The New Volvo S90 First Drive: Comfortable, Elegant, Safe, and Loaded with Tech

Remember the boxy Volvo 240 series sedans and station wagons that were so popular in the 70s and 80s? They were safe, iconic … and did I mention boxy? Well, the Volvo of today is still safe; whether the S90 will be iconic remains to be seen, but “boxy” is no longer a word to associate with the auto brand.

The new Volvo S90 is a sleek, powerful, luxurious, and ferociously sporty looking 4-door sedan that grabs attention from those on the outside observing it drive by, while offering comfort, elegance, a quiet ride, and Volvo-grade safety to those inside.

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Note the iconic “Thor’s Hammer” design in the headlamps.

Last week, Volvo flew me and a small group of auto journalists to Málaga, Spain. Once we had arrived, we were treated to gorgeous views, excellent Spanish cuisine, a lot of information about the S90 sedan and a sneak peek at next year’s V90 station wagon.

So a bit about the S90 before we discuss my drive.

Volvo has incorporated many of the safety features in the S90 that were first seen in the XC90, but there are several new improvements including a better Pilot’s Assist, their semi-autonomous drive feature, which now works at speeds up to 80 mph and no longer needs to follow another vehicle to work. The S90 also introduces City Safety, the world’s first large animal detection system, which is capable of night or day detection of large animals such as horses, moose, and elk. This technology uses an intuitive driver’s warning system with brake support to help avoid collisions.

Interior Large Animal Detection 1

Interior Large Animal Detection; photo courtesy of Volvo

All of the S90s that were present for us to drive had the Inscription Package with pretty much every option that could be added on. I’ll talk more in-depth about the packages and trim levels later on, but for now — just know that if it was available, we got to experience it.

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The S90s we drove were the new Mussel Blue color.

So, let’s talk about the exterior of the S90. The new S90 measures 195.4″ long by 79.5″ wide (including mirrors) and is 56.8″ tall (including the shark fin antenna). The wheelbase is 115.8″ wide, and it has ground clearance of 6″. That ground clearance measurement would prove key during our test drive, as we found a road that led to what looked like an abandoned castle tower on a hill. I wanted to drive up and look at the castle more closely, but my driving partner wisely pointed out that we weren’t in an SUV, and the huge hole running across the road would likely kill the car. So the S90 is for on-road driving only, people … obviously! 😉

The scalloped front grille was inspired by the iconic Volvo P1800. Relaxed confidence is evident in the strong, graphic Thor’s Hammer headlight, and the sweeping line from the front to the tail to the rear of the car that evokes a nautical reference.

Inside, the S90 is a wonder. The seats have every kind of support and adjustment imaginable — even a massage setting (it was amazing)! Those perforated leather seats are both heated and ventilated. What you can’t see is that these seats have a new safety feature — there’s a crush bracket in the lower seat to absorb vertical forces in the event that the car is in an accident and leaves the road. So in an accident, rather than those vertical forces being absorbed by your spine, they would be absorbed by the bottom part of your seat.

I’m 5’11”, and I felt like I had plenty of room for my legs and head in the passenger’s seat. The ride on the car was so smooth that even when we were attacking twisty roads, I never felt carsick or queasy.

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The interior of the S90 is very clean and spacious; the door panels reinforce that, as they aren’t cluttered with buttons or overly complicated.

The infotainment module in the center dashboard was designed to put everything the driver (or passenger) might need to control within easy reach.

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Adding the air conditioning controls and most of the other usual console buttons to the infotainment module gives the dashboard an unusually elegant and clean design.

Interior Centrestack Right Volvo S90/V90

Interior Centrestack Right Volvo S90/V90; photo courtesy of Volvo

Here you can better see what I mean: the picture on the left is an outline of the traditional dashboard with AC vents, radio dials, and other controls. In other words, it’s a giant piece of plastic that the automaker pokes the appropriate holes into to get the functionality from it that they need. It’s then usually dressed up with a piece of flat material that they pop on top.

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The dash on the right is the Volvo S90s; the air vents have been brought in together to reduce visual noise in a much more Swedish statement. There is a metal band that runs under the dash that creates a 3D visual of the dash being held up with simple and clean elements on the sides.

Interior cockpit Volvo S90/V90

Interior cockpit Volvo S90/V90; photo courtesy of Volvo

Functions in the infotainment center are accessed by swiping left, right, or down; once you have accessed a particular function you can control its features and options from within the screen. Navigation, climate control, music, the owner’s manual, and even what’s going on with your seat adjustments are shown or accessed easily. The home screen has four touch tiles starting with Navigation, then Media, Phone, then a fourth tile that is specifically reserved for applications.

I’m a big fan of the clean design of the S90’s air vents; this was a style that started with the Volvo concept coupe, the idea being that even the vents in the car should be something that when you touched them, they’d scream quality. Unlike the cheap plastic air vents we’re used to seeing, these have metal accents; the knob for directing the airflow has a diamond cut pattern to make it easier to grip, its inspiration was Swedish glass and crystal.

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Our S90 had the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system; even the way the speakers are placed in the door becomes an arty, stylish presentation. The B&W system sounds superb; there are 19 speakers placed around the car, and listening to it was the next best thing to being in a concert hall. We were rocking out for most of our drive to a funk channel on Spotify.

