Volvo restores its position at top table with new S90

THE resuscitation of Volvo as a premium brand has been a wondrous thing to observe. The breathing of new life into a massive business with a potentially life-threatening condition was never going to be an easy task, but it is something that the Swedish marque and its new Chinese partners have pulled off with some aplomb.

Volvo's impressive S90

Over the last few months we have been waxing lyrical here at Examiner Motoring about this near-miracle achievement and lauding new product from the Sino-Swedish alliance such as the brilliant XC90, the pretty impressive S90 executive saloon, as well as the V90 estate derivative.

A new XC60 is shortly set to further add widespread appeal to the marque’s offerings as the whole Volvo model line-up now procreates at a ferocious rate — particularly so with the S90 where new and interesting options are being pushed out at an unbelievable rate and this week we get to try two of them.

First up we had the model with one of the most long-winded names I’ve ever come across — the S90 D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription Auto. Following that, we had the more modestly named S90 D4 R-Design.

The former is pretty much a niche model in terms of its sales prospects and a list price which is nearly twenty grand more than the entry model, while the latter is a mildly muscled-up version of the standard car with quite a lot of extras on it, but is ten grand cheaper [than the D5 Power Pulse].

Without doubt, the D5 PowerPulse is a very impressive and substantial piece of kit. Essentially the D5 engine is a beefed up version of the standard four cylinder turbodiesel which forms the cornerstone of the engine on offer. Throw in the eight speed auto ’box and the all wheel drive system and you get the picture of just how considerable this whole package is.

The facts and figures of the D5 — with the benefit of Volvo’s PowerPulse turbocharging technology — give it an output of 235 bhp, a seven second 0-100 kph time, a top speed of 240 kph, a 127 g/km emission level (for an annual tax bill of €270 and a consumption rate of 4.7 l/100 km (58.9 mpg).

It is a strong and willing companion and one which merely shrugs at the burden it is asked to carry. Acceleration is positive and effective and while the AWD system undoubtedly adds greatly to the overall traction on B-roads, it has to be said that the overall poise of this car is not quite at the same level of some of its German rivals.

The gap is relatively small, but noticeable nonetheless and while the overall impression you get is one of composed sophistication, this is not quite the driver’s car that rivals offer. Undoubtedly this will suit people for whom driving on the door handles is not a pre-requisite, and that’s fine too.

On the other hand, the less powerful R-Design engine curiously seems to be more sporty and engaging than the D5 unit. This one will output some 187 bhp and is good for a top speed of 230 kph and a 0-100 kph time which is 1.2 seconds slower than the other engine.

On the other hand the emission figures are lower (116 g/km, for a €200 annual tax bill) and the consumption figures better at 4.3 l/100 km (64.2 mpg), so there are positives and negatives to be assessed if you were in the market for either of these models.

You would have to say though that the almost eight grand price differential between the two would swing a lot of punters towards the D4 rather than the D5.

Sure there are specification differences between the two, but I have to say I never got the impression that the lesser performance of the R-Design made it lesser of a car and if anything I preferred it on the basis that as a driving experience it was every bit as accomplished as its more expensive sibling.

I will qualify that by saying that the Volvo S90, while being a revelation in so many ways, still trails BMW’s 5-Series and Mercedes’ E Class by a couple of percentage points in terms of driving dynamism.

Certainly, these cars have a lot of chops when it comes to highway driving, thanks to stuff like a very intuitive adaptive cruise control system which is as good if not better than what is on offer elsewhere. For composed — and quick — A to B driving on the open road, you will struggle to find a better partner.

Where it does not lag behind is in the overall comfort and classiness and, really, you have to experience the quality of the interior to fully appreciate just what a good job the Swedes have done here to make the S90 — in whatever guise you choose — such a wonderful example of the modern executive luxobarge.

From the top drawer seating through the wood inlays and on to the excellently user-friendly infotainment and connectivity systems, they really have nailed this one and I suspect the on-looking German will be a little dismayed by the manner in which Volvo has executed the design.

While the Teutons will console themselves with the thought that Volvo are still lagging a little behind with the overall driving dynamics, they will nevertheless be very concerned that their newly re-emerged rivals have come so far so fast.

There is no doubting that Volvo is in a really good place right now and is closing the quality gap on its rivals at a terrific rate. On this evidence it will not be long before the Swedes are kicking down a German door or two.

Of the two cars tried here, I must say I probably preferred the cheaper R-Design option as, for a majority of drivers, the performance gap will not mean anything on a daily basis and there is little to distinguish the two in overall quality.

Sure the D5 version has a lot more in its cupboard than the R- Design, but I’m not sure the differences would mean a lot to most people and especially so when weighed up from a purely financial point of view.

These are both really good cars which can be judged at the highest level. They might not yet be quite where Volvo wants them to be, but they have fully restored the brand’s position at the top table.

Colley’s Verdict

The Cost: From €43,990 — €56,915 for the R-Design and €64,744 for the D5 AWD.

The Engines: Variants of a basic but very decent four pot turbodiesel.

The Specification: At a truly high level.

The Overall Verdict: Scandinavian solidity.



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