Car and Driver
Tested: two thousand seventeen Volvo S90 T5 FWD
2017 Volvo S90 T5 FWD
- Feb 2017
- By JOSEPH CAPPARELLA
- Photography By CHRIS AMOS
Volvo knows as well as any car company that being a nonconformist has its ups and downs. Via its long history, despite numerous corporate ownerships, Volvo has persisted in being different. Even now, as Volvo embarks on a plan to pursue global luxury leaders such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, it’s paving its own distinctly Swedish path.
Different isn’t always better. Volvo’s fresh four-cylinder-only engine strategy, for example, has drawn mixed reviews from us, at least among the top-of-the-line T6 Inscription versions of the S90 sedan and the XC90 SUV that we’ve sampled thus far. Both of these $56,000-plus models use a Two.0-liter four-cylinder that, albeit turbocharged and supercharged to provide competitive spectacle, fights to match the refinement and effortlessness of the competition’s six- and eight-cylinder powerplants.
But the same Two.0-liter four-cylinder is more palatable when installed in lesser Volvos such as the front-wheel-drive S90 T5 tested here. In this lower price range, boosted Two.0-liter four-cylinders are the norm, as seen in competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz E300, the Audi A6 Two.0T, and the BMW 530i. Shorn of its supercharger, the turbocharged four produces two hundred fifty horsepower and two hundred fifty eight lb-ft of torque in T5 form, sixty six hp and thirty seven lb-ft less than the T6 produces but in the same neighborhood as the Germans’ four-bangers.
Given that this Volvo weighed three thousand seven hundred eighty one pounds—nearly three hundred pounds less than both the S90 T6 AWD model and an all-wheel-drive Mercedes E300 4MATIC—we expected slightly better acceleration numbers than the T5’s 6.3-second sprint to sixty mph and 14.8-second quarter-mile run at ninety seven mph. That zero-to-60-mph dash lags behind the stronger, all-wheel-drive Audi A6 Two.0T by 0.Two 2nd and trails the Cadillac CTS Two.0T AWD by 0.Five 2nd.
And, if Volvo is so committed to these forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the company could learn from Mercedes-Benz’s isolation mechanisms. While the E300’s four-cylinder is slick to the point of being almost imperceptible, the S90’s engine produces unwanted noise, stimulation, and harshness into the cabin when shoved. Albeit the S90 is still a quiet car, it’s not as hushed as the Mercedes, recording sixty nine decibels of noise at a stable seventy mph compared with the E300’s sixty seven decibels.
On the bright side, the Volvo’s eight-speed automatic shifts slickly and quickly. Its smartly spaced gearing makes the most of the engine’s powerband, with a strong erect of torque coming on low in the rev range and the transmission sorting out requests for more power with prompt downshifts. Fuel economy is a strong suit, too, as the S90 T5 achieved twenty six mpg overall and thirty three mpg in our 200-mile 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, to the T6 model’s 22-mpg and 31-mpg results.
If the S90’s engine provides more grunt than its acceleration spectacle suggests, however, the Volvo’s chassis inverts that paradigm. Objectively, its 0.91-g spectacle on the skidpad ranks near the top of the class, a surprise given the T5’s decidedly nonaggressive setup of all-season rubber packaged around 18-inch wheels. Its roadholding capability even narrowly strike the S90 T6, which achieved 0.90 g on much more performance-oriented Pirelli P Zero summer tires and 20-inch wheels. The S90 T5’s 168-foot stop from seventy mph also tops the A6 Two.0T and the CTS Two.0T, albeit it falls brief of the S90 T6’s 161-foot stop and the E300’s epic 154-foot result (the Benz’s spectacle tires deserve most of the credit there).
As was the case with the T6 model, it’s the intangibles that let down the S90’s chassis. The smaller wheels don’t clomp over bumps like the 20-inch setup did, but the T5’s wheel-and-tire setup only serves to minimize the impression of a less-than-stout chassis, rather than eliminate it. Larger impacts are not as harsh but still send reverberations through the structure, while wheel control is improved—but not as buttoned-down as we expect in a luxury sedan of this caliber. Strenuous steering that gets even stronger in the Volvo’s Dynamic mode feels imprecise and does not engender confidence on a back road.
Beyond those disappointing dynamic attributes, Volvo’s distinctive design sense makes the S90 a visual knockout—even without the glitz of the higher-trim Inscription model’s chrome accents and larger wheels. The less flashy T5 model remains elegant, understated, and attractive. Its clean, uncluttered lines and balanced proportions make for a sedan that’s stylish without being overwrought. The slightly plain rear end is the only note that falls a bit vapid, as its C-shaped taillights make us think of a competitor for Volkswagen more than Mercedes-Benz.
Step inwards, and the more modest S90 Momentum is decidedly less fascinating than the Inscription. You won’t find the same impeccable details such as intricate speaker grilles, open-pore wood trim, and buttery-smooth nappa leather upholstery, but the base car’s materials remain high quality and pleasant to the touch, and the cabin retains a warm, inviting feel. The seats, in the Volvo tradition, are supportive and comfy, even if the standard six-way power front seats don’t provide the same level of adjustability as the optional 10-way setup. Somewhat egregiously (at least for us Michiganders), heated front seats aren’t standard in the S90, and our test car was not so tooled. Admittedly, neither the E-class nor the 5-series offers heated front seats as standard, and those Germans embark above $52,000 while the base Volvo costs less than $48,000.
Several other features were similarly notable in their absence, albeit perhaps that’s no surprise given that our T5 Momentum’s as-tested price was almost $15,000 less than the T6 Inscription’s. The only extras on our sparsely tooled $50,815 test car included metallic paint ($595), a wood-trimmed steering wheel ($325), and the Vision package ($1950) that added a 360-degree camera view, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and power-retractable side mirrors. If optioning our own S90, we’d spring for the $1000 Momentum Plus package that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, swiveling headlamps, and four-zone automatic climate control, along with a larger 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. The standard 8.0-inch cluster is distinctly less functional and attractive: It doesn’t include a tachometer in its default configuration, for example, and requires fussing with the car’s various drive-mode settings to elicit one.
Almost Drives Itself
It’s telling of Volvo’s priorities that the sophisticated Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system is standard on every S90. By combining features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, this car can assume responsibility for steering and braking to essentially “follow” traffic and lane markings on the highway at speeds up to eighty mph. The Volvo will permit you to take your arms off the wheel for only fifteen seconds at a time, compared with the Mercedes-Benz E-class that grants you a entire sixty seconds of “look ma, no palms!” time. But you’ll pay more than $Ten,000 extra for the E300’s Drive Pilot system, which is only available packaged with myriad other add-ons.
Volvo’s thrust for self-driving technology is an admirable mission, and it jibes with the company’s long-standing emphasis on safety. But the computers haven’t taken over yet, and we still like to drive. If the S90 truly seeks to take the established (read: German) luxury leaders to task, it needs to raise its dynamic competence to match its distinctive and appealing design.
Highs and Lows
Knee-weakening style, pleasant cabin, efficient and responsive powertrain.
Loose-feeling chassis, sophisticated display screens, engine lacks refinement.