2017 Volvo S90: New flagship sedan looks and drives great
I have to admit, my test week in the 2017 Volvo S90 was kind of a mixed bag. I had it for an unexpected road trip, spending more than 12 hours behind the wheel over a weekend.
And, boy, was it comfortable. I experienced minimal fatigue. The seats supported me perfectly in my thighs and lower back. And the ride and handling was well suited to long hours on a straight highway.
But – and you had to expect that from my lead sentence – the advanced technology was a tad glitchy. I came to dislike Apple CarPlay within the first 10 minutes of my drive, and I noticed a couple of other weird technical discrepancies while I drove that frustrated me. So, I’ll take the S90 any day as a driver, but I could do without some of the tech extras.
The S90 is all-new for the 2017 model year and takes over the position of flagship sedan for Volvo. Every detail of this new model is intricately and beautifully designed. From the matted wood inserts to etched design on the control dials, visually interesting accents abound. I even liked the design of the key fob!
The exterior design takes on Volvo’s new austere and elegant look, and the headlights capture the signature “Thor’s Hammer” LED design.
The test car had the Mussel Blue Metallic paint ($595), which is a total eye-catcher. I got more than a few compliments about the car in general but the color specifically. What I liked about it: It was the perfect hue to hide dirt.
The interior of the S90 is typical Swedish design: modern, clean and simple. The large infotainment screen in the center stack houses the majority of the controls for the car, but rather than being frustrating and confusing, Volvo manages to make it intuitive and easy. You don’t have to page through numerous screens to get to what you want.
The HVAC controls are on the screen, but they stay visible at the bottom so they are easy to access at any time. Plus, things such as the rear defroster and volume are still physical buttons and dials.
The test car had the Blonde Nappa leather interior, which was beautiful, but I found that it was already looking a bit tired – especially on the seats – and the vehicle only had about 4,500 miles on it. Thankfully there are two other color choices: Amber and Charcoal. I’d probably opt for Amber.
Ride & Handling
While the design is stunning, ride and handling is what makes the S90 awesome. It’s smooth and quiet as well as fast and responsive. It’s the kind of car you drive without thinking because everything it does is effortless. You never have to worry about braking or passing because the car drives exactly the way you think it should.
The S90 has three distinct drive modes: Comfort, Dynamic and ECO. During my road trip, I mostly left it in Comfort mode as it kept the ride a bit softer. When I knew I’d be hitting some city driving, I switched over to Dynamic, which tightens up the suspension and gives faster throttle response. It also turns off the default automatic stop/start feature that shuts down your engine at stop. There is also an “Individual” mode, which allows the owner to customize settings for driving preference. The annoying thing is the drive mode always defaults to Comfort, so you’ll have to switch the mode to your preference every time you drive.
The test vehicle was an Inscription model with all-wheel drive and the up-level 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged engine. It delivered 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which was the perfect amount of power for a 4,080-pound vehicle. Not to mention the fact it was pretty amazing for a 4-cylinder engine.
Front-wheel drive models come equipped with a different engine – a 4-cylinder turbo – which delivers 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Despite the drop in power, I have to imagine this is impressive as well.
Whether you opt for front- or all-wheel drive, the fuel economy estimates are on par with what you’d get in an Audi A6 or Mercedes-Benz E-Class with the 4-cylinder engines. For comparison’s sake, EPA estimates for the three vehicles are as follows:
- S90 FWD: 23/34/27
- S90 AWD: 22/31/25
- A6 FWD: 24/34/28
- A6 quattro: 22/31/25
- E300 RWD: 22/30/25
- E300 4matic: 22/29/24
I did better than the combined average during my 700+ miles in this vehicle, and when I turned in the S90, I had averaged about 26 mpg. A lot of this was on straight highways at 75 mph, but there were probably 100 miles or so of stop-and-go traffic as well as city driving. I imagine that areas with lower highway speed limits would reap even better fuel economy.
Tech & gadgets
There is an amazing amount of technology on the S90. Some of it was seamless and some of it was frustrating. So, let me start with the good stuff.
The sound system is beyond amazing. Is there a word for that? Phenomenal. Awesome. Amazeballs? I’m not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but even I was impressed with the Bowers & Wilkins system in the S90. The preset sound experiences are an interesting way to draw an audio neophyte into the equation with options like “Studio” and “Concert Hall” that allow you to be surrounded by music and get a live-like experience with the touch of a button. For the more discerning audio aficionado, there are also custom settings.
I’m also a huge fan of the available 360 camera. Living in a city, I find myself parallel parking or getting into and out of tight spaces on a regular basis. This camera covers all corners of the car to ensure the vehicle is clear of every obstacle.
Then there’s the adaptive cruise control, a part of the standard semi-autonomous Pilot Assist suite, which is one of the best systems of its kind that I’ve encountered. It maintains a controlled distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and it has the ability to come to a complete stop, then start back up again if traffic moves within 3 seconds. I found this to be a lifesaver during long highway drives and stop-and-go rush hour traffic.
Another great feature, which thankfully I didn’t have the opportunity to test, is the Pedestrian & Cyclist & Large Animal Detection system. It detects an object in the path of the vehicle, warns the driver and then applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t react. The coolest thing about this feature: It’s standard.
