Driven: Volvo S90
The Volvo S90 has been launched in India at a price of Rs. 53.5 lakhs (ex-Delhi).
What you'll like:
• Built like a tank!
• Great looking face. Volvo's new design language packs appeal
• Well-crafted interiors. Adequate space too
• 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system is simply awesome
• Comfortable ride quality over most road conditions
• Top levels of safety & equipment
What you won't:
• Only a 2.0L diesel. No 6-cylinder option, no petrol engine
• Weird rear end styling. Doesn't match the smart front
• A FWD. Driving experience isn't as much fun as its RWD competitors
• Some glaring omissions (electric steering adjustment, sunshade for rear windscreen...)
• Volvo's tiny 15-dealer network
• Volvo badge lacks the lure & pull of its German rivals
Volvo as a brand stood for being safe and sensible. During my childhood in the UK, Volvo meant something more premium than the mundane Ford/Austin offerings. The air-cooled VWs were spartan.
At the premium level, you bought a Rover for performance or a Triumph for sportiness. If you wanted a big barge - Ford or Vauxhall would oblige with something that would rust away in a few years. Back in the 1970s, Audis, BMWs and Mercedes were horribly overpriced and post-World War II, emotions were still not totally forgotten. Volvos were from a neutral Sweden. People bought Volvos for safety, durability and practicality. Most vets, doctors, accountants and antique dealers drove them. I remember a Volvo ad with a 14 year old boy holding the keys in front of a 144GL, with the caption – “You can give this car to your son!”.
However, Volvo continued with this theme for a little too long, the world caught up with safety & went further with style. German cars became more affordable and more exciting. The Japanese beat everyone on durability. Although Volvo produced some really good cars like the 850, their cars lacked a clear unique proposition. Size-wise as a company, Volvo Cars had resource limitations and was sold to Ford in 1999. The Ford acquisition focused on growing volumes and slapping well-engineered Ford platforms with a Volvo badge. Ford had ambitions of pushing the Volvo brand upmarket with the S80 and XC90. However, Volvo was mounting up losses and so was Ford. Ford disbanded the PAG (Premium Auto Group) and sold Volvo to Geely in 2008.
The Swedes are used to long winters and Volvo has been emerging from one such winter with news of innovative designs and assertive brand definition. Post Geely, Volvo have been in the process of reinventing its heritage. Safety is a given, but the brand needed the Scandinavian flair which it cried out for. The new XC90 and S90 take this forward. The S90 succeeds the outgoing S80 which never sold in large numbers, possibly due to its similarity to the S60, and no significant advantage over other brands, apart from value and reliability.
A hint on Volvo's styling direction for the S90 was shown with the Volvo Concept Coupe:
Although the coupe has been morphed into a saloon with less aggressive curves, it retains a lot of the styling elements. The S80 replacement has been called the S90 to signify that it is bigger and aiming a lot higher. The Peter Horbury-inspired shoulders have been toned down, though some key parameters were fixed. It shares the same 'dashboard to front wheel dimension' as the XC90. This dimension is the largest in its segment and offers more interior space. Compared to the outgoing S80, the glass area is 20% larger with an additional rear quarter window thrown in. The S90 is now wider and also offers a class-leading wheelbase. With a length of 4963 mm, it beats the Audi A6 (4935 mm), BMW 5-Series (4899 mm) and the Mercedes W212 E-Class (4879 mm).
The styling has the traditional Scandinavian flair. Volvo's designs are now more aggressive than they've ever been. All S90s will be imported for a long time to come. This isn't a brand which has the financial capacity to invest heavily in India. There are no India-specific variations - The S90 you get is exactly the same as you would in downtown Gothenburg:
The slabby rear styling has mixed opinions, some say it looks like early '90s US sedans. I feel it doesn't match the front:
A semi-coupe stance with light curves; a far cry from the straight-edged boxy styling of yore. A longer wheelbase version is being built and sold in China:
A Volvo with a more squat profile as compared to a Cat? That was never heard of!!! Note the height and wheelbase differences:
You realise the meaning of the 'Dashboard to Front Axle dimension' in the below picture:
Thor's Hammer - an integral part of Volvo's design:
Forget xenons, these are LED headlights:
The slightly trapezoidal front grille:
Check out the concave profile which is...
...a throwback to the Volvo P1800:
Dummy air intake, lashings of chrome and LED driving lamps:
Smooth protected undercarriage. We had one of the first homologation cars, so some masking tape can be seen holding up something. Ground clearance is 152 mm:
245/45 R18 tyres on 10 spoke wheels. Volvo claims to offer among the lowest profile tyres in this segment which is great for looks and bragging rights, but less of an advantage considering our potholes. Note the Park Assist sensor; I did not get to try it. Some fellow hacks did and received varying results:
Decently sized ORVMs...
...with integrated turn indicators:
Super cool - Thor's Hammer also shows the direction:
Weird taillights (they look better at night than during the day):
All Volvos have this spelt out on the boot lid:
The revised Volvo logo with a blunt arrowhead. The logo of Volvo Trucks maintains a proper arrowhead. Volvo means "I roll". The brand was supposed to produce ball bearings, but went on to making cars. SKF went on to make the bearings:
Interior - Front
A major part of the interior is a carry forward from the XC90. That is no bad thing. You are greeted by the hallmarks of Scandinavian design - Minimalist architecture, restrained lashings of walnut wood, leather and discrete chrome. The walnut wood slabs are quite real and come from sustainable sources. See the chrome strip that runs at the lower edge of the dashboard towards either vent. It is crafted from one piece.
The dashboard is dominated by a big 9-inch screen. This controls nearly everything from Navigation, Entertainment, Drive Mode settings, Heating / Ventilation and a whole lot more. It has eliminated many buttons. My count of the Audi A6 Matrix was 31 dashboard buttons, the S90 has around 18. Let's talk about this screen later. The steering wheel is nice to grip, although I have reservations on the light trim colours picking up grime and oil. Ergonomics are spot on. It has two sets of controls on the spokes:
Buttons on the left are for cruise control and audio volume. The ones on the right are for navigating the screen menus and voice commands:
Surprisingly the steering adjustment is manual! Its competitors offer electric adjustment:
The minimal theme is carried on the center console. The transmission selector has 4 positions - P, R, N and D in addition to a parallel gate for Tip-Tronic selection. The driver's side of the console houses the operational controls - Engine Start, Drive Mode, Parking Brake and Start/Stop:
The walnut panel slides back to reveal cup-holders:
The front part of the console has a small & flatter storage spot for mobiles or similar:
The driver's seat is extremely comfortable and can be adjusted in 12 ways. The light colours pick up grime (My guess was our 2200 km run car was used for homologation + evaluation and it showed!). If the car veers offroad in the event of a crash, sensors will cause the driver's seat to pad up the back and lumbar region to reduce spinal injuries:
Integrated neck restraint:
Well integrated sunroof. Very little noise while driving:
Rear view mirror is frameless:
All safety warnings are grouped above the rear view mirror. After all, safety is for everyone!
Seat controls; the seat profile ones are self-explanatory. The toggle on the lumbar support allows you to switch between back, lumbar and thigh support:
Thigh support extended fully:
This is displayed on the console. You can also switch on the seat ventilators or bum warmers from here:
Driver's door houses seat memory positions, locks and window switches (all one touch to raise/lower):
The vents are controlled by knurled knobs and these have a discrete heft to them. It is not like turning a loose screw. Probably the best vents seen this side of a Bentley:
Well-spaced foot pedals. Check out the size of that dead pedal!
The only controls located on the driver's side are for the instrument lighting and boot opening:
Below the driver's armrest is a deep compartment which houses a CD player. There are 2 USB ports and 1 Aux input on the inside:
Glovebox size is generous. Separate shelf for the service book:
Roof console handles the sunroof & interior lights:
The smartkey however is a bit dinky as the buttons are small. Also difficult to distinguish as everything is in chrome. It contains a personal alarm:
MID and In-Car Entertainment
The instruments are TFT based. One can change its colour & the display gives you comprehensive information of the following:
You can have navigation details instead, with guidance controls:
Toggle through various options of the phone menu, music source and trip details:
The Head-Up display has speed + navigation. It also displays speed limits, but it gets confused in that it can only read solo speed signs. Hence, we only got displays of 40 km/h when entering village areas and it stayed while on the highway! Highway speed limits display three speed limits together for trucks, cars and bikes, thus the Volvo gets confused:
The 9-inch center console controls nearly everything in the S90. This is something that takes a good few hours for a proper orientation. I am reasonably tech savvy, but never got through the entire menu of the car. The system is responsive. I must confess that I nearly got distracted trying to select music options and left it to my co-driver. Additionally, from the driver's side, it is a bit of a reach to touch the screen (even for six foot me!) & provide handwritten inputs or shuffle through the menu. It is best to get all settings sorted before hitting the road.
This is the normal main screen - it shows warnings due to a recent slow puncture. Notice how the screen has a black frame mimicking high-end visual equipment:
The basic and advanced Climate Control settings shown here:
3D - Navigation display:
Owner's Manual - this works only when the car is stationary, hence your passenger cannot call out what to do in flight!
Level of detail for the car settings is amazing:
One of the key attractions of the S90 amongst its competitors is the Bowers & Wilkins music system. The Audi A6 Bose system is good, yet this blows the Bose into the weeds. It has 19 speakers dotted around the car. 7 tweeters, 7 midrange speakers, 4 woofers and a subwoofer integrated in the car's subframe. All driven by a 12 channel 1400W amplifier.
These were the only visible speakers though:
Studio works best, we would need to spend a good afternoon to set up individual settings:
I like the funky balance mode:
There are pre-settings for the driver and rear passengers:
Volvo's video on this:
Interior - Rear
This is important for Indian customers as most people in this segment will be riding in the back. The rear, having an air suspension, provides a smooth + well controlled ride. The suspension cannot be adjusted, except for the different drive modes.
The coupe stance might fool you into thinking that entry would be difficult. It is very slightly tighter than a Superb. Space is generous for two passengers & 'adequate' for the third. They are comfortable, but lacking in under-thigh support. Yes, the seats are grimy from arduous testing:
Both rear seats fold into booster seats for the young ones :thumbs up:
Dual-zone climate control at the rear. Rear occupants don't get stereo controls though:
Air-con vents placed on the B-pillar:
That's 6 foot me, sitting behind 6 foot me!
Headroom is decent, not generous. My turban might have a problem:
Rear armrest is quite wide...
...and has some storage, along with two cupholders:
The ski hatch (useful for carrying long items):
Rear windows roll down nearly all the way. These get individual sun blinds (not so on the rear windscreen):
Boot is a decent 500 litres in size. The opening is a tad small, but okay for normal luggage (might be tricky if visiting Ikea). The plastic lining is not standard, that was Volvo India's innovation!
A space saver spare tyre (125/80 R18):
Hook is provided to suspend the floor board:
Driving the 2.0L four-cylinder diesel
Volvo has made it clear that the SPA platform will only take the 2-litre, four cylinder engine at the most. This will potentially alienate US customers who love those big engines. No six cylinders, and the 4.4L Yamaha V8 is now dead as well. Volvo will increase performance via an electric motor or additional turbocharger / supercharger (instead of cubic centimetres). Still, there's nothing to match the creaminess or sound of a 6-cylinder engine and enthusiasts will be disappointed with its absence.
With Volvo, it's all about focus on modularity - the same engine is designed for petrol, diesel, hybrid and CNG! It is produced at a dedicated engine plant & nearly 70% of all parts are common. That is potentially a huge saving in costs; important for Volvo as it doesn't have the financial muscle of say, Mercedes. India gets the engine in D4 tune. That is 187 BHP @ 4250 rpm and 400 Nm @ 1750-2500 rpm. Not too impressive for this segment, and its competitors offer more power / torque. The D5 which belts out 232 BHP and 480 Nm with the Powerpulse and an all-wheel-drive system will come later. The diesel is mated to an 8-speed Aisin automatic gearbox driving the front wheels (four wheels in case of the D5).
The large 'Dash to Front Axle' measure means the engine sits a little back (unlike an Audi). We were told that non-service parts will take around 10 working days to arrive:
The tactile experience starts with turning the car on. I repeat, turn it on! You turn the cool knurled square knob to the left and the car starts up. Unlike a button which you could accidentally switch on or off by a mere touch, you need to deliberately operate this knob. The engine starts up with a muted thrum from the inside. Externally, it is as loud as the BMW 520d. Being new to the car and its controls, it was still very easy for me to get the optimum driving position and place the car.
Our test area consisted of narrow highways around Jodhpur. Gently floor the accelerator and you are greeted with oodles of torque. The Volvo picks up pace pretty quickly. However, at the 1600 rpm level, there is a strange jerk, after which she picks up power again and the maximum torque slams in. The same jerk happens as you slow down. Once you know about it, you know how to manage it. However, the jerk manifests in different ways in the various drive modes. Let me discuss this further.
There are 3 Drive Modes:
Eco - This mode brought the worst out of the car. The engine tended to upshift too quickly with a miserly fuel map. Progress was jerky; it was like driving in 5th gear all the time. The car was not smooth and you felt as if you were strangling the engine. The 1600 rpm flatspot was all too obvious.
Comfort - The car was more pleasant to drive, but that flatspot kept popping up as the car accelerated. Suspension is a little floaty.
Dynamic - Our pick. The engine is responsive, it changes gears at higher rpms and bypasses the flatspot most of the time. Body control is a little tighter, but not by much.
The engine's maximum torque band is between 1750-2500 rpm. While cruising at 100 km/h, the diesel is rotating at 1800 rpm. Very near that flatspot. I suppose it is a good enough excuse to go a little faster!
When it comes to handling, the problem with the luxury car segment is that every car is trying to ride like a Merc, grip like an Audi, turn in like a BMW and thrill like a Jag. In trying to do everything, there is always one parameter that is deficient. The brief for the Volvo team was to optimise things for a relaxed car for any kind of journey. This is where the Volvo excels. It has decent, if not neck snapping acceleration, but enough to get you out of any situation. The gearbox changes were smooth (although a bit biased towards upshifting). The Tip-Tronic function is far from hyper-responsive; still, you do know that the gearbox will respond in adequate time.
One thing that amazed me was how the car shrank around you, very similar to a Mercedes. It was easy to place and hustle into bends. The suspension handled all the bumps easily. During our 120 km journey on roads ranging from state highways to unmade roads and unscientific speeds breakers, I scrapped the car only once. Go over a bump, the car does not even shudder or shake. While talking about safety, in the hotel there was an S90 which had hit something hard (it was not an animal). Suffice to say, all it had was a bent bumper. No pictures as the car got covered up later that day.
The S90 holds its speed well. Show it smooth curves and the car holds its line. Actually, the electronics nag you to hold its line. Depending on the clarity of the road markings, the Lane Assist will remind you if you cross the line without indicating. As you veer off-course, the steering vibrates and you get a pulsating hand massage. The steering will then tug and gently take control. The radar based safety systems have been disabled so the S90 can save you...but not conquer you.
Being a front wheel drive car, I was expecting the steering to be numb. On the contrary, it does have a meaty if slightly artificial feel to it. It is not too heavy. You feel you are in control and the car goes where you point it. Turn-in is very neutral and it is biased towards slight understeer (it's no BMW). It responds well to inputs, but don't expect the S90 to beg for harder cornering. I tried a few sudden swerves and the car merely shrugged them off. Body control is good. The front end does bob a little up and down, yet the air suspended rear is well planted. The brakes are excellent. Great feel, very progressive and can wipe off speed smoothly and quickly.
