Headlined by the smash-hit second generation XC90 as well as its innovate 2.0-litre Drive-E turbopetrol and diesel engines, the top brass in Sweden has now set its sights firmly on making a bigger impact in a segment it has come unstuck in on a number of occasions previously.
Premiering at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit early last year, the S90 ushered in a new era for Volvo in the premium mid-size executive sedan segment, as it not only did away with the somewhat bland looks of the S80, but also incorporated a number of tech first that debuted in the XC90.
Forward to 2017 where its SUV sibling has arguably raised the bar in the luxury off-road sector that little bit higher, the pressure on the S90 to do the same could not have been higher as the South African motoring media descended on the Mother City to try it first-hand.
Styled under the direction of Thomas Ingenlath, the S90 takes after the XC90 and refreshed V40 in being the latest recipient of Volvo’s Iron Mask styling language, with the now familiar Thor’s Hammer LED headlights and concave grille providing a striking yet modern and clean appearance.
Guaranteed to split options though, the rather controversially styled rear-end adopts a prominent bumper, upwards flowing bootlid with integrated spoiler, twin exhausts and U-shaped LED taillights running almost the full-width of the boot itself.
Based on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform as the XC90, the S90’s relations extends further with the front suspension boasting the same double wishbone and coil spring layout at the front, and hydraulic dampers with transverse leaf springs at the back.
Aimed at providing a comfortable ride, buyers can also specify the optional two-corner air suspension system with Active Chassis adaption, which in this case not only replaces the leaf spring layout, but can be firmed up or toned down depending on the position of the Drive Mode Selector which consists of three settings; Eco, Comfort and Dynamic.
Inside, it remains hard not be impressed by the minimalist uncluttered facia which became a highlight of the XC90 right from the start. Although slightly adapted for the S90, the nine-inch tablet-like Sensus Connect infotainment system is both easy and intuitive with the tech ambiance being further lifted by a 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster and Head-Up Display.
As well as looking and feeling modern, the attention to detail is second to none with an assortment of beautiful wood veneers, classy metal inserts, soft touch plastics and more than enough leather.
Being a Volvo of course, the level of safety tech in the S90 rates as the only aspect to dwarf the spec sheet, with noteworthy items such as City Safety with Pedestrian Detection, Cyclist Detection, unique Large Animal Detection that will apply the brakes autonomously, Intersection Autobrake, Roll Over Mitigation, Road Sign Detection, Lane Keeping Assist and Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Active Bending Headlights.
In keeping with current trends, the S90 also features an extension of the XC90’s Adaptive Cruise Control, known as Pilot Assist. In short, the system blends the existing cruise control with a series of cameras and sensors, which when activated, allows the S90 to become semi-autonomous at up to 130 km/h.
A feature standard across the entire range, the system manages the S90’s speed and distance in relation to vehicle in front, and will automatically apply the brakes or accelerate depending on the status of the vehicle ahead. Although the driver is still required to keep at least one hand on the wheel, only gentle inputs are required with the Pilot Assist activated.
On the power front, the S90 uses the same range of Drive-E turbopetrol and diesel engines as the XC90, but will initially be offered in flagship T6 and D5 forms with a smaller T5 and D4 arriving later. Unlike the latter pair though, the former variants are fitted as standard with all-wheel drive while the slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard on all models.
This being Cape Town of course, the launch venue at the base of the sweeping Franchhoek Pass provided the ideal opportunity to put the S90 through its paces, with the eventual outcome being somewhat of a surprise.
Jumping in the T6 first, it quickly became apparent that its prowess extended beyond just being a pretty face. With 235 kW and 400 N.m of torque on tap from the super-and-turbocharged engine, it displayed virtually no lag with each throttle input being immediate and the gearbox on cue when left in Drive.
Similarly, it felt light on its feet through the myriad of corners thanks to the all-wheel drive system and optional air suspension, but also surprisingly nimble despite measuring 4 963 mm in overall length.
Switching to the D5 was somewhat of a mixed affair though despite the engine now featuring Volvo’s PowerPulse technology, aimed at providing a smoother feel when the revs drop below 1 750 rpm.
Swapping the supercharger for a second turbo, the D5 churns out an impressive 173 kW and 480 N.m of torque, yet it somehow lacked the immediacy of the T6 when you floor it, with a slightly agricultural sound lingering when you hit the starter button.
Although likely to be the more popular option and for good reason, it very much rates as the civilised range-topping option compared to the sporty intensions of the T6. That said, it did impress away from the twisty bits with open-road cruising being its forte.
It might have signalled its intensions in a big way with the XC90, but a certain amount of apprehension still exist as to whether Volvo will break from its left-field ranking to challenge the likes of the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi with the S90. No doubt capable enough, it remains to be seen if South Africans agree.
|T5 Momentum Geartronic||187 kW / 350 N.m||R675 200|
|T5 Inscription Geartronic||187 kW / 350 N.m||R718 700|
|T5 R-Design Geartronic||187 kW / 350 N.m||R704 200|
|T6 Momentum Geartronic AWD||235 kW / 400 N.m||R828 400|
|T6 Inscription Geartronic AWD||235 kW / 400 N.m||R871 900|
|T6 R-Design Geartronic AWD||235 kW / 400 N.m||R857 400|
|D4 Momentum Geartronic||140 kW / 400 N.m||R698 500|
|D4 Inscription Geartronic||140 kW / 400 N.m||R742 000|
|D4 R-Design Geartronic||140 kW / 400 N.m||R727 500|
|D5 Momentum Geartronic AWD||173 kW / 480 N.m||R777 700|
|D5 Inscription Geartronic AWD||173 kW / 480 N.m||R821 800|
|D5 R-Design Geartronic AWD||173 kW / 480 N.m||R806 700|