Volvo has never been a brand to chop and change its model range with the alacrity of some other manufacturers. The first-generation XC90, for example, lasted 12 years with only minor facelifts. The S80 saloon and its V70 sibling have been around even longer with relatively few alterations.
It’s fair to say that, despite their qualities, both the S80 and V70 were getting long in the tooth and had been left behind by premium offerings from Germany. So at long last their replacements are here in the shape of the S90 and V90.
All-new and built on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) as the XC90, the saloon and estate 90s are looking to emulate the big SUV’s success by blending looks, space and luxury to reclaim a chunk of the premium market.
Despite this, product manager Stefan Sallqvist insists the V90/S90 isn’t going after the Germans – the trio of A6, 5 Series and E Class – and their sporty pretentions. Instead he says the big Swede is going for relaxed confidence.
It’s a sensible outlook. Who really buys a car this size for its sporting performance? It grips well enough, especially the AWD-equipped D5, and the steering is nicely weighted but it’s not a car you’ll ever feel the need to hurl into a corner like Rickard Rydell in his 850 Turbo.
Instead, the S90 is a smooth machine best at wafting along. It rides well and is pleasingly isolated from road and engine noise and the eight-speed gearbox slips effortlessly through the ratios, unless you’re being particularly lead-footed.
In keeping with this on-road attitude, Volvo are aiming to provide a “haven of calm in Scandinavian luxury” in the S90. The interior is closely related to that of the XC90 and offers the same supremely soothing environment. Materials are top-notch, including the leather trim and hand-finished wooden inlays and the cabin is bright, airy and well laid out.
As far as a haven, I’ll vouch for that. A wrong turn on our test route ended up in a period crawling along the M25. In a less soothing environment this would have tested the patience of a saint but the Volvo’s clean, spacious interior and big comfy seats helped keep tempers damped.
What also helped was the updated Pilot Assist feature which took some of the pain out of the motorway crawl. First available on the XC90, this system pairs adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems to keep the car’s speed and lane position steady without driver input.
It’s one of a number of new or upgraded driver aid and safety features fitted to the S90/V90. Also featured are pedestrian, cyclist and (a world first) large animal detection, emergency auto braking, run-off-road mitigation (another world first) and run-off-road protection.
All that safety kit is standard across the range, as is the benchmark-setting Sensus media/navigation system with its nine-inch portrait screen, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, power-operated bootlid/tailgate, leather upholstery and automatic gearbox.
Of course, higher grades pack in more kit and you can spend thousands adding luxuries such as panoramic sunroof, parking assist, adaptive suspension and a head-up display.
The higher trim levels also differentiate themselves with exterior embellishments such as chromed grilles and larger wheels.
None of these are overly showy but help enhance the S90 and V90’s sharp exterior styling.
Much like the interior, the car’s body is a statement in clean simplicity. It’s low and broad and the sharp lines give it a serious but not showy look.
The rear view of the saloon is probably its least appealing angle – not quite as coherent as the rest of the car – the answer to that is to opt for the more handsome and practical V90.
From launch the big Volvo will be available with a choice of two diesel engines. Both 2.0-litre, four-cylinders, the D4 offers 187bhp while the D5 has 232bhp and comes with the clever PowerPulse system which uses a compressor to essentially pre-boost the turbo for more responsive acceleration.
Next year the T8 twin engine setup already fitted to the XC90 will join the line-up. It brings the promise of 401bhp, 149mpg and CO2 emissions of 44g/km as well as the silky smooth performance of the petrol/electric hybrid.
The D4 is expected to make up 80 per cent of sales (losing around 10 per cent to the T8 when it goes on sale) thanks to its better economy and emissions. It’s perfectly capable and will work fine on long motorway cruises where it’s hushed but responsive.
The D5, however, is noticeably quieter and smoother and feels better suited to the luxury feel of the car. It also comes with all-wheel drive as standard, something you might not notice most of the time but that might come in handy when road conditions deteriorate.
The S90 will start at £32,555 for a D4 Momentum model, with the V90 estate costing £2,000 more. From next year the R-Design trim level with more sporting design cues and lower suspension will sit mid-range, below the top-level Inscription which maxes out at £42,055/£44,055 for the D5 PowerPulse AWD.