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The panel in front of the driver, in between the speedometer and the tachometer shows a variety of information that Volvo has basically supplied by answering the question ‘what information is necessary while driving (NOW) versus what information is nice to have (WHENEVER)?’

So you have the NOW features in the digital gauge cluster and on the heads-up display. All the necessary NOW information for driving the vehicle — speed, navigation, that type of information — is available at all times in the direct view of the driver.

Interior cockpit Volvo S90/V90 blond

Interior cockpit Volvo S90/V90 blond; photo courtesy of Volvo

The WHENEVER information is available in the dashboard’s center touchscreen; it includes media, apps, and other car functions. The idea is that when looking at the NOW section, the driver has all the information that they might need, and in the WHENEVER section they can access the other technology of the car.

Rather than capacitive touch, like you would see in a regular consumer touchscreen, the center touchscreen uses infrared technology so that it will work with your finger, gloves, or even a knuckle.

It looks like I’m stooping but that’s so I could see the photographer; the back seat is also comfortable with plenty of headroom and leg room. You can see how the wood paneling is continued from the dash along the doors — it makes for a visually appealing interior line.

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Driving the S90 was a pleasure; there are multiple driving modes including a user-programmable one to give anything from a sporty to a cushy driving experience. The S90 has plenty of pep and GO as Jeff and I found out when we had to zoom onto the Spanish freeway access road in front of our hotel at 90 kph in order to not get creamed.

My driving partner for most of the day was Jeff Zurschmeide.

My driving partner for most of the day was Jeff Zurschmeide.

The S90 comes with one of two drivetrains, the T5 or the T6, The T6 is AWD with 316 hp, and the T5 is FWD with 250 hp. The S90 is available in a variety of solid and metallic colors, and there are two trim levels: Momentum and Inscription.

The S90 Momentum includes: Pilot Assist(the semi-autonomous drive System), Collision Avoidance by City Safety, a high gloss black grill with chrome frame, 18” 5-double spoke alloy wheels (on the T5 model) or 18” 10-spoke turbine wheels (on the T6 model), LED Headlights with Thor’s Hammer, a power sunroof with sunshade, leather upholstery with comfort seats, dual visible tailpipes with chrome sleeves (on the T5 model) or dual integrated tailpipes (on the T6), a 9” Sensus touchscreen, Sensus navigation, and keyless entry & drive.

The S90 Inscription improves upon the Momentum level with: Full LEDs with bending lights, matte silver waterfall grille with chrome frame, a high gloss Inscription chrome lower door strip, high-level illumination, linear walnut inlays on the dashboard, perforated soft ventilated Nappa leather, a leather instrument panel and upper door panel, power side support and cushion extension, sun curtain for the rear doors, a 4-zone electric climate control and cooled glovebox, laminated side windows, and 19” 10-spoke alloy wheels.

There are four trim packages that can be added: the Climate Package, which adds heated front seats to the T5 (it’s standard on the T6), heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, heated windshield, and heated wiper blades. The Momentum Plus Package adds full LED headlights with bending lights, headlights with high-pressure cleaning, a 4-zone climate control & cooled glovebox, a 12.3” Instrument Cluster (T5 only, as it’s standard on the T6), and Carplay with a USB Hub. The Vision Package adds automatically dimmed exterior mirrors, retractable rearview mirrors, BLIS/Intellisafe surround and cross traffic alert, and a 360º Camera. The Convenience Package adds HomeLink, a compass in the inner mirror, a 12V power outlet in the cargo area, park assist pilot and park assist front, and a power operated trunk lid. Single upgrade options include the ability to add metallic paint, heated front seats, iron ore inlays, a leather steering wheel with a wood inlay, rear air suspension and the 4C chassis, a Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system with CD player, a heads-up display, charcoal headliner, and various wheel options.

The T6 S90 models are going to be available in July, and the T5 models will follow in September. Pricing for the S90 T5 FWD Momentum will start at $46,950 and the T5 Inscription will start at 50,450. The S90 T6 AWD Momentum will start at $52,950, and the T6 Inscription will start at $56,250. None of those prices include the $995 destination charge.

A Sneak Peak at the Volvo V90 Station Wagon

I don’t have a lot of information about the V90 yet; I can’t tell you when it will be available in the US (sometime next year is the best I’ve got), and I don’t know how much it will cost, but! I can tell you that if you have ever considered buying a station wagon but weren’t sure you wanted to look like a soccer mom or dad driving one, or if you’ve always thought that driving a station wagon would feel like driving a bus — put those thoughts out of your head right now.

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The V90 is gorgeous — even in this brown color that I wouldn’t usually appreciate. The V90 has essentially the same interior as the S90, it handles very much like the S90, and it looks beautiful in person!

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If you want a luxury sedan that is at home in any situation you can throw at it, but you need the space that a station wagon can provide for all of your or your kids’ gear, then you will definitely want to take a look at the V90 once it’s available.


Disclosure: Volvo paid for my travel, room, and meals; there were no conditions or expectations made regarding what I chose to write about regarding my experience.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.