Swedish automaker Volvo has long preyed upon one of our most basic desires: safety.
Early on, that gave the company a clear marketing advantage, as few automakers engineered their cars for safety, and those who did certainly weren’t as strenuous as Volvo.
But aggressive product safety litigation and an assertive federal government have given automakers good reason to vigorously address safety concerns. As they have, the fear factor has increasingly become an advertising tool, even though we’ve never been safer.
So it’s no surprise that Volvo’s new flagship sedan, the 2017 S90, comes equipped with what the company calls IntelliSafe. It’s an impressive array of safety features that includes sensors, radars, cameras, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, driver-alert control, run-off road mitigation, Park Assist Pilot, blind spot information, and rear collision warning.
There’s also Pilot Assist, which provides up to level two autonomous driving at speeds up to 81 mph, and Volvo’s City Safety, which not only prevents the driver from hitting pedestrians but also averts accidents involving moose — no small thing in cold, remote climes.
If that seems a bit overindulgent on the safety side, keep in mind that this is a Volvo. So you’ll find the S90’s luxury to be exquisite and yet restrained in the finest Scandinavian fashion.
Consider the S90’s styling. Compared to S80 it replaced, the S90’s front axle was moved forward more than 7 inches, the front overhang has been reduced, and the A-pillar pushed rearward to lend the hood greater length. This gives the appearance common to a rear-wheel-drive sedan, even though the S90 is front-wheel drive. The roof sweeps back into the trunk, giving this sedan, like many modern four-doors, the appearance of a coupe. Toss in a front end that seems to be an upscale rendition of Volvo’s famed P1800, and you have a distinctively eloquent styling statement.
Much in keeping with the Scandinavian less-is-more philosophy is the 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that resides in the engine bay. In the S90’s front-wheel-drive T5 trim, it’s good for 250 horsepower. In the all-wheel-drive T6, the same engine adds a supercharger, bumping the engine’s rating to 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and providing a zero to 60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. Both engines mate to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Plant your foot on the accelerator and you’ll only be vaguely aware of the number of cylinders working away under the bonnet. Engine noise is remarkably nonexistent; ditto wind, road and tire noise. Road impacts barely filter through to the cabin, as the suspension soaks up the worst that America’s deteriorating arteries have to offer. Meanwhile, body motions are kept in check as the S90 delivers a blend of ride comfort and handling that feels nothing like a German, American or Asian luxury ride. It’s uniquely Volvo in feel: neither soft nor soggy — merely supple.
While you’re inside driving, you’ll find a refined Scandinavian cabin, luxuriously spare and noticeably lacking in switchgear. Instead you’ll find a large, vertical touchscreen that controls all of the important features. Beautifully designed and logically executed, its ease of use stands apart from its competition. The screen is nestled in an instrument panel reminiscent of the XC90’s, and with good reason. Both vehicles are built atop Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture, part of an $11 billion company effort by Volvo’s Chinese owner, Geely, to restore and elevate the brand’s allure.
Poise, aesthetic purity and unique driving feel combine to make the 2017 Volvo S90 a standout in a crowded field of me-too luxury sedans. With every marque seemingly chasing the Germans, Volvo seeks its own road, one that delivers a truly special experience. And, come to think of it, perhaps that’s what the “S” in S90 stands for: special. And why not? One drive will prove why that’s true.
Base prices: $46,950-$52,950
Engine: Turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 258-295 pound-feet
Fuel type: Premium unleaded
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 22-23 mpg/31-34 mpg
Wheelbase: 115.8 inches
Length: 195.4 inches
Cargo capacity: 13.5 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,012-4,222 pounds
NHTSA rating: Not rated