2017 Volvo S90 D4 Inscription review

The Volvo S90 is a much better car than its S80 predecessor that it shouldn't be considered as a replacement for it

In product terms, the second-generation XC90 was quite a significant model for Volvo as it was the first all-new vehicle to be developed under Chinese stewardship and first to use a modular architecture consisting of a common platform, engine and transmission.

As a result, the SUV flagship turned out to be reasonably desirable in showrooms, with additional thanks going to a distinctive design, modern interior, respectable road manners and the choice of either diesel or petrol-electric plug-in hybrid. And, of course, that was only the start for an onslaught of new Volvos coming on stream.

The second benefactor of those technical credentials is the brand-new S90 saloon, conceived as a replacement for the S80 and having just gone on sale in Thailand late last year. Like in the XC90, the thing that strikes the eye instantly is the exterior appearance, which incorporates the so-called Thor's hammer head lights, garish tail lamps and gently sloping waistline. It may not be the penultimate in car design, but it certainly helps the S90 stand out against competitors like the BMW 5-series, Lexus GS and Mercedes-Benz E-class. In simpler terms, the S90 looks quite bold for a Scandinavian.

Although the S90 sits on dimensions deemed competitive in-class, it feels bigger than what the figures on paper might suggest. Which might be a good thing in this part of the world since buyers tend to prioritise a grand body over sensible proportions -- something Volvo rightly proclaims in its presentation of the S90.

Because of that, the S90 scores with a spacious and well-thought out cabin. Rear space, for one, is more than enough. But although the seats are shapelier than those in the S80, they aren't as cushy to sit in and have tight side contours. Practicality-wise, the backrests can fold down to free up space for an already cavernous boot.

It's up front in the S90's cabin that beckons more. The front seats are comfier to sit and have wide scope of adjustments. Bar cabin height, owners of the latest XC90 should find themselves very familiar when taking command of the S90 ranging from the tablet-style monitor, steering wheel and centre console with some conventional buttons.

While some testers needed some time to get acquainted with the scroll and swipe infotainment screen, it's quite a marvel to use at the end of the day. Other than that, the interior is feature-laden (like the lavish 19-speaker audio from Bowers & Wilkins), well-finished and comes with materials that are nice on both the eyes and fingers.

It better be, because class standards have become very demanding lately. In terms of modernity, the S90's interior seemingly joins the E-class (in high spec form) in setting a benchmark (in slightly different ways) for others to follow in the future. Perceived quality is much higher than in the S80 and practically on par with its latest rivals.

Chassis is set up for comfort. 

As in other new Volvos, the S90 comes with a raft of safety features, be it active or passive ones. The number of driver-assist technologies, in particular, is unrivalled in this class. OK, the S90 isn't the cheapest car in its class at 3.99 million baht in Inscription trim but, at least, it's lavishly equipped.

Like the S80, the S90 remains a front-wheel-drive car to make it a theoretical rival for the Audi A6 and Lexus ES, two executive saloons that haven't really been making any noises in the Thai luxury car market. The S90, then, goes into contention with those three aforementioned rear-drive competitors (and the super-rare XF, to be nice to Jaguar).

In the real world, the fact of which axle is actually driven shouldn't really bother potential buyers of the S90. Grip is sufficient at all times, although the suspension feels a little too soft on demanding roads. As well, the secondary ride can sometimes be harsh due to the 19-inch wheels.

The steering has been tailored with intuition and predictability in mind, which is not uncommon for a Volvo. The S90 probably won't slice into corners as nimbly as a 5-series or XF, but the handling isn't that aloof to be discounted as a credible player in this executive saloon class.

Actually, the S90 is making no bones about its bias on comfort which could be the right approach given what customers are really asking for these days. Even the E-class is about pampering and not entertainment.

The engine Volvo Cars Thailand has chosen initially for the S90 is the 190hp 2.0-litre diesel-turbo mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This D4 model goes head-to-head with the 190hp 520d and 194hp E220d, both with similarly sized oil-burning motors.

The twin-turbo unit of the D4 does its strut in the typical fashion of modern-day diesels by being punchy at all times, as well as refined and frugal on fuel. Even though the E220d might lead the class with 22kpl-plus ratings, the D4 isn't that far behind with just a few notches down and is still decent for a car of this size.

Like the latest XC90, the S90 is another Volvo worth considering over its intended competition. Unlike the S80, the S90 feels more dynamically competent, better to look at and nicer to be in.

But it's the state of the competition that may be giving the S90 a little hard time in the Thai market as it's still a completely built-up import from Sweden. The Thai-finished E220d can be had for 600,000 baht less in basic form and the all-new 5-series is just a week away from a soft launch.

Good the S90 may be, it's what's happening around it that might distract attention of potential clients. It's only when the S90's prices drop in the future in Asean-built form and with the lower Momentum spec that should make it genuinely attractive.

Tablet-style screen and some conventional buttons complement tidy driving environment. 

There are lots of practical touches; rear seats not as cushy as in S80 predecessor. 

Punchy diesel-turbo is competitive in-class. 

D4 is set to become cheaper in the future. 

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