Driven - February 2017

The Volvo evolution continues: S90 is here

I guess we didn’t really know what to expect from the new Volvo S90. On pictures, it looked a bit underwhelming, pretty but nothing to ride home about. You can imagine then what went through my mind when I saw the car in the flesh because it completely took me by surprise. The car has a stately presence that can’t be captured on paper properly as it looks much smaller, but in reality, it’s a big lady. So much so that Volvo felt it appropriate to have us chauffeured in the cars from the airport to the launch destination in Franschhoek. Being only 5ft7 I can sit at the back of most sedans with ease. What I can’t do in most sedans is stretch my legs, something I was able to do in the Volvo S90. So far so good as this car is going to compete with the likes of BMW’s new 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz’ E Class.

Aesthetically the S90 shares similar features to the XC90, in fact it’s almost a sedan version of the SUV.  Many commented that the rear of the vehicle was the acquired taste of the design but I feel the retro taillights suit the overall look. It’s looks somewhat concept car-like but not overly caricatured. The interior design again shares a great deal with the XC90 as well. The central tablet controls various functions such as entertainment, safety, air-conditioning and much more. Overall trim is of a very high quality featuring real leather and very little plastic, making you feel comfortable as a car of this size deserves to have the best in terms of trim levels. A few minutes in the car will make any driver realise that the Swedes pulled out all the stops with this car, which should make the German’s nervous.

This nervousness shouldn’t be about sales figures as the reality is that we live in brand conscious South Africa. This means that brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW will always have the majority market share in certain segments. Rather the nervousness should be because there is a rise in not being mainstream. In certain cities like Johannesburg, every second car is a BMW or Merc so for those looking to be different, the new Volvo’s offer an appealing package. The playing fields are being levelled and driving the new S90 confirmed this. Sitting in the S90 gives a feeling confidence and the dynamic attributes to match. The 4WD systems on the cars also allowed us to exploit Franschhoek pass with ease, too much ease at that. In fact, the S90’s chassis is the most impressive aspect of the cars’ driving experience. The derivatives offered on launch were the T6 featuring 235kW Drive E engine and the D5 with Power Pulse with 173kW, so there was no shortage of power where that is concerned.

Being a Volvo, safety always come first so even though the cars produce a healthy amount of power, it’s delivered very safely. This makes any driver capable of driving the car fast as it doesn’t evoke any fear behind the wheel. The focus is not on speed, though, it’s on refinement, technology and innovation. The biggest innovation for me was the newest iteration of Pilot Assist. An individual can now drive in semi-autonomous mode up until 130km/h depending on the road condition. Steering inputs, braking and acceleration are all controlled by the car whilst you simply place your hands on the steering wheel. Other features such as pedestrian detection, cyclist detection and even animal detection are just some of the safety features of the car. To list everything would turn this write up to a spec list and we’re not here to do that. We’re here to tell you that this Volvo is probably one of the best we’ve driven since the new XC90 which has won many accolades. There is very little you can fault on the car, it’s really a job well done by the Swedes.

Pricing on the car starts at R678 500 which is also a reasonable range considering what you’re getting. That price of course is minus things like Bowers & Wilken sound system and you’ll pay more depending on what package you choose. There is the choice of the standard Momentum, Inscription and R-Design packages. We had Inscription’s at our disposal and some were specified with some rather appealing features which added to the good looks. Again though if you want it, you must pay for it.

Overall, I personally feel that the S90 is a car that can coexist with its rivals, as it’s a niche offering. Niche brands such as these are great because they offer exclusivity. They answer the question that many motorists have, that of “do I have to have what everyone else has?” What the car has done is match the rivals in terms of comfort, luxury and even dynamics. It’s the executive sedan for the elusive, those that don’t want to be like everybody else. For those looking to purchase one, Volvo’s new guaranteed future value scheme will give you piece of mind as this alleviates the perception of bad trade in values. So this entire package becomes even more appealing. The S90 experience is one that proves that things don’t always have to stay the same. It proved that the big three don’t always have to be on top. Now it’s only a matter of seeing how the South African market responds to this car. We wish it well.