Volvo S90 long-term test review

The Volvo S90 is an all-new luxury saloon built to take on some of the most accomplished cars on sale. We’ve added one to our long-term test fleet to find out what it’s like to live with...

Volvo S90 long-term test review
  • The car: Volvo S90 D4 Momentum
  • Run by: Steve Huntingford, editor
  • Why it's here: To see if Volvo has built a genuine alternative to luxury saloons from the likes of Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes
  • Needs to: Offer outstanding comfort and refinement, a sumptuous interior and low fuel consumption

Price £33,865 Price as tested £40,585 Miles covered 1966 Official economy 64.2mpg Test economy 39.2mpg Options fitted Head-up display (£750), 18in alloy wheels (£700), metallic paint (£700), electric driver’s seat with memory (£600), IntelliSafe Surround Pack (£600), Keyless Drive (£575), Volvo On Call with app (£550), Winter Pack (£525), electric passenger seat (£400), rear parking camera (£400), TFT driver’s information display (£400), smartphone integration (£300), Dark Flame Birch inlays (£220)

20 June 2017 – first report

Safe; sensible; square; Swedish. There are a lot of ‘S’ words that people associate with Volvo, but stylish and sexy aren’t among them. Or at least, they haven’t been traditionally. The new S90, however, shows just how dramatically the company’s design department has changed direction, because it’s one of the best-looking luxury saloons on sale today.

I remember seeing the Concept Estate that Volvo displayed at the 2014 Geneva motor show and thinking that as striking as it was, this was largely down to it being wider than it was long, so it could never go on sale. And yet the front-end of that concept has been incorporated onto the sensibly proportioned S90 without losing any of the drama.

It’s not just the exterior that’s easy on the eye, either. The S90’s dashboard is dominated by a large touchscreen that has let Volvo slash the number of buttons and create a modern, minimalist ambience that’s refreshingly different from anything in German rivals.

Volvo S90 long-term test review

Unfortunately, while the idea of a screen that lets you swipe, pinch and scroll as you do with your iPad sounds good in theory, in reality I’m finding it makes simple tasks like changing the radio station or the temperature quite difficult on the move. This would be less of a problem if the voice control wasn’t so hit and miss – although, to be fair, it’s no worse than the system in the Audi A4 that I ran previously.

More positively, the quality of the materials in our entry-level Momentum-spec car is so good that when it first arrived I assumed Volvo had accidentally delivered a range-topping Inscription model instead. And while I often suffer from back ache while driving, the S90’s seats are fantastically supportive, so even after a few hours behind the wheel I remain pain-free.

The suspension set-up also puts comfort first, wafting you along at motorway speeds and coping reasonably well with patched-up urban roads. In fact, our long-term test car seems to ride better than early examples of the S90 that we tried, suggesting Volvo engineers have continued to fine-tune the mechanicals since its launch.

It’s a similar story when it comes to refinement. The diesel engines in the first S90s we tested sounded gruff and transmitted quite a bit of vibration through the pedals, but there are no such problems in our four-cylinder D4 long-termer. Okay, it’s still not as smooth as the six-cylinder diesels that rivals offer (Volvo doesn’t have one of these), but it is competitive with their four-cylinders, and it’s those that most people choose, thanks to their tax-friendly CO2 emissions.

Volvo S90 long-term test review

The only remaining issue that I have with the D4 engine is its real-world fuel economy. When we put it through our True MPG efficiency test last August, it returned a disappointing 39.9mpg, and so far I’m seeing a similar figure. I’m just praying this will improve once the engine is properly run in; I can’t see it getting anywhere near the official average of 64.2mpg, but mid-40s doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Like all S90s, ours comes with a long list of standard equipment, including leather upholstery, sat-nav, Bluetooth, and a DAB radio. And it doesn’t stop there: a powered boot lid, keyless start and rear parking sensors are also included, as is adaptive cruise control with an autopilot feature that helps you steer the car in city traffic.

Volvo also offers a long list of options, many of which you can do without. But I would recommend the Intellisafe Surround Pack (£600), which includes blind spot and cross traffic monitoring, and the head-up display (£750), which projects road sign information, following-distance alerts, sat-nav instructions and your current speed onto the windscreen, so you can your keep your eyes on the road most of the time.

Despite the odd weakness, then, the new S90 looks like a genuine threat to Germany’s hegemony of the luxury saloon market – something you could never have said about any of Volvo’s previous efforts. Over the next few months we’ll be seeing what the S90 is like to live and if this strengthens or weakens the case for choosing one. If it’s the former, it could be seismic.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here