Thors hammer headlights say Volvo

'Thor's hammer' headlights say 'Volvo'

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It didn't take too long on the Volvo S90/V90 international media launch in sunny southern Spain for Naughty Boy here to get a lecture on Volvo driving.

There's a feature on the cars called Pilot Assist that is a mix of lane departure warning and steering correction which proved able - in conjunction with radar assisted cruise control, which can slow you to a stop and take off again - to steer the car along a gently curving motorway of its own accord so, natch, hands-off but not too far from the rim, just in case.

"You should never take your hands off the wheel," lectured a Volvo Cars spokesman when I was discussing this feature with him after a test drive. True, but it's fun, is very intuitive to operate, works well and gives a taste of future autonomous driving while a light soon sternly warns you to take back control and, if you don't, the whole system disables automatically. It takes a little while to get used to the invisible nanny tugging on the steering wheel and sometimes seems as if the car is more in control than you. We had one or two, er, moments when the car suddenly slowed without apparent reason but no real dramas. And we resisted thoughts of seeing how it got on with a Spanish roundabout or two.

Most of what is hidden away inside or underneath the new S90 sedan and its V90 wagon counterpart (saloon and estate in UK-speak), is familiar territory. In Volvo speak the platform is SPA - Scalable Product Architecture - and the engines are all four cylinder units from the automaker's now-familiar Drive-E programme. SPA first saw the light of road under the critically acclaimed XC90 last year and the two new variants complete a hat trick of three 90 series cars all now in production at the Chinese-owned automaker's Torslanda plant in Sweden.

With the new variants comes an innovation, claimed a world first, called PowerPulse for the more powerful of two diesel engines that kick start the pair here in the UK. The D5 PowerPulse uses compressed air to spool up the turbo when the engine is at low revs, helping to overcome lag. This engine produces 235hp and has CO2 emissions of 127g/km. It also comes with all-wheel drive as standard. An eight-speed automatic transmission is fitted to every S90 including the D4 engine, also a diesel, which delivers 190hp and CO2 emissions of 116g/km (qualifying for a BIK tax rating of 23%) and has a FWD drivetrain.

The S90 also features the latest version of City Safety, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and the claimed world first application of large animal detection. This helps to avoid or limit the severity of collisions with the likes of deer or horses and works both night and day.

A T8 Twin Engine plug-in petrol-electric hybrid version will be available in the UK later either towards the end of 2016 or early in 2017. This, as first used in the XC90, will combine a 320hp petrol engine with an 87hp electric motor with CO2 emissions of only 44 g/km.

Equipment

Two trim levels are available in the UK – Momentum and Inscription. Momentum includes Sensus Connect – access to a range of web apps and internet; Connected Service Booking, which enables the car to pre-book itself for a convenient service appointment at your chosen Volvo dealership; Sensus Navigation – full European mapping with traffic information and lifetime map updates using a nine-inch centre console touch screen and voice control; City Safety – pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection plus front collision warning with fully automatic emergency braking, including at junctions; the aforementioned Pilot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control – described as semi-autonomous drive technology which handles steering (up to 80mph), accelerator and brake inputs required to keep the car within lane markings and at the desired cruising speed; Run-off-road protection – automatically tightens the front seatbelts should the car inadvertently leave the road, while front seat frames with a collapsible section reduce vertical forces to help prevent spinal injuries; LED headlights with active high beam; two-zone climate control with 'Cleanzone' air-quality system; power-operated boot lid (once you've had this in a car you don't want to go back to a manual one); power folding rear-seat backrest and headrests; 17" alloy wheels (18" on D5s); eight inch active TFT crystal driver's information display; leather upholstery and heated front seats.

Inscription adds: Nappa soft leather upholstery; power front seats (with driver's memory function); 12.3 inch TFT information display; keyless entry starting; hands-free boot lid opening and closing; 18-inch diamond-cut/silver alloy wheels and walnut interior inserts.

As they say, 'specifications and equipment vary by market' and preview cars were fitted with all sorts of extras such as heated and cooled seats, passenger side seat settings memory, iPad-like centre screen (XC90-style), conventional or full-length sunroofs (both opening) and killer sound systems so I expect the usual vast Volvo options list to ensure most cars are unique spec.

Other markets will be offered a 320hp T6 (still an I4 engine) 4WD automatic petrol powertrain plus a T5 (I4) 254hp with front or all-wheel drive, both also automatic. We tried the T6 and found it fast and just a little quieter and more refined than the diesels as usually the case with petrol motors.

Volvo UK expects a 45%/55% Momentum/Inscription split with D4 FWD being the dominant powertrain, with 70%, followed by the D5 AWD (20%) and T8 (10%). T8 has taken 15-20% of UK XC90 volume but is expected to settle down to 10%-12% now a lot of 'early adopter', pre-launch orders have been met and pent-up demand caught up with.

Cue product planning and pricing head Ian Howat: "The XC90 introduced lots of new stuff to buyers. It's more of the same in nice new sedan and wagon form. Plus new features."

I haven't driven a big Volvo, bar the XC90, in years but these two bring back good memories of yore. Uber comfy seats, suspension set for comfort rather than rallies (though more than able on the twisty stuff with beautifully controlled body movement and compliant ride), plenty of performance, responsive, smooth shifting transmission and lots of equipment with personalisation options. Fans of business-class Volvos should be lining up.

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