind of wealth down along its new model line, its upcoming South Carolina plant may be operating at full capacity far sooner than it expected.
There’s plenty of go to the S90 too. Under hood in the base model is likely to be Volvo’s T5 engine, a turbocharged inline-four that was one of Ward’s 10 Best engines for 2015, and is good for around 245 horsepower. A larger T6 will pack over 300 horsepower and is likely to be available in both front-and all-wheel drive. But the real contender here will likely be the T8 hybrid, which like the XC90 T8, is expected to pack over 400 horsepower, deliver impressive fuel economy, and be able to travel over 20 miles under electric power.
Reinforcing the fact that Volvo is now and forever the Safety Brand, the S90 features two new groundbreaking features: Intellisafe and Pilot Assist. Like Tesla’s Autopilot, Pilot Assist is a semi-autonomous driving aid that can control the car at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. Intellisafe features Volvo’s “City Safety” system, designed to detect large animals, namely pedestrians in the city, and large game on country roads. To put it through its paces, Volvo designed the system while dodging kangaroos in the Australian outback. Both systems will help pave the way for the company’s autonomous driving system, which it hopes to unveil via its “Drive Me” pilot program in 2017.
In recent months, Volvo’s knack for grabbing headlines has rivaled Tesla in terms of noteworthy announcements, and the unveiling of the S90 is the biggest one to date. And in case you couldn’t tell, it was tough to remain objective on this one. In a few short years, Volvo has gone from struggling automaker to oozing potential, and with the XC90 and S90, it’s not only proven that it has a clear formula for catching up to the competition, but it has the potential to outshine the rest in short order. That’s catnip to auto scribes like us, especially when a company turns out to be the real deal. We’ll have to wait like everyone else to see the S90 in person at January’s Detroit Auto Show, but if its anywhere near as impressive in person as it is on paper, the premium segment may just have found itself a new benchmark.
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