2017 Volvo S90 First Drive: Stretching the Point

2017 Volvo S90 First Drive: Stretching the Point

Honest, straightforward, thoughtful and practical, of course. Sturdy, stalwart, rugged and safe, youbetcha. Oh yes, especially safe. But beautiful or, if that’s a bit too gushy for you, handsome? Well, you probably haven’t heard those last descriptors used in conjunction with a Volvo in like . . . ever.

Until now.

The 2017 Volvo S90 sedan puts a handsome face on practicality. Where the previous S80 was, frankly, dullsville, the longer, lower, wider S90 has considerable pizazz. For the brand’s new flagship four-door, Volvo applied some of the same design magic used on the highly successful XC90 7-passenger crossover SUV.

volvo-1800-sessionsWith the new sedan’s elegant waterfall grille, there is an even more direct link to the timeless and distinctive P1800 built from 1962 to 1973–Volvo’s one and only sports car. The S90’s proportions are classy, about four inches stretchier overall, with an equally longer wheelbase. The additional four inches of length are significant but even more important is where those inches are applied. The S90 now has a longer dash-to-axle perspective; that distance between the base of the windshield and the front wheel centerline has long been recognized as the hallmark of range-topping rear-drive competitors such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Where the previous S80 was, frankly, dullsville, the longer, lower, wider S90 has considerable pizazz.

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

The new S90 stands about two inches lower road to roof and more than an inch wider than the previous S80, giving it a road-ready stance. Emphasizing the added width and making a dramatic presentation are what Volvo designers call “Thors Hammer” LED running lights flanking the oval grille. It’s a light signature that identifies this new Volvo from a considerable distance away. Volvo being Volvo, designers didn’t squander all of the new sedan’s extra inches on looks alone. The S90 picks up some sorely needed rear legroom (almost an inch more than the S80’s) and more trunk space (now a whopping 17.7 cubic feet) in the deal.

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Perhaps even more elegant than the S90’s shapely flanks is its calming interior. With a soothing blend of rich, contrasting-color leather surfaces, aluminum and open-pore wood accents the S90’s cabin is simultaneously elegant and unpretentious. Nothing is fussy. There isn’t a single line or shape that looks forced or out of place. Incredibly comfortable, supremely supportive seats welcome your torso. The instruments are clear and bright and Volvo’s signature 9-inch vertical Sensus center-stack screen replaces dozens of switches, buttons and infotainment knobs that would otherwise clutter up the place. As with your smartphone, Sensus does take a little time to learn, but once having done that you’ll find yourself swiping and pinching like a Millennial in an Apple store. About the only interior oddity is the start button which is a knob on the console you twist to fire up the engine. A real twist.

The S90 launches with two models, the front-wheel-drive 250-hp T5 and the all-wheel-drive 316-hp T6. Both models are powered by the new 2.0-liter Drive-E four-cylinder, the main difference being the T5 is turbocharged and the T6 has both a turbocharger and a supercharger. Both burn premium unleaded and hook to an 8-speed automatic transmission. A T8 gas-electric hybrid will debut later in the 2017 model year. The trim walk includes a well-equipped Momentum and loaded-to-the-gills Signature models.

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

In a recent first drive opportunity along the scenic byways of Long Island, New York, I drove a T6 model with the 316-hp 2.0-liter and loaded Inscription trim. This is the same powertrain under the 500-or-so-pounds heavier Volvo XC90 SUV. While Volvo doesn’t claim the new S90 is a sport sedan, the S90 T6 steps out nicely when called upon as you’d expect of a luxury brand’s flagship 4-door. Volvo claims the T6 will sprint from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. With the supercharger making boost right off idle and the turbo spooling up plenty of midrange torque, the T6 has no response lag and just feels like it’s a larger engine. Whether cruising serenely at parade speeds past farm stands and ice cream parlors or doing the double-nickel along windswept beaches, the S90 is very smooth in operation. It doesn’t feel or sound like a four-cylinder, in fact there isn’t much engine sound at all.

As expected, the S90’s brakes combine rapier-sharp top-of-pedal response with reassuring, easy-to-modulate stopping power. The steering is nicely weighted—not too heavy or too light—with good precision and decent feedback. A drive-mode switch on the console allows the driver to select Comfort, Eco, Dynamic (Sport) modes or adjust throttle response, transmission shifts, steering and brake response to taste in Individual mode.

Being a Volvo, the S90 incorporates the brand’s latest thinking in semi-autonomous safety. New Road Edge Protection aims to keep the car in its proper lane and Large Animal Protection with Auto Brake will automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t to avoid bunting Bullwinkle into the bushes. Pilot Assist II is an advanced active cruise control system that helps the driver with acceleration, steering and braking up to 80 mph, although it does require hands on the wheel and an aware driver.

Substantial and elegant with a wide track and coupe-like roof slope, the luxurious S90 looks the part of a flagship sedan. Thor’s Hammer, indeed.

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

Image credit: Ron Sessions

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This article was written by

In a career that’s spanned 40+ years, Ron’s written about cars, their customers, the business of selling them and the industry that makes them. He’s been a staff editor at Road & Track, Motor Trend and Car and Driver, worked behind the scenes as a vehicle analyst at General Motors, created two auto enthusiast magazine titles (including the award-winning Open Road), written five automotive books, created Mercedes-Benz sales brochures, researched and wrote new product sales and service training videos and printed material for Chevrolet and Chrysler, organized competitive comparison evaluation events, and was responsible for writing and editing daily online content for a major auto enthusiast website. His appreciation of the high-performance premium car segment led him to create the award-winning magazine Exotic Cars Quarterly and pen a coffee-table book on the Nissan 350Z that was subsequently distributed by Nissan of North America to dealers, media and customers. Ron understands the high-performance car buyer mindset and the important role these individuals play among their circle of friends and associates as opinion leaders. He has also created press kit release material for Acura, Honda, Mitsubishi and Volvo for use on their media websites. In addition to his work in BeCarChic.com Ron is currently a freelance contributing writer and editor for Car and Driver, caranddriver.com, autotrader.com, kbb.com, autoweb.com, forbes.com, newcartestdrive.com and pickuptrucks.com.