German sedans are highly regarded because of their engineering and driving dynamics. Think of the BMW 5-Series, the Audi A6, and the Mercedes E-Class as the jocks in class whom everyone want to be like, not just because of how they look, but because they do everything well—from acing their classes to excelling in sports. Then there’s the more placid student: not exactly an introvert, just not as extroverted. More like someone who can hold his own and shoot a basket or score a goal, given the chance. The Volvo S90 is something like that.
Volvo is not exactly a brand that’s on the radar, but because of its design direction of late, it has everyone looking—including the German trio. This S90 is the curviest Volvo we’ve seen, yet it possesses a retro-ish vibe. Not only does the ‘hammer of Thor’ DRLs look modern, it also calls to mind the carmaker’s Nordic roots. The grille, too, remains traditional.
While the profile is reminiscent of an Audi A7 or a Jaguar XJ because of its length, I can’t help think that it actually harks back to the P1800—the way the roofline flows to the rear, along with the kink of the rear window. Speaking of length, it is long at 4,963mm compared to the 5-Series at 4,936mm and the E-Class at 4,923mm. The taillights are unique, at least for a Volvo sedan. It’s the brand’s SUVs and wagons that tend to sport more stylish cues.
Inside, you’ll understand why the Swedes are so relaxed—it’s so zen in here. There really is something about Scandinavian design that’s so soothing. The layout is somewhat minimalist. This unit comes with a black interior, with brushed aluminum panels to provide a nice contrast. The seats are firm, ergonomic, and not overly bolstered.
On the center console is a knob that brings the 2.0-liter turbodiesel to life, delivering 190hp and 400Nm. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic. This car isn’t exactly something you’d be thinking of pushing, but it’ll gladly oblige when you ask it to. Torque comes in smoothly in the low end before the system shifts to the next gear to make the ride as calm as can be. There are no paddle shifters, perhaps to take away the urge to push. But at times, it’s hard not to. The tiller has a nice girth and feels good to hold, with the steering balanced between a firm feel and lightness.
In the back, I have about 7in of knee room to spare with the driver seat left in my position (I stand about 6ft). The rear bench is as comfy as the front row, which makes the S90 thought provoking considering what the 5-Series or the E-Class offer. That said, the Volvo’s ride isn’t as firm as the Bimmer’s or as soft as the Merc’s. The best way of putting it is that it sits between both Germans, without trying to emulate any of them. For alloys, 18in are standard; anything bigger will upset the S90’s demeanor.
This being a Volvo, expect a host of safety features and tech. There’s a touchscreen that’s as big as an iPad, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Spotify, navigation, weather forecast, and a 360-degree camera. You can magnify any of the four sides of the vehicle, which makes it trippy. The touchscreen interface is also minimalist in layout, so it’s easy to understand.
Safety features helpful during my time with the car were blind-spot information and cross-traffic alert (an orange strip lights up on either side to warn you of approaching vehicles, and flashes rapidly as it nears); lane-keeping aid, which adds resistance to the wheel and a slight vibration when the car detects that you’re not within the lane (funnily enough, the car doesn’t recognize painted lines on roads that are meant to be one lane); road sign information, which works hand in hand with the current speed-limit indicator; and City Safety, which warned me one instance when a Toyota Fortuner applied its brakes forcefully. Auto hold is convenient, keeping the S90 at rest when your foot is off the brakes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Tapping the accelerator gets the car going again.
With around 203km clocked in around town over a weekend, the S90 returned 9-9.5km/L. The car has an auto start/stop function, but I opted to leave it off. It’s rather annoying in stop-and-go traffic. I managed to get a high of 20.8km/L one evening around midnight, traveling the stretch of EDSA from Mandaluyong to Solaire Theater. There are three drive modes—Efficiency, Comfort, and Dynamic. I stayed in Comfort almost always, only engaging Dynamic once or twice just to see how the Volvo feels when pushed, and Efficiency once when approaching the 100km fuel range.
Given Volvo’s market positioning and the brands it’s up against, it will take a single-minded enthusiast to pick the S90. But what makes it compelling is that it sticks to its own game rather than trying to beat the Germans at theirs.
SPECS: Volvo S90 D4
Engine: 2.0-liter turbodiesel I4
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 190hp @ 4,250rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm