Volvo S90: First Drive Review

Published On Oct 18, 2016 By CarDekho for Volvo S90 2016-2021

Car Tested: Volvo S90
Variant: D4 'Inscription'
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel | 190PS/400Nm

Words: Kartikeya Singhee | Photography: Vikrant Date

There’s a simple reason why Volvo’s new S90 deserves your attention: it’s gorgeous in a stylish and classy manner. But, that isn’t the only reason why the Volvo S90 deserves a closer look. As the name suggests, this Volvo sits a rung above the car it replaces, the S80, and that’s also down to the hardware and technology on offer. The S90 needs to be very well prepared as it aims to make a mark in a market dominated by the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and the Audi A6. Can the Scandinavian sedan ruffle a few feathers?

Design & Styling

In the past, Volvos didn’t quite hit the spot with Indian car buyers as they fell short on the showiness expected of a premium brand. However, that is not the case with Volvo’s all-new line-up built on the new SPA platform. The design is striking while keeping the reassuring simplicity and solidity that has been a Volvo hallmark. The front grille with the concave elements connects the S90 to classic Volvos. A long and low bonnet coupled with a swooping roofline gives the S90 a sleek look and will help it stand out in its segment. It is very nearly a stately fastback.

There is a strength in the clean and crisp lines that give the S90 a strong-shouldered look as it runs along the sides and into the tail lamps. The rear of the S90 is also distinctive, with the large tail lamps dominating the design. The creases on the boot help to break the mass, but add a bit of fussiness to the look. The integrated exhaust openings lower down on the fender are a nice touch.

For now, the S90 will be offered only in the Inscription trim, which is absolutely feature-packed. Hence, you can see full-LED headlamps with cornering functionality, self-parking and drive-out functionality, and powered opening and closing for the boot. While 500 litres of boot space is ample, it is a bit lower than the competition and the boot shape is long and shallow. However, loading luggage will be easy as the lip is low. Under the boot floor sits a space saver, the only area where the Chinese connection becomes apparent as we saw a Sino brand tyre in use.


There is a reassuringly solid feel to the S90, from the time you grab the meaty pull-type door handles to the way the door thuds shut behind you. Seated in the front there is no doubting that this car takes luxury very seriously. The seats are beautifully cushioned and offer a variety of support (lumbar, under thigh, side bolstering) adjustments and are cooled and heated as well. Details such as the vertical air-vents for the air-con system and the solid metal knob to adjust flow add a sense of style and robustness.

Everything from the door pads, seats and the dashboard is wrapped in leather and there is even a chunk of walnut wood decorating the simple and clutter-free dashboard. Taking pride of place there is the 9” touch screen system (Sensus, in Volvo-speak) that acts as the interface between the driver and all vehicle systems. This includes air-conditioning, reversing camera, car settings and infotainment functionalities.

While it is a well-designed system and even easy to read in harsh sunlight, the abundance of fingerprints that it collects is a bit annoying; more importantly, while driving we found we had to take our eyes off the road to use it. Better integration with the 12.3” display that acts as the driver’s instrument cluster would have helped matters. As it is, it will take some time to get used to it.

Step into the backseat and you realise that to do so you kind of drop down onto the seats. The backseat is impressive; knee room is great and the seats, as in the front, are very well-shaped. While under-thigh support is good, a little more would have really hit the spot. Also, a bit more room under the front seats to push your feet forward would have made it an exceptional experience. However, this is a primarily a two-seat bench as the high transmission tunnel eats into foot space and the seat-back also juts out to accommodate the armrest. 

The list of features on the S90 includes dual-zone climate control for the rear passengers with vents on the centre console and on the B-pillar. There are also manually operated sun blinds for the windows. A nifty feature is the built-in children’s booster seat that pop out of the seat base. These are adjustable in height to suit children of different age groups. And, yes, the S90 comes with adjustable air-suspension as standard. More on that up ahead.

Engine & Performance

Globally, Volvo has made the leap of faith and transitioned their entire engine family to a four-cylinder configuration with 2 litres of displacement, petrol and diesel, dubbed Drive-E. These come in various stages of tune and the one offered in the S90 is the D4. This is essentially the same engine seen in the XC90, but in a lower state of tune. This engine transfers power to the front wheels via an eight-speed gearbox.

Now, on the road the 190PS engine feels plenty punchy. It is easy to drive as it tugs you forward from as low as 1500rpm and gets properly quick from 2000rpm. The engine impresses as it pulls eagerly to 4600rpm, where it changes up even if you choose to opt of the Dynamic mode. As a result, the S90 will be an absolutely companionable machine for those looking to motor along calmly in the city and for those wanting to cover distance quickly on highways. It could be considered a credit to the insulation that the cabin offers, but when under load the diesel character of the engine becomes apparent. Those of you looking for more excitement in your drive may want to wait for the D5 version of the S90 to arrive next year.

The other niggle is with the 8-speed gearbox; yes, it isn’t as quick shifting as the units seen on BMWs and Audis, but given the S90’s focus we wouldn’t complain too much about that. However, the gearbox is a bit eager to shift up gears, and because of that when you are going on and off the accelerator it can end up jumping gears and make the going a bit jerky. This is when we wished paddle-shifters were also on offer.

Ride & Handling 

The S90’s strength is its focus on luxury. In Comfort mode the standard air springs (only at the rear) offer a pillowy ride, which most people stuck in the urban crawl will surely love. However, the Dynamic mode was the one we preferred as it controlled the up-and-down body bobbing movement without sacrificing on comfort. We drove over stretches of Rajasthani highways that were nothing more than mud and rock, and this Volvo magic-carpeted over them. It was only on very rare occasions that the suspension seemed to let a thunk through, and even then, you could hear it more and feel it less.

While we didn’t get to test the S90’s out and out cornering manners, it has left us with a clear impression of being very confident and sure-footed. At high speeds it is unflustered and shows abundant determination in long and fast bends. The brakes are plain fantastic, with incredible bite that is delivered just as your foot suggests.

In Dynamic mode the better body control and the heavier steering wheel give a greater sense of connection, and the grip from the Pirelli P Zeros custom-created for Volvo are reassuring too. Nonetheless, the steering keeps you from really sinking into the experience as it feels hard to predict in terms of feel and sensitivity. Just so long as you aren’t looking for a sporty experience, this S90 is a car you would happily use to transport yourself quickly and comfortably for many kilometres without hesitation. 

First Taste

Unless you are looking for a particularly sporty luxury sedan and looking to spend around Rs50-60 lakh, the Volvo S90 should be on your shopping list. Expected to be priced at Rs 55 lakh, this Inscription variant of the S90 offers you a very competitive package.

Yes, it misses out slightly in terms of the back seat, but when you consider the style, the features, the ride comfort and the sense of space you get, the S90 makes it clear that it is taking luxury very seriously. It looks like Volvo is ready to earn a slice of the Indian luxury sedan segment that has eluded it so far.

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