Volvo knows as well as any car company that being a nonconformist has its ups and downs. Throughout its long history, and despite multiple corporate ownerships, Volvo has persisted in being different.
Even now, as Volvo embarks on a plan to compete with the other global luxury leaders, it’s paving its own distinctly Swedish path. After all, that is how evolution works.
When the Swedish automaker began its rebirth in earnest under new ownership in 2016, it led the way with an all-new XC90 luxury SUV, which is now its best-selling vehicle. No surprise, there.
But despite SUVs being the fastest growing segment, there are still people who like to drive sedans. Which explains why this year, Volvo launched the S90, a mid-sized four-door that shares its platform with the XC90.
The S90 is long, low and very sleek for a Volvo, drawing inspiration from the brand’s classic P1800 coupe. It has a spacious interior and a smooth and competent ride that can be further enhanced with a self-levelling rear air suspension. If it’s not, it uses an unconventional transverse leaf spring set-up.
The S90 is no sports car, but with the 316hp turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that comes in all-wheel-drive models, it’s effortlessly powerful. ‘Effortlessly’ is the operative word here because the S90 rarely sounds bothered - in fact, it is as serene as its spa-like interior.
This comes courtesy of the simple yet stunning Scandinavian lines, real wood and leather trim. Not to mention the deeply-sculpted seats which give a new meaning to comfort.
This elegance is extended to the instruments. The portrait-oriented touch-screen that handles most functions marries form and function while the full digital instrument cluster is equally modern yet effective.
You will want to be able to see that cluster to keep track of when all of the S90’s driver aids are active – and there are many of these. Even with its sexy new style, safety is still very much a hallmark of the Volvo brand, whose stated goal is to produce a crash-proof car by 2020.
Stepping in that direction, the S90 comes standard with an automatic emergency braking system that recognises vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, even cats and dogs - the car will slow down if any of these suddenly pass in front of the vehicle.
The S90 also offers a collection of semi-autonomous features packaged in what it calls ‘pilot assist’. These features use cameras to track the lines in the road and radar to follow the car in front of it. It allows the car to drive itself within a lane at speeds up to 80mph, but only lets you take your hands off the steering wheel for a few seconds at a time. It’s meant as a backup system that lets you relax a little, rather than relinquish total control.
One neat trick pilot assist has up its sleeve is that when you hit the turn signal to pass, the car speeds up a bit so you don’t have to touch the accelerator, just the steering wheel.
Overall, the S90 is a right-brain car in the best Volvo tradition, but with enough luxury to keep you from feeling like you’re missing out on something.