Summarising, the Volvo will lack the 10/10ths for the keen driver, but it can hold its own. I did not feel underwhelmed by the engine at any point of the drive. But then, one does expect something special when spending this kind of money and the engine won't 'wow' you. Further, if I had been on the Delhi-Agra expressway, I might be saying something different. We came out of our 4 hour drive at twilight without any aches (a little stressed though as we needed to look out for chinkaras, foxes etc.). The air-conditioning kept us cool at 34 degrees and those seats were really comfortable. The S90 is a worthy competitor...but then, the new E-Class & 5-Series are just around the corner. Volvo are right now aiming for 250 bookings in India.
Clearly demarcated jumpstart terminal:
Bonnet opens generously:
The pull cord catch is a bit fiddly to find!
The Smaller yet Significant Things
SIM card slot on the dash:
Puddle light is built into the door handle:
Disappointingly uneven gap around the glovebox lid:
Chrome strip acts as a protective / rubbing strip:
Front & rear door sills bearing the Volvo logo are illuminated:
Washer nozzles are smartly mounted on the wiper arm:
Disclaimer: Volvo invited Team-BHP for the S90 test-drive. They covered all the travel expenses for this driving event.
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Test-Drives Section. Thanks for sharing!
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
Isn't it great pricing from Volvo?
Nowadays all Germans seem to be moving up the price band, but this Swedish giant seems like a steal for 53L. I hope that's not my ignorance speaking!
The new design direction is stunning indeed, except for the rear end which doesn't match with the overall design, as rightly noted in the review.
In case anyone didn't get the specs right on that audio - there are 7 tweeters, 7 mid range drivers, 4 mid bass drivers and one sub woofer - driven through a 12 channel class D amplifier. Absolute drool worthy material. :p
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
If this doesn't break into the consideration set of a Merc, Audi and BMW driver, I don't know what will. A fantastically specced car (save for the sole engine option) with interiors that look phenomenal, even more so than the exterior. It might not have the go to match its show, but this is still a fine car any which way you look at it. Most importantly, it's got raw desirability, even though I won't be rushing to put a poster of it on my wall, what with that rear!
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
I hardly keep a track of launches which are way beyond my budget, I do sometimes read the reviews as quite of lot of features on these luxury cars filter down to cars in lower segments within 4-5 years.
I have to say, I found the interiors on the S90 very very classy. The wood finish, the layout of the dash, it all looks very classy to me. So from a layman point of view, for a person like me who has no idea or research on cars costing north of 20L, If I had to put in 60-65 large on a car, I would pick the S90.
And I so hope that such a dash would one day filter down to cars lower down the order.
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
On another note, I am feeling a bit happy that import price of my incoming Mini is around Rs 14 Lac and they are selling at Rs 42 Lac.
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
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Re: Driven: Volvo S90
Looks absolutely fantastic except for the rear end. Front reminds me of Tesla and so does the big screen in the dash. USP is build quality and safety. Other than that I don't think I'd choose this over the smooth as jacuzzi Mercedes or a thrill machine like BMW.
Oh, and what's up with that ugly beige steering?
Re: Driven: Volvo S90
Ah, the car looks beautiful except for the rear. Seems like too many design elements in there. And probably a higher tune output from the engine - a 200 bhp would have taken care of the psychological barrier.
When you pay 50L+, any "driver" would want to brag of a 200bhp for sure. Anyway, than having all the power is the right way to use whatever is available. Guess Volvo knows how to!
I always had a soft spot for Volvo for the safety innovations they do. A friend of mine once had the opportunity to drive one (S60 IIRC) and he said the doors were H-E-A-V-Y !! This, when he owned a Captiva and also had TDed BMWs & Audis. Also once my B-I-L told me an experience from his friend (in the Middle East) about driving a Volvo against a Merc and how the Arab in the Merc finally receded with a red face not being able to keep up against the Volvo. I never thought a Volvo could give a run for money for the other premium players till then.
I really hope they do something more to keep the prices slightly lower (than competition) and have a very aggressive sales & marketing plan for India. It's just time that people are made to understand how good can be a Volvo, but they'll need to examples everywhere to think about this option. However, I think this is a great price for a CBU, for the S90.
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