Gareth Butterfield takes a deliberately sideways glance at the Volvo S90 saloon
WHEN I tested Volvo’s V90, its complete reimagining of the classic Volvo estate, I loved it.
And then when I saw the S90, the saloon version, I loved that too. At least, I was won over right up to the point I saw the back end.
It’s as if it was designed by someone who hadn’t really looked at the rest of the car and noted its elegant, classy and understated details.
Some may argue its weird, book-end style lights are stylish and that’s fine. Sequin shoes are also stylish, apparently, but I’m not going to swap my loafers for a pair any time soon.
But I know people that really like the back end of the S90 and I’ll freely admit it’s not hideous enough to put me off the car entirely, so I’ll overlook it for now. Because everything else about the S90 is top-notch.
Like the V90 which came out before it and is now a familiar sight its interior is exquisite – there’s no other word for it.
It could be said that all the current Volvos from the Xc60 up the XC90 have broadly identical interiors, but that’s like complaining that all the daffodils in a verge by the side of the road look alike – they’re all lovely to look at, so what’s the problem?
In fact, the current crop of Volvo interiors are the best in the business. The huge, 9in central display works like an iPad and, while it’s not the easiest way to alter settings on the move, it’s one of the best systems on the market.
The thick-rimmed steering wheel feel lovely in the hand, the materials used everywhere are lovely and then there’s the seats. They are, quite frankly, among the most comfortable seats you’ll find in any car.
And they’re actually surprisingly thin, which means they preserve space in the rear, which is really good. There’s a big transmission tunnel, so the rear space is better for four people than it is for five, but it’s certainly more spacious than some of its rivals.
The boot is good, too. There’s lots of space, a wide opening and plenty of natty storage gadgets, including net-pockets and hooks. A standard electrically-opening bootlid is also a welcome addition.
As you’d expect from a Volvo its handling finesse is tempered somewhat by its ride comfort. If you want a sporty drive, buy a BMW.
The BMW’s other bonus over the S90 is its automatic gearbox. In the S90 the standard eight-speed box is smooth enough, but it can be a bit slow to react. You can also have a BMW engine with more than four-cylinders, which is more than can be said for the Volvo.
That said, the S90’s mid-range D4 engine is brilliant. It’s a four-pot diesel with 194bhp but it honestly feels more powerful. Acceleration is adequately brisk and it never feels over-worked, even in such a big car.
Of course, this being a Volvo, it’s loaded with safety kit. My test car came with the brilliant semi-autonomous Pilot Assist and there’s Lane-Keep Assist, autonomous emergency braking and all the other safety measures Volvo piles into its latest cars.
At a shade under £35,000 the S90 neatly undercuts some of its German rivals. And even those it’s closer to don’t come with the standard kit that’s on offer in the Volvo. Even in the base-spec Momentum there’s plenty of equipment thrown in.
In the past, the saloon version of the mid-range Volvo offerings has always been the poorer seller. They’ve always been out-classed by rivals and buyers usually opt for the more practical estate versions.
However this time Volvo has a winning formula which is carried over lock, stock and barrel from its bigger cars and this means it’s every bit as good as it’s big-booted stable-mate.
If I was in the market for a saloon it’s the car I’d pick. I guess I’d just have to learn to live with those rear lights.