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Standout design declares the 2020 Volvo S90’s place atop the maker’s luxury sedan range and sets it apart from the competition. The S90’s elegantly straightforward interior provides tasteful, comfortable and spacious environs equally suited to around-town commutes or long-distance travel. The S90 is also packed with advanced driver-assistance features in keeping with Volvo’s heritage of safety. There are two powertrains, both of which are unconventional. The T6 inline-four is both turbocharged and supercharged while the plug-in hybrid T8 adds more power from the combined gasoline engine and electric motor, and useful electric-only driving range. We’ve found the ride and handling a step behind the rest of the class, but we’ve yet to drive the new-for-2020 R-Design that promises more driver-oriented responsiveness. Volvo’s emphasis on safety combine with its distinctive design and comfort to give the S90 broad appeal.
The former T5 powertrain has been dropped from the S90 range while an all-new R-Design package offers a sportier take on the big sedan. In our experience, the T5’s 250-hp turbocharged inline-four sometimes felt strained propelling this heavyweight, so it’s no big loss that the base engine is now the 316-hp T6. This also means all S90s are all-wheel drive, since the T5 was the only front-driver in the lineup. The R-Design replaces exterior chrome with black trim, wears new front and rear designs, and a variety of other accents. As with all other 2020 Volvos, the 12.3-inch digital driver display is standard, haptic feedback now vibrates the steering wheel when the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving mode disengages (that is, you have to take over steering again), the battery in all T8 plug-in hybrids is now a larger 11.6-kWh pack (up from 10.6), and autobraking is standard with cross-traffic alert technology.
While our enthusiast drivers are intrigued by the prospect of a more engaging experience in the R-Design T6, there’s a much stronger value evident for luxury buyers in the revised packaging of the base Momentum so that’s the one we recommend.
The base powertrain is a turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder and is called T6. Our T6 Inscription test vehicle ran from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds—but it’s not the hottest S90. The 400-hp plug-in hybrid T8 version debuted last year and it blasted down our test track, matching results of the six-cylinder BMW 540i xDrive (4.5 seconds) in our zero-to-60-mph testing, but out on the road we noticed some occasional hiccups when driving the hybrid powertrain. Give the S90’s gas pedal a sharp input and there’s a momentary delay, followed by an abrupt moment of acceleration as the gasoline engine kicks in to assist the electric motors. During more sedate driving, this is rarely an issue.
Handling is surefooted and lends a sportiness that the Genesis G90 and the BMW 7-series lack. The trade-off is a ride that hardly feels like terry cloth, let alone velvet, and rough stretches of road transmit more vibrations into the cabin than in the softly sprung G90 and 7-series, particularly when the S90 is wearing the optional 20-inch wheels. The steering has a weighty feel, but it isn’t as direct or as precise as it should be, which erodes the S90’s perceived athleticism.
Out on our real-world highway fuel-economy test route, the T8 hybrid delivered 32 mpg, outperforming the T6 Inscription model we tested by only 1 mpg. It should be noted that we were unable to utilize the S90’s 21-mile electric-only range during this highway drive as the system engages the gasoline engine automatically at highway speeds.
The S90’s cabin is by far its most impressive feature. A mixture of high-end materials—open-pore wood, genuine leather, brushed metal, and finely grained plastics—come together in a cohesive and undeniably modern space. The 14-way power-adjustable front seats in our Inscription test vehicle were all-day comfortable and should fit all body shapes. The S90 lacks features we’ve come to expect in this segment, though. A manual steering column makes a surprising—and disappointing—appearance, as nearly all of the Volvo’s rivals offer power adjustments.
The S90 sedan will meet the needs of most drivers, and models with the folding rear seatback offer a cavernous cargo area. Have even more gear to cart around? Check out the V90, the S90’s wagon-bodied sibling.
The S90 is as connected as any of its rivals, and it relies heavily on its infotainment touchscreen to control many of its functions. All S90s feature a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen mounted in the center of the dashboard. To adjust simple functions such as the heated seats or the optional head-up display, the user must interact with the system. This is becoming par for the luxury-brand course, and some systems are more user-friendly than others. The S90’s system is easy enough to use, but the driver will have a learning curve before feeling comfortable enough to make changes on the go. The S90 offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard, allowing users to easily interact with their smartphones.
An incomplete set of crash-test data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety makes it hard to judge the S90’s safety. But its long list of driver-assistance features is impressive, and Volvo offers most of it as standard equipment. Key safety features include:
Volvo offers a class-standard four-year warranty and includes all scheduled maintenance for the first three years. Genesis offers longer warranty coverage for owners of its G90 sedan, but it’s the outlier in the segment.
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