S90 range starts at £32,995

S90 range starts at £32,995

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The S90 has only been in production for 10 months but already there is an updated version, with additional safety equipment and new powertrains.

Some cars just look so different out on the road that it's worth reserving judgement on their appearance. I wasn't too sure about the S90 when the first images went live on Volvo's media website. The rear end especially caused me to wonder was this an attempt to sort of reinvent the oversized tail lights look from the 264 GLE of my youth a long, long time ago in the 1970s? After all, VCG nowadays is proud of its old cars: even the 262C/Bertone Coupe is celebrated. Some of us have even got one eye on the rarely bought S80 V8 as a future classic.

It makes an S80 look small

The S90 is much longer and especially wider than it appears to be in photos, while the rear works very well indeed. The back lights lend the car a distinctive look at night, as do the headlights, the shapes of which are shared with the XC90, V90 and V90 Cross Country. 

Graeme attended the worldwide media launch of this big sedan, while Matthew, just-auto's supplier tech guru, gave the interior a thorough going over. Until recently, I hadn't crossed paths with the S90.

How is it selling?

Worldwide retail sales of the S80 had slowed almost to a trickle in the years before this model was replaced by the S90 in 2017. Just 63 examples of the made-in-China S80 L, the long-wheelbase model, were sold in 2016, while the total for the rest of the world's Swedish-built S80 numbered 3,109. A lot of that was down to how long ago production ended. 

The S90 is still finding its feet, the car having a different name, smaller capacity engines and higher prices than the S80 and S80 L. In that context, worldwide deliveries of 7,838 cars for CY2017 is a good result. Of that number, 2,050 were sold in December, which is obviously due to the car becoming available in ever more export destinations, especially the USA where the S80 did so well in its early years.

As the Swedes say: less is more

Anyone who has spent even seconds sitting in an XC90 will feel immediately familiar with the S90. The sensation is of being in the same vehicle, just sitting closer to the ground. The big blank centre screen is there with just about every function you can think of accessed via its virtual buttons. It does take some getting used but eventually, most controls become second nature. 

I did wish that the hazards warning light button - it's a real one - was easier to locate at a glance. Wasn't it always at the top of the dashboard in Volvos so that either front occupant could hit it in an emergency? Volvo would no doubt counter that its positioning is irrelevant as the flashing indicators are automatically turned on in the event of a collision. Yet it still feels a bit hidden away down below the big screen on the side closest to the driver in an RHD car. 

The few other plastic buttons control the audio volume and other music controls, while a novel way of starting and stopping the car is via a twist-knob on the centre console. Again, this is the same as in the XC90 and also in the V90 and V90 CC which I shall soon be trying. 

What's under the bonnet?

The car handed over by VCUK was a D4 which means a 140kW (190hp) 1,969cc four-cylinder diesel which produces 400Nm of torque. An eight-speed torque converter automatic is standard, with drive is to the front-wheels.

Top speed is 140mph, 0-62mph takes a claimed 8.2 seconds and the Urban fuel economy is 53.3mpg with a CO2 average of 116g/km. For a car which weighs a minimum of 1,680kg, the emissions number is very good indeed, with this derivative falling into tax band C. 

Economy under my right foot was 47mpg, proving that VCG's Drive-E engines are very fuel efficient, but occasionally you do need to rev them harder than you would a six-cylinder diesel or petrol. Drive at a very relaxed pace, as most S90s will be, and 50+mpg is easily attainable.

A big Volvo sedan with real appeal for the enthusiast?

The old S80 once had 4C, a form of adjustable dampers and this worked well enough. The S90 is in a different world, though. This really does feel in every way that its chassis was set up by keen drivers who were set the remit of making the car default to comfort. So it is that the cliched magic carpet ride is there, yet just a firm press of the throttle is all that's needed to show just how well an XC90 set lower to the ground would handle. Volvo's big SUV is a class leader and the S90 will surprise many an E-Class, 5 Series, A6 and XF driver with how close its dynamics are to the best RWD models in the E-premium sedan segment.

Model year updates: not just new exterior colours

One of the things which some of us have criticised Volvo for time and again is its odd habit of releasing good but not great cars which were then not developed and honed as they could have been. That has clearly changed. The '90 Cluster' cars which I have tried are superb in most areas and even more importantly, Volvo is starting to make worthwhile additions for its annual model year updates. 

The US once being the place where Volvo Cars sold the majority of its vehicles, that country's model year changeover system became part of Volvo's own planning. In years gone by, there were certainly many worthwhile revisions in addition to the likes of better looking alloy wheels or new timbers for dashboards. Now, for model year 2017 (mid-November 2016 production onwards), there are two safety updates. 

The first of these is Slippery Road Alert. This has been developed to increase a driver's awareness of both current road conditions and those coming up. This it does by anonymously collecting road surface information from cars ahead. The system activates an alert, announcing the danger of a road surface with less than ideal grip.

For the moment, another safety item is restricted to Sweden and Norway but it is being rolled out for cars delivered in certain other markets during 2017 (Volvo is yet to name the countries). This is Hazard Light Alert, a system which warns drivers of any vehicle which has its amber lights flashing, the idea being to give more time to slow down ahead of collisions or jams. It works for blind corners and over the crest of hills in the road too.

Powertrain changes too

As well as the fresh safety tech, MY2017 also means the addition of several new Drive-E powertrain variants. The D3 four-cylinder diesel can now be linked to a new six-speed manual gearbox. This drops emissions to 113g/km or one gram more if automatic transmission is specified. The D3 is also now available with all-wheel drive.

Premium priced exports from China

Two versions of a long-wheelbase S90 had their world premiere at the Guangzhou motor show in November 2016 and these have only just gone on sale in recent weeks. The 5,083mm long cars are built only in China (the standard wheelbase S90 is an import to the PRC) and there will be exports to the USA and Europe. No RHD production has been announced so it seems unlikely that the cars will find their way to Britain.

The two variants are the S90 Long Wheelbase and a three-seat car called the S90 Excellence. The latter has the front passenger seat replaced by what Volvo calls a 'Lounge Console'. This means a chauffeur-driven passenger may either stretch out or work. 

The Excellence comes with a panoramic roof, work tables, a heated and cooled cup holder, an adjustable footrest and a built-in entertainment system featuring a large display for work or entertainment purposes. The S90 Excellence also includes rear-seat touchscreen controls, a built-in refrigeration compartment and Orrefors crystal glasses. The only powertrain for this car is the T8 Twin Engine 2.0-litre, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid.

The S90 Long Wheelbase also has the Twin Engine powertrain but in addition to that, there are cheaper variants powered by Volvo's T4 and T5 petrol turbo 2.0-litre engines. These cars went into production in November at Daqing, while build of the Excellence will follow later in 2017. 

There was a further announcement concerning the S90 made in conjunction with the debuts of the new long-wheelbase cars just ahead of the Guangzhou show: build of the standard wheelbase cars would end in Sweden (Torslanda) and be added to the line at Daqing, which is in Heilongjiang province in China's northwest.

What else might be on the way for the S90 range?

Polestar versions of the S90 and S90 Long Wheelbase are said to be under development and these might be the launch models for a new engine. This, the so-called 450hp High Performance Drive-E Powertrain Concept, was previewed in October 2014. This utilised two parallel turbochargers fed by an electrically powered turbo-compressor. The compressed air from this unit, rather than being fed to the cylinders, is instead used to spool up the two parallel turbochargers. Fuel is fed by a dual fuel pump working at 250 bar pressure.

Over the course of what should be a seven-, possibly eight-year cycle of production, V541, the sedan, and L541, the long-wheelbase S90, appear to be set for ever more updates, and new derivatives. Volvo notes that the MY2017 changes were able to be brought in relatively easily due to the future-proofing which the architecture, SPA, allows. Already, there are certain AD features too, though true autonomous drive is years away. 

The XC90 will likely remain the best selling of the 90 Cluster models but the S90 will certainly do its bit to help the brand's overall sales in the large vehicle segments where Volvos once sold so well. Already, things are looking very promising, 2016 having been a record year for the brand's worldwide sales.

The UK won't ever be the largest market for the S90 but it will be a significant one, after China, the USA and various other countries where the S80 sold well. That includes Sweden, Germany, Russia, Canada and Australia. Volvo believes it can sell between 15,000 and 20,000 S90s in the US in 2017. Expectations for China have not been announced.

Audi Q3 rival coming soon

The Y413 XC60, which led the way in 2016 with 161,092 vehicles sold worldwide, is to be replaced later this year (codename: V426), and the XC40 (V316) will also be released. The second of these will be the first Volvo for Geely-Volvo's CMA, a new architecture for smaller vehicles. 

Big in Blighty

Both of these new models should be on sale in the UK, which remains one of Volvo's best markets (46,696 deliveries in 2016), by the fourth quarter. Certainly, all manner of events could take place to undermine any predictions. Yet given the strength of the product line-up plus what we know is already being added or will soon be added, there does seem a good chance that VCUK might crack the 50,000-mark in 2017.