• Spike Ballantine

Volvo S90 D5

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Straight off the bat, I’m going to say the Volvo S90 sedan is another product from the Chinese-owned Swedish company that deserves a lot more attention than it gets, and not just because it lives in the shadow of more popular Germans. The reasons most people might have to want to own a BMW 5 Series or a Mercedes-Benz E Class - the grand look, the interior focused on comfort and sprinkled with tech, the driveability and the extra layer of sophistication that comes with a bigger executive sedan - are all answered by the S90.

And in a lot of cases, it’s got more than the rest. Starting with the looks, it is a supremely elegant thing, and at the same time seems to have more than its share of muscle. Not in a creatine-soaked way, but in a ripped, athletic and very pleasing way. It’s surprisingly low, it’s very long and its sheet metal is tight in all the right places. The wide grille is extended by the daytime running lights that frame the front edges of the car; at the rear is dominated by a big but stylish set of LEDs. Usually, these kinds of cars tend to have a safe, relatively unexciting look; the S90 is slightly edgy and definitely anything but unexciting.

The interior is a safer space - in both design and actual safety terms. It’s very much out of the Volvo recipe book with satin chrome finishes, metal inserts, digital instrumentation and a big touchscreen that dominates the centre console.

And then there’s the tech… So much tech. Optional heated and ventilated electric massaging seats, 360º reversing camera with all-round park distance control, keyless operation, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitor… It goes on. It’s all there to help make things as smooth an easy as possible, and generally, it works. Generally…

The only dent in the S90 package is Pilot Assist. The system keeps the car in its lane by reading the road lines; if the car drifts over, it corrects the line by automatically adjusting the steering and and pulls it back. It is a very useful safety feature, but it hasn’t been right since its inception.

The problem is that it’s just too interfere-y. If you leave it to select the “correct” line, it keeps the car to on side of the lane, not the middle, which makes for an uncomfortable distance to passing cars. Its interventions are also not the smoothest, and there are times when you find yourself arguing with it - it’ll load up the steering to keep what it thinks is the correct line, and resist any turn of the wheel in the opposite direction.

It’s not dangerous, it’s not counter-intuitive; but it would be easier to live with if the system was fully autonomous and didn’t need the driver to touch the steering wheel at all. We’re still a few years away from that, though.

One of the highlights of the S90 is the the 2.0 diesel motor, with 173kW and a very healthy 480Nm. The gearbox is an 8-speed auto, drive is to all four wheels, and it’s a marvellously well-balanced setup. Surprising in some ways as well. It has a torque delivery that makes it feel more eager than you might expect; there’s lots of smooth power and just a hint of a diesel soundtrack. Put your foot down and there’s a surge of power and some satisfying acceleration that shows an enjoyable side to this well-mannered Swede’s character.

There’s something else worth discovering as well. The words “diesel sedan” don’t exactly conjure up thoughts of driving fun, and even though the S90 has a dynamic driving mode, it’s easy to think of it as fairly gimmicky. But if you poke this particular bear, and… Well, it’s not going to bite you, but it is more playful than you might expect. The optional R18 000 air suspension and active chassis sets up the car for a sporty drive that delivers a bit of involvement. The steering has good weight and accuracy, and it’s the kind of setup that makes you want to challenge the S90 whenever you can.

And when you do, it delivers a composed ride with just enough feedback to put a smile on your face. Sure, you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities to drive an S90 with any sort of enthusiasm, but the fact that it doesn’t mind a bit of fun just adds to its charm. While I had this car on test, there was Twitter poll doing the rounds about what car was better: 5 Series, E Class, A6 or S90. Resoundingly, and I guess unsurprisingly, the favourite was the 5 Series. The 5 Series is, of course, very good; but a BMW 520d is the same price as the Volvo S90 D5. For the money, the Volvo delivers more power and more torque, and has adaptive cruise control as standard. It also has a more stylish interior and delivers a very good drive, even when pressing on. I know social media isn’t the authority on anything, but I have to say that Twitter - this time you’re wrong.

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