That’s the stuff that worked well; now for the features that annoyed me.
Something as simple as voice recognition, for example, was an abysmal failure. It could have something to do with my far-forward drive position versus mic placement or even the tone of my voice, but I haven’t had this much difficulty with a voice-activated command system since the early aughts.
I also had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Apple CarPlay during the test period. I loved that it made listening to podcasts super easy, and I appreciated the fact that the system would read me my text messages. But the voice recognition thing messed up my ability to send voice-activated text messages. And the fact that I wanted to use Waze instead of Apple Maps or the in-car navigation system left the car in a constant state of confusion as it tried to decide if it should be playing my phone’s music or stick with satellite radio.
The sign reader, which is supposed to acknowledge speed signs and add the speed limits to navigation and head-up display was also a bit glitchy. It worked 99 percent of the time, but there were a few times when I passed a sign for Highway 30, in a 70 mph zone, and the car thought the speed limit changed to 30 mph. It should be noted that the sign reader only acknowledged the last sign that it read, so if I passed a sign blocked by a truck or made a turn onto a road with a lower limit, the car could see 65 mph as the speed limit when it’s only 30. Moral of the story: This is a great feature, but you still need to be paying attention. Sometimes the sign reader gets it wrong.
The overall gist here is this technology, which is supposed to keep your hands on the steering wheel, often left me distracted as I fumbled with car controls or reached for my phone.
There are only two trim levels with the S90, but you can opt for front- or all-wheel-drive platforms, each of which come with their own engines. There is $6K premium for the AWD and up-level engine.
Momentum ($47,945): Even though this is a “base” trim, it comes really well equipped with standard features such as a power sunroof, 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, drive mode settings, high-performance audio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, navigation, 1 USB port, power adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings, Pilot Assist, rear park assist, rearview camera and road sign information.
Inscription ($50,645): Features added at this trim include LED headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, Apple CarPlay, four-zone electric climate control, cooled glove box, 12.3-inch digital instrument display, 2 USB ports, power cushion extended for both driver and passenger, 19-inch wheels and manual rear sun curtains.
The test vehicle was a T6 AWD Inscription model, and it added the Vision Package with blind spot monitoring and 360-degree camera ($1,950); Climate Package with head up display, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel ($1,950); Convenience Package with power trunk lid and park assist pilot ($1,000); Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System ($2,650); metallic paint ($560); and 20-inch Inscription wheels ($750) for an as-tested price of $66,105.
For reference, a comparably equipped Audi A6 would cost around $67K, and a Mercedes-Benz E-Class would cost around $78K.
Perhaps one of the coolest things about the Volvo S90 is it doesn’t scrimp on safety features. And a lot of the up-level features automakers might consider extra are standard on this large sedan.
In addition to things such as front and side air bags, Volvo includes the following standard safety features:
- Lane keep assist
- Front collision mitigation
- Emergency brake assist
- Rear park assist
- Pilot Assist (semi-autonomous drive system with adaptive cruise control)
- Rain-sensing windshield wipers
The S90 hasn’t been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it has achieved a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It fell short of the much-coveted Top Safety Pick Plus award due to a “Marginal” headlight rating, which was added to the test for 2017.
Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.
New for 2017
The S90 is a completely new vehicle in the Volvo lineup for 2017. Major highlights for the 2017 model year include the addition of the standard semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system and City Safety with large animal detection.
A few of my favorite things
When I saw the as-tested price, I was stunned. In a good way. And the fact that it has so many things standard means that you don’t have to add on a lot of options to equip the S90 the way you want it.
Though the A6 has a similar base price, you’ll pay extra for things such as navigation and rear side air bags. Adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist aren’t even available on the base Premium trim. The E-Class has a base price of $53K and goes up from there to get what S90 includes standard – even the rearview camera is part of a package option!
I also love how the S90 drives. From the engine power and smooth ride to the overall seat comfort, this is the perfect car to have in your stable if you spend a lot of time in a commute.
What I can leave
Apple CarPlay is the devil. Some automakers make it appear less glitchy than it actually is, but unfortunately Volvo isn’t one of them. I hate the either-or scenario where you can either use Apple CarPlay or a navigation app on your phone, but never both at the same time. And if you use the Waze app on your phone, be ready for Armageddon. Luckily, this is an Apple problem not a Volvo problem, and you can opt out of using CarPlay in the settings if you dislike it as much as I do.
While I love all the extra safety technology, it was sometimes a bit erratic and therefore distracting. I’d be more apt to turn off all the extra lane keep assist and auto pilot systems for most driving situations because, well, I want to drive the car. Adaptive cruise control, however, I’d totally keep.
I’m also not a fan of the auto stop/start function that turns your engine off when you’re at a complete stop. I understand this is for fuel economy purposes, but I still don’t like it and turn it off every time. What would make it tolerable is if there were a hard setting where I could turn it off and keep it off. But there isn’t.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for a beautifully designed vehicle that drives like a dream, you’ve got to consider the S90. It’s amazingly well-priced and incredibly comfortable for long road trips. However, you have to manage your expectations with regard to the technology. It may not work the way you want it to.
To find your next new, used or certified vehicle visit www.driveautonow.com today. Local car shopping made easy!