by Tony West and Daryl Payne
The 2018 Volvo S90 is one of the shining stars for the brand. Winning major awards last year has boosted sales and popularity in fleet markets. What’s truly unique about the base $44k sedan is its leap into innovation and lavishness. The S90 is nothing like any car in its class. It’s a joy to drive with a silky well-balanced powertrain.
And the cabin, devoid of plastic and replete with fine leather and aluminum trim puts the driver in first-class elegance whether driving or riding executive-style in the rear. With the $3,300 Inscription Package the S90 is a stuntastic mini mansion with 19 inch 10-spoke alloy wheels in Silver Diamond Cut, Nappa leather upholstery with a Nappa leather key fob, Linear Walnut wood inlays and side curtains in the rear.
Aside from the Lincoln Continental the fully-loaded S90 Inscription is the one of the only fully-size lux sedan poised for adventure and ideal as chauffeur driven limo. The S90 Inscription boasts subtle tranquility and strength outside and sumptuousness and advanced tech on the inside, with a 9 inch center tablet housing all its major functions.
We took the 2017/18 Volvo S90 Inscription from Chicago to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to visit its historic landmarks and vintage lake resorts.
Nicknamed the “Newport of the West,” Lake Geneva, WI is a quiet resort town that sees thousands of visitors in search of adventure in the Geneva Lakes or hiking trails, recreation at the golf course, or lessons in history from its historic landmarks, mansions and shopping centers.
The S90 rolled through Lake Geneva’s steep hills and narrow roads in serenity thanks to a harmonious drivetrain and advanced all-wheel drive.
Divine New Design
The 2018 Volvo S90 is a carryover from last year’s dramatic new design with the exception of a longer wheelbase and new plug-in hybrid model. For 2018 the Volvo S90 is offered in the base T5 Momentum, T6 Momentum, the T6 Inscription we reviewed and the T8 plug-in hybrid.
A longer profile with a frame stretched to its limits and sitting on 19 inch wheels gives the whip an athletic executive swag. The S90 was built on the new Scalable Product Architecture, which includes a long saloon and raked hood. Some of these S90’s design cues will be present in Volvo’s new XC60 and XC90 SUV.
As drivers near the S90, power mirrors unfold and cool welcome lighting illuminates the chrome handles and beltline. Drivers can open the whip via keyless entry. A big waterfall grille has chrome trim. Also cool are the illuminated aluminum sill plates.
The decked-out cabin is easy on the eyes with standard heated leather front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, carpeted floor mats and a power moon roof. The cabin boasts abundant legroom in the front and rear.
The S90’s lux interior also has soft programmable ambient lighting. Supple Nappa leather is standard on the S90 Inscription along with power cushion extenders and power side support for the 10-way power front seats.
Dopeness is the entire center stack with innovative wood inlaid doors that meet at the center armrest; and the 9 inch center tablet houses controls for climate, infotainment, navigation and driver assist and comfort settings.
Not only is the driver positioned with ultimate control and comfort, he can easily adjust the comfort of all his passengers via the touchscreen.
The leather and wood adorned dash of the Volvo S90 is recessed back for more driver legroom and tricked-out with a 12.3 inch multi info display. The S90 has an available Heads-up-Display (HUD) with the Climate Package (1,950) that’s the best I’ve seen at a whip this price. Along with the speed limit, the HUD shows audio, turn-by-turn navigation, lane departure alert, forward collision warnings and even road warning for no-passing zones. When driving through a school zone the speed limit will flash in the HUD to warn speed is exceeding. And an icon for a speed camera pops up at moments before the whip passes so it’s easy to slow down.
While using a tablet for most of the climate, audio, driver and comfort settings can be cumbersome, designers worked painstakingly on each on each detail so the Sensus interface is intuitive and allows for swipe and pinch gestures. The home screen can be customized to show the most pertinent and/or most recent functions changed in three or four sections. Sensus Navigation can be adjusted to cover more than ¾ of the screen or the entire display.
It’s dope how it shows the terrain down to the last detail with typical icons for gas, restaurants, city names and advanced traffic patterns, plus colorful illustrations for lakes, rivers, forest, grasslands, railroads, construction zones and even ‘do not
enter’ signs. Turn-by-turn directions show simultaneously in the HUD and center screen.
While it’s incredibly advanced, S90’s 9 inch tablet comes with some drawbacks. Four-zone climate control is difficult to adjust quickly. Drivers will have to navigate through two screens to get the fan speed adjustment and climate mode. It can become a distraction trying to hit the perfect spot on the touchscreen. There should be some buttons for climate, at least an ‘off’ button.
Daryl didn’t like having to use the touchscreen to adjust the seats. And though the display has a “Home” button, it doesn’t always default back to the home screen. Once drivers adjust seats or climate, they’ll have to toggle to get back to the home screen, all while paying the most attention to driving. This is a huge issue when getting back in and turning on the climate because it may default to auto-fan speed, the highest speed and highest temperature. Daryl had to pull over to turn the heat down.
On the other hand, the tablet gives a fleet driver or chauffeur ultimate connectivity so the comfort of all passengers can easily be adjusted by one person.
Storage in the 2018 Volvo S90 Inscription is a disappointment with a small center console box and short door cubby holes. Truck space is also small.
Sensus technology includes access to in-car entertainment applications like Spotify and Pandora. A 330-watt high-performance 10 speaker sound system is standard on the S90 Inscription. A premium Bowers and Wilkins sound system is available for $2,650. The Climate Package includes heated windshield nozzles, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
High-Class Performance Sometimes Languid
The 2017/18 Volvo S90 is powered by Volvo’s Drive-E powertrains that include the new hybrid T8 Twin engine. The S90 we reviewed boasts a 2.0 liter V6 super and turbo charged with 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is matched to an 8 speed geartronic automatic transmission with a finicky Start/Stop.
The trans is awesome with the whip accelerating smoothly. Whether at high or low speeds, driving the S90 feels like I’m floating on silk. All-wheel drive with instant traction helped the S90 float down steep narrow roads, cruise on the lake front edge at Williams Bay Beach, and park easily on a 25-degree angle in a tight spot at Baker House.
The S90 boasts a combined EPA of 25 mpg (22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway.) Start / Stop is a big factor powering down the S90 at idles times. Though Start/Stop is better in the 2018 S90 than previous Volvo sedans, it’s still jarring.
The S90 powers down too fast while making a left turn or cruising in stop and go traffic. It caused a huge problem at the automated car wash and had to be disabled. But it defaults back on when the car is started. With Start/Stop enabled, the S90 has virtually no roll. It even powers down when parking.
The drive mode selector helps the S90 saves gas in ecomode and adds atheism and muscle in sport mode. In Eco mode an illustration for regenerative braking is displayed, but Start/Stop is jerkier. Sport mode seems to be the only way to shut off Start/Stop with it still rumbling in comfort mode.
While sport mode adds some atheism opening up the throttle, the S90 as a whole is not a sporty vehicle. Braking, corning and turning can sometimes feel bulky.
Suspension, electronic power assist steering and advanced braking give the driver confidence to do some sportier maneuvers in the S90, but the whip only faired okay in bad weather.
Most of the S90 Inscription’s safety features are standard. City Safety is standard on all Volvo models, combining collision avoidance assistance and autonomous braking to support the driver in a number of accident scenarios. Also standard is Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Large Animal Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Alert Control, Run Off Road Mitigation and Protection and the Pilot Assist Autonomous Drive System. The Blind Spot Monitoring System is available with the Vision Package ($1950) that also includes rear cross traffic alert and an auto dimming windshield.
The sales price of the 2018 Volvo S90 ranges from $44k for the base T5 Momentum to $66k for the top-of-the-line T6 Inscription fully-loaded. Since the base T5 can compete well with lux mid-range whips like the Genesis G80 and the Lincoln Continental, it would likely be a better value. But we prefer the T6 Inscription in all its magnificence, knowing full well premium sporty whips like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 perform better.
The 2018 Volvo S90 Inscription’s few shortcomings are the less than optimal storage and the sometimes lackluster Start/Stop primed performance. If those things are improved this sedan would be a top contender.