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Back in 2010, Volvo was bought by a big Chinese company and nearly overnight went from a fairly boring car maker to making bold claims that no one driving their cars would be seriously injured or die in a car accident by 2020. Although we were slow to see new product rolling out, there was a clear vision, and that’s paid off in spades in the new S90 (sedan) and V90 (wagon).
Whereas most manufacturers make a car that’s big and comfortable and fast and sporty and capable off-road and fast on the Nurburgring and this and that and the other, Volvo has sought to make its new luxury sedan comfortable. That’s it.
Instead of trying to do everything, Volvo focused on doing one thing well, and that makes the S90, which will reach showrooms in July, feel excellent. Volvo doesn’t want you flying down the autobahn at a million miles an hours. They want you to get home. Comfortably. And if you give them a chance, they’ll succeed.
It all starts with the interior, which is meant to calm you, says Volvo. Everything from the cool, calming colors to the massaging seats is supposed to turn the S90 into your “Scandinavian Sanctuary.” That’s because, having done some research on the matter, Volvo realized that its cars were mostly being driven to and from homes, not around a racetrack. Although that won’t come as a shock to many of you, it’s what led them to design the car for comfort rather than speed.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the S90’s pilot assist system. The system is what the industry refers to as level two autonomous driving. That means that you are still in control, but the car will help you along the road steering around easy bends on the freeway. It’s an interesting standard feature—the first of its kind to be offered as standard—that works well and, basically, does a little more than cruise control. Its partner, adaptive cruise control, is very well thought out, too. It slows down when you’re approaching a car, but speeds up a little as soon as you hit the turn signal, and speeds up some more when pull out to pass the slower car. It feels very natural and helps get you around slower cars quickly, easily, and comfortably.
The inside of the S90 is also a remarkably nice place to be. Everything is exactly as nice as you’d expect from the nation that gave the world IKEA. The V90 I drove was fitted with the usual heavily lacquered wood that you’d expect in most premium cars. It looks fine, but still, to me, has an aura of falseness about it.
The S90, on the other hand, had an open-pore wood treatment that looks like it really came off a tree. Combined with the creamy leather interior, it made for a very pleasant place to sit.
The gauge cluster and infotainment, meanwhile, are pretty standard fare. Both are digital, though the infotainment screen, which is remarkably like a tablet, uses infrared sensors to detect inputs, meaning that you can operate it even if you’re wearing gloves. This may seem trivial to you if you’re from California, but to those of us who live in cooler climes, it’s actually a great detail.
When you aren’t being helped along by the S90’s various driver aids, the car is a solid driver. I drove the top-of-the-line version, with Volvo’s air suspension helping me along bumpy back roads, and barely felt a thing. While following a top-heavy delivery truck along a back road, I saw its load sway dangerously from side to side over a couple of bumps and felt myself clench as, for a second, I thought it might tip over. When I hit the same bumps, though, I barely felt a thing. Frankly, I heard the bump more than I felt it. The S90 irons out the road while still feeling firmly planted to it. It’s not sporty, but you can drive up a mountain road quickly and have a lot of fun doing it.
The tour that Volvo took us on lasted about six hours, though I could scarcely have told you that when I got out of the S90. At no point, even when our navigation system broke down slightly (a software glitch that Volvo says it’s working on), did I feel weary from the road. After I got out of the car, I could have easily gotten right back in and done it again.
It must also be said that the S and V90 look good. Very good. Not just good in a by-comparison kind of way, but good in a classical kind of way. Admittedly, aesthetic judgment is a deeply personal thing. Just last night I met a man who thinks the Triumph TR8 is a good looking car, but I am not a fan of the wedge shaped designs that have been our lot since the ‘80s. While I appreciate their importance, aerodynamically, to me the tear drop is still the ideal shape and the S90 has some of that with a waistline drops elegantly at the back. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of a better looking car on sale today, in any segment.
It’s hard to find fault with any part of this car. The S90 and V90 shrink distances with comfort, rather than speed, but that’s okay. It’s not trying to be a Miata, nor should it. Volvo has gone against the grain by focusing on making these cars nice to drive, rather than fun to drive and it’s worked. The Volvo S90 and V90 are, indeed, Scandinavian Sanctuaries.
Prices start at $40,950 and the first S90s are set to hit showrooms next month, while the V90 is set to reach us in early 2017.