2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Road Test Review


S90 impresses in every way

Every so often a car comes along that impresses in every respect. Enter the new 2017 Volvo S90: the latest to do so, from a very small and select group.

The S90 combines minimalist Scandinavian design principles with one of the most beautifully imagined and exquisitely crafted interiors currently available, and propels it all with the industry's most advanced standard powertrain, period.

The S90's exterior design is unlike anything else on the road, from its elegant waterfall grille and distinctive Thor's Hammer LED headlamps, to its unique rectangular backside and completely original yet wonderfully shaped taillights, it's brilliant from every angle.

Finding a more exquisitely executed cabin would be difficult in the S90's segment. To that end Volvo covers nearly every surface of the top-line T6 Inscription's interior in something soft and luxuriant. They even painstakingly stitch together handcrafted leathers, especially finely finished where the dash top pointedly meets up with the instrument panel below, the door uppers executed differently albeit with a similar level of artisan precision. Just below, rounded planks of open-pore hardwood hover in relief above metal inlays and yet more leather, the wood also stretching across the IP and lower console. Satin-silver metals add yet more dazzle, highlighted by drilled aluminum speaker grilles that provide a glimpse of the yellow and silver Bowers & Wilkins hardware beneath (there's a single speaker atop the dash that's pretty cool too).

In contrast to the rest of the S90's purposefully understated elegance is a jewel-like diamond-patterned metal ignition switch and equally eye-catching scrolling selectable driver mode button, both complemented by Volvo's new leather-wrapped, diamond-pattern metal Inscription key fob. Twist the upright dial rightward to start the engine and left to shut it off, while pressing the other textured metal button and then scrolling through options that appear on the infotainment screen applies either Dynamic sport, Eco or default Comfort mode to enhance the driving experience.

That Sensus touchscreen is near best in class. If you've used a smartphone or tablet you'll be right at home, as it's a matter of simple swipes up and down or from side to side, depending on functions, the process accessing myriad features from the usual navigation, climate control, audio, phone setup, etcetera, to included and downloadable apps. As for usability, it follows Volvo's usual simple, straightforward, functional mindset and is therefore easy to figure out and implement, while if you spend a little extra for the 360-degree overhead monitor you'll be rewarded with the best of its type I've ever experienced; really, it's the Google Earth of parking cameras. Equally impressive, Volvo includes a fully configurable TFT gauge cluster ahead of the driver with clear, crisp resolution and plenty of colourful graphics, while my tester also included the benefit of a head-up display.


An attractively designed overhead console provides LED lighting, SOS telematics, and controls for the powered glass sunroof, while rear seat passengers benefit from side window sunshades, a comprehensive auto HVAC touchscreen as part of the Inscription's four-zone auto climate control, that interface also housing outboard seat heater controls, while B-pillar directional vents increase rear airflow.

Those rear seats are phenomenally comfortable, while there's no shortage of room. I had at least 10 inches ahead of my knees when the driver's seat was set for my five-foot-eight frame, plus at least four inches above my head, meaning mid-six-footers should have plenty of space to spare.

Volvo also incorporates powered switches for lowering the headrests, which improves rearward visibility and also lets them tuck behind the front seats when lowering the 60/40-split seatbacks to expand the already sizeable 500-litre trunk. The cargo load floor and sidewalls are finished with carpeting too, pampering packages nicely.


Returning to driver's seat, Volvo includes standard three-way heatable elements for keeping warm in cold weather and an equal number of forced ventilation settings, but as comfortable as its multi-adjustable powered driver's seat was, I enjoyed control of its class-leading mechanicals more.

I know, that's a big claim, and to Volvo's credit they're not making it, I am. Most luxury brands utilize four-cylinder powertrains in base trims these days, even in their mid-size offerings; the majority direct-injected, some turbocharged, others supercharged, but none except Volvo incorporating all three technologies into one single engine design.

This version of its new 2.0-litre four-cylinder Drive-E engine, dubbed T6, is the sole powerplant currently available in Canada's S90 lineup, complete with 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Thanks partly to standard AWD, the S90 pulls off the line with gusto, although instead of frantic excitement it's more of a smooth, creamy, whipped gusto, the latter aided by its impressively refined eight-speed "Geartronic" automatic. It features manual Sport mode, adaptive shift control, and auto start/stop that, when switched to Eco mode even disengages the engine when coasting, these technologies no doubt helping the S90 achieve impressive fuel economy, although official Canadian numbers have yet to be announced.

Volvo does claim Drive-E AWD as the world's cleanest combustion drivetrain relative to power, mind you, with an emissions rating of 148 g/km of CO2, which means it delivers more than 2 hp per gram of CO2.

The S90's standard air suspension mixes European firmness for solid stability and easily controllable handling, with extreme comfort. It really absorbs all but the worst big bumps and deep dips, while it feels light and agile when pushed hard, and a lot easier to coax through a curve than some of its peers. Truly, the S90 takes to corners more assertively than all but the brand's most aggressive Polestar trims, while the engine has that classic four-cylinder feel I happen to love, complete with high-revving power and visceral delivery, albeit much smoother and more refined than anything from Volvo's past, while manual mode provides plenty of driver engagement when the road starts to wind; my tester's upgraded 20-inch rims circled by 255/35R20 rubber helping in this respect too, while braking was incredibly strong.

The well-priced $56,900 base model gets standard 18s along with much more standard kit than its German peers, some highlights being fog lamps, adaptive cornering full-LED headlights, proximity access with keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control, an eight-inch multi-information display, touchscreen infotainment with navigation, road sign info, Volvo On Call, Wi-Fi, satellite radio, and more, plus an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery, heatable powered front seats with four-way lumbar, a moonroof, power-folding rear headrests, a powered trunk lid, lane keeping assist, powered child locks, tire pressure monitoring, Volvo's City Safety suite of electronic driver aids that now includes large animal detection and run-off road mitigation (both world firsts), plus all the usual active and passive safety features, the result good enough to earn it an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.


Along with larger wheels, $6,100 Inscription trim adds the colourful 12.3-inch configurable gauge cluster mentioned earlier, plus the Scandinavian-sourced Linear Walnut inlays, higher grade Nappa leather upholstery, full leather interior detailing, and more.

My tester also included a Climate (HUD) package with heated washer nozzles, a heatable steering wheel, heated rear seats and head-up display; a Vision package with visual park assist, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, blindspot information, and rear cross-traffic alert; a Convenience package with front and rear parking sensors, automated parking, a garage door opener, plus more; and an amazing sounding 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio upgrade. Lastly, you can also get Volvo's ultra-safe and convenient pop-up child booster seats integrated into the rear outboard cushions.

I must admit to being thoroughly impressed by the new S90. It not only deserves direct comparison with its luxury rivals, but in many ways it's a more advanced, more refined, and just plain better luxury car than the previous best in this segment. I highly recommend you spend some quality time with an S90 before purchasing one of its mid-size premium-branded peers, as you might just end up driving away in a new Volvo.


Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

// //