Volvo recently invited me on quite a fun junket out to Montauk, New York where I had the chance to get behind the wheel of the new Volvo S90. If you've been around these parts, you probably know I've been following Volvo pretty closely since the introduction of the XC90 last year, which I still love. I'm incredibly fascinated with where the company is taking autonomous driving, its renewed focus on Swedish luxury and the love its employees have for its cars. I cover a lot of brands and I don't see this sort of focus from many of them.
If you're not familiar, under its new Chinese owners, Volvo now has free reign over the design of its cars — unlike during the Ford era. The first car that showed the fruits of those labors was the XC90. The S90 is the second, and you can think of it as the sedan version of the XC90, but with even more tech. It's the first Volvo where the latest and greatest semi-autonomous features come standard.
Of course I accepted the test drive offer.
The S90 is zippy
As is normally the case, Volvo put me behind the wheel of its high-end T6 AWD Inscription model, which prices out at $52,950 and features a 316hp 4 cylinder engine with 295 lb-ft of torque.
It's quick, no doubt, and I had a great time whizzing around the roads of the Hamptons, hoping that police officers weren't out trying to clock my misadventures (they weren't, and I really didn't speed too badly!). If the $52k price is a little too expensive for your palette, Volvo the starting model clocks in at $45,950- and still packs a respectable 250 horsepower.
We're not necessarily here to talk about speed though, are we? The S90 is zippy as you could want, but the focus is on luxury and safety. Technology plays a huge role in both these days.
The S90 is luxurious
Take one glimpse at the S90 and you know it's right at home in the parking lot of a country club, running through the roads of vineyards or parked in the driveway of a gorgeous home. It's a luxury automobile through-and-through, from the stunning and strong front face of the car with "Thor's Hammer" headlights to the scalloped grill.
Volvo said it used a lion as the foundation for the kind of character it wanted to give the S90, providing it with a "calm and secure confidence." Yes, there is indeed something about the S90 that screams confidence, perhaps causing one's heart to skip a beat the way it would when a well-dressed executive steps into a conference room.
In regards to the interior, Volvo's senior director of design, Trisha Johnson, told me she spent four years designing the interior of the Volvo S90, from initial sketch to the first stages of production. "We were excited about the feedback we got from the XC90 and with the S90 we knew we needed to take things to the next level," Johnson explained. "There were elements that became important, craftsmanship and of course executing something that spoke to people about Scandinavian heritage."
Johnson told me that the center focus of the interior is the large touchscreen display. The design of the cabin was unique because, previously, Johnson had to make room for all sorts of buttons and toggles. Those sorts of hardware controls are now mostly in the touchscreen.
Johnson took other measures to highlight the new centerpiece. "The ribbon that runs along the car interior runs below the technology, allow it to highlight it as the center piece of the interior," she explained. "The touchscreen, along with the air vents, create one visual unit. It highlights the importance for the driver and declutters things."
It really does. I love the touchscreen and being able to quickly tap into seat or temperature controls, different music and more. It's fluid, too, and doesn't lag like other systems (such as the one in my car.) Apple CarPlay is supported and worked well, though we did run into one issue on our pre-production unit where the screen zonked out on us. None of the other cars on the drive had this problem, and it seemed to be related to the GPS software, since all other screen functions worked just fine.
In a lot of ways, the cabin of the Volvo S90 feels a lot like a comfortable first-class airline cabin with more comfortable seat. There's a big screen to interact with almost anything you could ask for, the seat hugs your back and sides tight, too, which means you don't feel exhausted or beat-up after a few hours on the road. It sounds silly, but it's true. I felt like I could easily do another 6 hours behind the wheel after 2 hours on the road.
Volvo told us the car's interior was meant to portray a sort of Scandinavian sanctuary and it successfully did so. But if you know Volvo, then you know the company cares about safety more than anything else. That's where some new technology comes into play.
The S90 is safe
The S90 has Volvo's newest Auto Pilot functions, which means you can expect features like lane guidance and automatic acceleration and braking to work at speeds up to 60mph, versus 30mph on the XC90.
I admit it was scary putting this sort of trust in a car. While the S90 is somewhat capable of taking turns, I didn't trust it to on narrow roads. Once the software is engaged, there's a small indicator light on the dash that shows autopilot is on. That icon will turn off when it disengages, whether you're looking at it or not. That's scary, and I think Volvo should consider adding an audible alert as well.
Volvo, unlike Tesla (and smarter in this case, I'd argue) suggests you keep your hands on the wheel at all times. It's okay if you take them off quickly, but autopilot will disengage if you do for more than 15 seconds. Right now, think of this technology as most useful for times when you're in traffic, though I have no doubt it'll improve as Volvo continues to focus on semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles.
The good news is that, thanks to other advanced safety features that are always working in the background, the car is capable of automatically braking if it detects a large animal or cyclist. Seatbelts will automatically tighten before an accident and there are special brackets in the seats that deform to absorb pressure, preventing injury.
The Volvo S90 isn't cheap, but Volvo isn't exactly targeting the penny-pinchers either. It's selling the S90 to folks who put safety, comfort and luxury at the top of their buying lists. And, as times continue to change, technology plays a huge role in helping Volvo to execute in each of those areas. That should make the S90 a top choice not only for families, but for folks who want some of the latest and greatest gadgets you can put in a car.
Disclosure: Volvo paid for us to fly from Manhattan to Montauk, NY to test drive the new Volvo S90. We were briefed by Volvo and its executives before the drive and during a stop for lunch halfway through the trip.
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