VOLVO’S new design direction really isn’t that “new” any more.
It was the XC90 SUV that first introduced us to what would become an entirely new look for the Swedish brand and that, believe it or not, was back in 2014.
Its larger models, the big SUVs and the saloons and estates, now all look broadly the same. A squareish design, huge grille and all with similarly-shaped headlights.
Park two of these next to each other, sit directly in front of them, and you might struggle to identify the model you’re looking at. But familiarity, in this case has not bred any sort of contempt. The range is selling strongly and residuals are better than ever, and that’s largely down to the fact that they’re all really, really good.
The car I’m testing this week is the S90. It’s the saloon version of that textbook Volvo estate, which is now called the V90.
The estate will always be the more popular choice in the UK, next to the SUVs, but does that make the S90 a poor relation worth overlooking? Not at all.
Despite the slightly awkward styling of the back lights – they never have grown on me – the S90 still cuts quite a dash. And its interior, while essentially a carbon copy of all other premium Volvos, is exquisite – there’s no other word for it.
You could criticise Volvo for fitting broadly identical interiors to its top cars, but that’d be 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 feels 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. Go for the D5 and you’ll be happier, but it’ll come at the cost of economy and emissions.
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 £38,000 for the base-model Momentum Plus 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.
So Volvo’s winning formula carries over well to this large, premium saloon car and although it won’t be the firm’s biggest seller, it deserves a close look.