Company car drivers rejoice: the new Volvo S90 D4 is here. And this time, Volvo’s answer to the 520d version of the BMW 5 Series, the E 220 d version of the Mercedes E-Class and the 2.0 TDI Audi A6 has brought the ‘want one’ factor. In spades.
We’ve already driven the new S90 D5 – the higher-powered of the two 2.0-litre diesel engines offered which gets four-wheel drive as standard. Now we’ve got our hands on what's predicted to be the best-selling version: the lower-powered D4 model, complete with front-wheel drive and a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox.
And we weren't joking when we mentioned company car drivers in our opening sentence. Fleet purchases will account for the majority of S90 sales, so the fact that the D4 emits a lowly 116g/km of CO2 is crucial. It means the Volvo is competitive with its aforementioned key rivals on company car tax costs; it’s not the lowest-emitting car but it is clean enough to warrant a low tax bracket, and it’s well priced and well equipped.
Even entry-level Momentum trim gets you faux-leather seats, LED headlights, an electric bootlid, the big touchscreen sat-nav shown in our photos, DAB and a host of advanced driver aids, including automatic emergency braking. Even ‘Pilot Assist’ is standard across the range, which is in effect an high-tech combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist that makes the S90 semi-autonomous on the motorway.
What is the 2016 Volvo S90 D4 like to drive?
Straight away, it’s clear you really don’t need the extra gumption of the D5. The D4 engine picks up keenly from low revs, is always smooth and delivers enough of a kick throughout the mid rev-range to make overtaking and quick getaways easy.
It's a shame the engine isn't a bit more refined. It sounds gritty under acceleration and when it restarts after switching itself off when you come to a stop, although it does quieten when you're driving more sedately, at which point it's as hushed as the best executive saloons.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox blurs its shifts very well most of the time, too, contributing to the overriding sense of smoothness that permeates this car. From the moment you set off, you’re inclined to stick to a rapid but unflustered mooch in the S90, and that’s no bad thing in our book.
The way the S90 handles has a lot to do with that. Our car came with £950 optional rear air suspension, which gives it a slightly wallowy, floaty feel over most surfaces – even when you switch to firmer Dynamic mode. This soft suspension and body control inevitably means that the S90 falls short of the poised, incisive handling of a Jaguar XF or a BMW 5 Series.
Still, the steering is predictable and has a confidence-inspiring weight to it that means you can still enjoy winding the big Volvo through some bends. You don’t really notice the absence of four-wheel drive on dry roads, either, and you won’t unless you regularly deal with really slippery conditions. The front-wheel-drive D4 has plenty of traction.
The pay-off from that suspension is that you get a really cushioned ride. Only sharp-edged potholes cause the S90 to lose its composure and resort to skipping across the road; otherwise, it rides with suppleness at any speed. In fact, the Volvo is one of the most comfortable cars of its type.
What is the 2016 Volvo S90 D4 like inside?
Certainly not short on space, because four adults will have no problem getting comfortable. The driver benefits from a superbly supportive and adjustable seat and lots of steering wheel movement, while both front occupants have plenty of space. Another two adults in the rear will enjoy excellent head and leg room, although a third adult would be a squeeze.
Behind the rear seats is a 500-litre boot, which is slightly smaller than that of a BMW 5 Series or an Audi A6. Access to the S90's boot is about on a par with its rivals', which is to say its saloon opening is more restricting than that of a hatchback or estate. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold down flat when you press buttons behind the passenger-side rear headrest.
Volvo has taken interior quality very seriously with the S90, even poaching Bentley's head of interiors to work on the project. We tried a range-topping Inscription model, and there's no doubt that it's one of the classiest executive saloons inside, just pipping the soon to be replaced BMW 5 Series and coming close to the Audi A6.
However, the German cars' infotainment systems remain preferable, with their more intuitive rotary-dial control systems. That said, Volvo's 9.0in portrait touchscreen system is one of the best we've tried, with a beautifully high-resolution display and a pleasing responsiveness when you press it. It's just a shame that some of the small on-screen buttons are a little tricky to hit confidently while driving.
Should I buy one?
Yes – and not just for the ‘want one’ factor that the chiselled new S90 has in plentiful supply. We would have liked to see the D4 achieve slightly lower CO2 emissions given that the new Mercedes E 220 d undercuts it by some three tax bands, but this S90 is at least competitive with most rivals – none of which get so much standard high-end equipment. We look forward to trying the S90 on standard suspension and finding out if it’s worth spending the extra on the pricey air suspension option.
Even taking into account those niggles, the S90 D4 is a fairly serene companion in the UK and certainly makes the much pricier D5 version seem unnecessary. The D4 has more than enough performance on top of its pillowy ride and stylish, comfortable cabin. It's easy to see why it'll be the bigger seller.
What Car? says...
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
Volvo S90 D4
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £32,555
Torque 295lb ft
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 64.2mpg
CO2/BIK band 116g/km/23%