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For the Volvo Enthusiast

2018 Volvo S90 T8 Review

Even if its lineup isn’t as diverse as the competition, or even as well known, Volvo is continuing to push the envelope, as the new 2018 Volvo S90 T8 demonstrates.

This is a large luxury sedan that uses an unconventional powertrain, yet still manages impressive performance and economy. It’s not perfect, but it is interesting and special, which are perfect reasons for a shopper to check it out.

For 2018, Volvo has added 4.5 inches to the wheelbase of the S90, giving it limo-like proportions. It’s noticeably longer than the usual suspects of competitors, like the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series, and that leads to a few improvements that luxury car buyers will really appreciate.

For example, there’s an incredible amount of rear-seat legroom in this car. Passengers in the rear can easily cross their legs, and the area is pretty much an airport lounge. Optional equipment gives four-zone climate control along with heated and vented seats in the outboard rear seats. If you’re trying to make an impression on someone in the rear seat of your car, the 2018 S90 makes it easy.

The cabin is extremely well trimmed, especially in this Inscription model that features a diverse set of materials and accents. The soft black Nappa leather is paired with walnut decor on the dash, along with sleek metal and piano black accents throughout the cabin. It looks clean and classy, with few buttons that break up the minimalist design.

Interior hits and misses

However nice the interior looks, its usefulness could be improved. I’ve griped about the Sensus infotainment system before and will continue to do so until it gets easier to use while driving. Something like bigger buttons would help a lot in this regard, but this isn’t the only place the Volvo stutters. Other “pages” of the infotainment system linger on the screen for a bit too long. Rear view camera displays, parking sensor information and drive mode selection information all stay present on the screen for way too long before disappearing. Since the screen is the only way to change media and climate settings, you have to patiently wait for these displays to fade away before doing anything further.

The gear selector is also quirky. The geologically shaped shifter is unique but nudging it up or down first selects neutral, and then either drive or reverse (depending on which way you push it.) It takes time to get used to, and there seems to be no real reason for this kind of process.

Other elements of the interior are brilliant.  There’s a big digital dashboard to show you the map or your media information, as well as an available head-up display which is clear and easy to see. It also offers the amazing Bowers and Wilkins sound system, which provides a lot of depth to the audio setup. The front seats are supportive, cooled, heated and can even massage you.

One last thing worth pointing out about the S90 is its cargo capacity is not the most accommodating, but it was enough to swallow up two large suitcases. Anything that can’t fit in the trunk will easily fit in the rear seating area, but it’s too bad that the rear seats don’t fold down.

SO MANY MOTORS

This slight complaint probably has something to do with all the propulsion technology lurking within the Volvo’s bones. A plug-in hybrid has a lot of baggage of its own, and the Volvo packs an electric motor for each axle, as well as a 10.4 kWh battery to power them. Indeed, the car is an all-wheel-drive EV, and those motors work in combination with the 2.0-liter twin-charged four-cylinder engine to deliver a combined 400 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.

The electric-only range of the vehicle is a hearty 21 miles (34 kilometers) which is more than enough to get your groceries and come home without offending a single species on the way. It earns a 71 MPGe (3.2 Le/100 km) rating from the EPA, and when the car has an empty battery, it’ll easily earn 29 MPG (8.1 l/100km) or more. There are two ways to manage the battery on the road, a charge mode that uses the onboard gas engine to generate power for it, and a hold mode to maintain the battery’s current level. Otherwise, it would take 3 hours to charge the S90’s battery to full using a 240V charger.

Put your foot down and you’re rewarded with sports-car-like speed. Highway figures come up in four and a half seconds, which is decidedly unlike most hybrids or large luxury sedans. The eight-speed gearbox is pretty good and feels well sorted out. There are different drive modes to dictate the behavior of the drivetrain, but they don’t make much sense. The “Pure” mode suggests that only the electric motors will be used to move the car, but switching to this mode after the combustion engine is on, seems to keep the gas motor running for some time. The “Hybrid” mode is balanced, draining the battery when it wants to, and the “Power” mode gives you as much power as possible too. An awkwardly named “AWD” mode is designed to be useful in low-speed and low-traction situations like snow or mud. Simply leaving the drive mode in Hybrid seems like the best idea, and made the most sense.

The On-Road Experience

Having a large footprint may help in sports like swimming, but it doesn’t help the S90 feel particularly sporty or engaging to drive. The long wheelbase leads the car to feel more stately and mellow, and it isn’t an agile ride by any stretch of the imagination. The optional rear air suspension seems to keep things even-keeled on imperfect roads, but can still feel quite firm in other situations. It wasn’t a serene city cruiser, where roads can be riddled with potholes, manhole covers, cracked streets and other issues. The experience on the highway was a complete contrast and shows where the S90 shines.

Another bright spot in the S90’s package is the driver assistance and safety offerings. The forward collision warning system features automatic braking and can detect pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals. The lane keeping assistance feature is quite good, although the adaptive cruise control does make fairly abrupt and uncomfortable stops. The blind spot monitoring system is good, especially when you have to deal with all the added length of this year’s model, and the parking assistance features are robust and fully loaded to help you deal with parking this large vehicle.

The Verdict: 2018 Volvo S90 T8 Review

The S90 T8 Inscription starts at $69,145 in the US ($76,965 in CAD) and our tester was generously equipped. All in, it would cost $82,490 (or $93,865 CAD) to get the same car we tested, which is a lot of money and not far from the starting price of such flagship sedans as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series. However, at that price point, those cars would be missing a few key features, while the Volvo would be extremely well equipped.

The S90 isn’t really up to the tier of those cars in terms of ride quality and luxury, but the technology and design are very nice, as well as the powertrain. It’s definitely worth looking at if you want an alternative to the usual choices of premium vehicle.

a version of this review first appeared on AutoGuide

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