Automotive marketers are quite inventive in developing segment descriptions. “Luxury” used to be adequate to describe brands within the top segment including Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lexus, among others. Over time, “near-luxury” and “premium” were added to include more down-to-earth models and brands that didn’t quite reach the top tier. Solid and safe Volvos lived in this last niche.
Volvo Cars began life in 1927 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and over the years established an enviable reputation for safety, from the sturdiness of its products to innovations like three-point seat belts. Although a few Volvo models were stylish, such as the P1800, the lineup exuded substance over fashion.
Volvo’s wagons, followed by its SUVs, have become the bread and butter of the brand, with sedans only a small part of the lineup. The full-size S90 sedan was developed after China’s Geely Holding Group acquired Volvo Cars in 2010. Geely wanted a premium European brand to co-create a flagship offering in its home market as well as worldwide.
The typical path that volume automakers have taken to establish luxury status has been to create a new franchise and a flagship model derivative of Mercedes’ S-Class. Since Volvo has a well-established premium brand, it was relatively easy to develop a new, aspirational model. And, the company didn’t have to copy luxury leaders since Scandinavian design is its trademark and heritage. The result is stunning. From the lights that reveal “Thor’s Hammer” in both front and rear view to the clean sculpturing and airy interior, it’s a statement that’s uniquely Volvo.
I’m always surprised when I’m in a big vehicle that’s reasonably propelled by a small displacement motor. Volvo’s S90 incorporates both a turbo and a supercharger to produce 316 horsepower from the same 2.0 liters. And it does this without the harshness that often accompanies that high a degree of tuning.
On the road, the S90 is stable and capable with crisp handling, and the all-wheel drive model will assure that feeling in every weather condition, since it’s fair to assume the Swedes know all about interesting weather. And, Volvo’s suite of entertainment and safety electronics, while requiring a learning curve to operate seamlessly, are nicely done.
The S90 is available in three models: Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription, differentiated more by taste than trim level. The spending choice is really determined by a T6 or T8 choice. The T8 elevation adds plug-in hybrid virtues of up to 400 combined horsepower with even better fuel economy. Those benefits may well be worth the extra $10,000 MSRP.
2020 Volvo S90 Inscription T6
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0-liter Turbo & Supercharged I-4
Horsepower: 316 @ 5,700-RPM
Torque: 256 lb.ft. @ 2,200-RPM
Base Price: $54,350
As Tested: $71,480
Fuel Consumption: 21 city, 31 highway, 25 combined