Sweden. It’s the country that brought America ABBA and furniture you put together yourself using only a screwdriver. But did you know that we can also thank Sweden for the game Minecraft, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and Tetra Pak packaging? Or how about a 2018 midsize luxury sedan that makes 400 horsepower, gets 71 mpge hybrid fuel efficiency, and has the most rear legroom in its class?
Of course, some of these creations are more innovative or world-changing than others, but nonetheless we think you’ll be impressed with the 2018 Volvo S90 sedan.
By Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
You might also be thinking: What’s a S90? Conveniently, we can tell you. Introduced as an all-new model for the 2017 model year, the S90 is partially a revival of an old, and not particularly storied, nameplate. More recently, Volvo introduced the S90 as a successor to the longer-lived Volvo S80, a sensible but largely unremarkable sedan that soldiered on for 18 years over two generations before quietly going away after 2016.
Meet the New Volvo
To our eyes, the S90 is handsomely styled. We like the coupelike roofline, the broad shoulder look that runs the length of the car, and the BMW-esque kickup of the styling line at the rear roof pillars. Volvo’s latest LED integrated running light design (the company’s self-described “Thor’s hammer”) and a standard-issue Volvo corporate grille help tie the S90’s visuals to the brand’s other current models.
Inside, however, is where Volvo has most effectively upped its game. The look is relaxed and modern, with most of the car’s controls routed through the central touchscreen display. The S90’s open-grain wood trim looks and feels just like real wood, which is a refreshing change from the overly lacquered or shiny wood trim look. We also like the knurled drive mode and ignition knobs on the center console and, on the higher Inscription trim level, the crystal-trimmed gear-shift knob, and classy metallic speaker grilles for the optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system. It’s a great-looking and high-quality cabin.
For 2018, there’s also more room for rear passengers. All 2018 S90s are now a long-wheelbase version, which was previously unavailable, and Volvo utilizes the setup to boost rear legroom by 4.5 inches, for a total of 40.4 inches. That’s a few inches more than what you’ll find in similarly priced sedans such as the Genesis G90 or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Of course, numbers aren’t everything, but we did verify in our brief time sitting in the back of the S90 that the seating is suitably palatial. Go ahead, kick back and listen to ABBA’s Greatest Hits or build a castle in Minecraft while you wolf down some meatballs you sneaked out from your local Ikea store. We guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.
Hybrid Fuel Economy, V8-Like Power
To get this big sedan moving, Volvo offers one of three powertrain choices for 2018. There’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the S90 T5 (250 horsepower), a turbocharged and supercharged version of the same engine in the S90 T6 (316 hp), and then that same T6 engine again in the T8 but with the addition of a hybrid electric motor system for a total of 400 hp. All have an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard on everything except the T5.
Although the T6 is the mainstream pick, the T8 is the most intriguing. Powerful four-cylinder engines are becoming more common in luxury sedans, but a lot of people still want or expect V8-like power. The T8 is Volvo’s answer, and the company claims it takes just 4.7 seconds to reach 60 mph in the S90 T8. It’s also the most fuel-efficient powertrain in the lineup, with EPA-estimated 71 mpge with a fully charged battery pack. (Mpge, or miles per gallon equivalent, is a type of efficiency estimate that factors in both pure electric and regular gasoline-powered driving.) The EPA also estimates you can drive about 21 miles using battery power alone, though in real-world driving the S90 utilizes a mix of gas and electric for its default driving mode.
This is a plug-in hybrid system, so you can recharge a S90 T8 using a 240-volt power source in about three hours. Once the battery pack is drained, the S90 can still get 29 mpg in combined city-highway driving. Volvo packages the car’s lithium-ion battery pack in the center of the car’s body structure, so trunk space, an admittedly modest 13.5 cubic feet, is unchanged from the T5 to the T8.
We’ve only had a brief amount of time behind the wheel of a S90 T8 but found it largely delivers the expected power and fuel economy. Mat the gas pedal from a stop and the S90 T8 accelerates with authority. Driven more sedately, the T8 makes the most of its electric motor propulsion as you dawdle around town or coast to a stop. Various drive modes also allow you to adjust the powertrain’s focus from performance to efficiency. The only downside to picking the T8 is a slight lack of cohesiveness from all of the T8’s powertrain wizardry. You’ll notice the four-cylinder engine more since it’s often cycling on and off, and gear shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission are a little more noticeable than they are in other top luxury sedans. Brake pedal effort, too, is a little odd as the system has to blend both regenerative and conventional braking power.
Priced for Your Budget
We enjoyed driving Volvo’s big new sedan. It rides comfortably over broken pavement but is still precise and secure when driving around turns at a moderate pace. It’s also tempting from a monetary perspective. The S90 T8 Inscription trim level, which is the nicest S90 you can get, checks in with a MSRP of $68,150, and that’s before a potential federal government plug-in hybrid tax credit of $5,000. Or go for the value play with a $54,100 T6 Momentum. For comparable features and power in a German midsize luxury sedan, you’d definitely be paying more.
That’s not to say the 2018 Volvo S90 is better or worse than, say, a BMW 5 Series or a Lexus GS 350. Every car in this class has its own particular appeal. The S90’s lies in its distinct approach to luxury. It’s cool, not sedate. Capable, not showy. And in T8 trim, it’s also impressively powerful and fuel-efficient. It’s what we would hope a midsize luxury sedan from Sweden would be in 2018.
Connect with Everyman Driver: