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2018 Volvo S90 Review

2018 Volvo S90 Review
With its graceful styling and gentle demeanor, the 2018 Volvo S90 is one of our favorite luxury sedans—at any price.

The 2018 Volvo S90 is a mid-size luxury sedan with just a little bit more for the new model year. Well, actually, quite a bit more. After its debut as a new model last year, the S90 grows several inches for 2018, with all of that extra girth directly benefiting rear-seat passengers.

It's an unusual move, but one that makes business sense for Volvo. The 2018 S90 squares off against cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series both here and abroad, but the S90's story now begins in China. It's in that market that buyers prefer to be chauffeured; accordingly, many automakers created extended-wheelbase versions that pamper second-row passengers specifically for the massive Asian market.

TL;DR? Last year's S90 came from Sweden and this year's is built in China and it’s four inches longer. But that's not the only news: the S90 finally gets its third powertrain, a new, 400-horsepower plug-in hybrid badged the T8, and all-wheel drive is now optional on the base S90 T5.

With its Scandinavian-chic style, the S90 is striking both for its balance and for its beautiful detailing. Its wide grille recalls Volvos of yore without feeling contrived, while its fastback-esque shape draws viewers in from the side. At the back, thin taillights curve around the edges of the rear fascia. They look almost as though they're itching to meet at the top of the trunk lid, like outstretched arms. Even the base S90 is beautifully wrought outside, but we do find the optional 20-inch alloy wheels to be attractive, even if they firm up the ride a bit too much for our tastes. Vanity or practicality? Your choice.

The high-zoot 2018 Volvo S90 Inscription shares the Momentum model's body but peppers in hints of chrome for a more upscale look.

The 2018 S90 stretches four inches longer than before, with every inch of that going to the space between its front seats and the rear bench. Accordingly, the S90's rear doors are now four inches longer than before, which may make them slightly annoying to open in a crowded parking lot or urban setting.

Open those four doors, and the S90 reveals an interior that's as restrained and subtle as its sheet metal. Volvo posts up in the center stack with its Sensus Touch infotainment system and a portrait-style screen. Most of the knobs and buttons of a normal center stack are folded in as touch controls into Sensus, which acts more like a tablet computer than infotainment systems in rival sedans.

Front seat passengers are treated to a terrific view and some of the most comfortable seats in the business. Materials throughout are top notch with organic contours and a choice of real metal and wood panels delivering a look in line with the S90's price tag. The rear seat is now the place to be, however. It pampers passengers with a massive fold-down armrest adorned with wood trim that matches the rest of the cabin, and the S90 keeps the sun's rays (and the paparazzi) at bay with standard electric rear and side sunshades. Additionally, a large panoramic sunroof is standard on all models for 2018.

Other updates for 2018 include a revised infotainment interface and active lane control that can automatically nudge a drifting S90 back into its own lane if it detects an impending crash with oncoming traffic. Those join an optional suite of features that can help the S90 motor along on its own with limited driver intervention. It's not quite self-driving, but it's a big step in that direction.

There are a trio of underhood choices to make: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the S90 T5, making 250 horsepower; a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the S90 T6, producing 316 hp; and a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 working with an electric drive system in a range-topping, and new-for-2018 S90 T8 Twin Engine. The T8 model is rated at 400 hp and should provide massive thrust, although we've not yet driven one. All three powertrains work through a stellar 8-speed automatic transmission. T5 models have front-wheel drive as standard (and all-wheel drive as an option), while T6 and T8 versions get all-wheel drive.

Predictably, Volvo has upped the S90's price tag by $1,105 to $49,095 for the entry-level 2018 T5, while the more powerful, all-wheel-drive T6 comes in at $55,095. The range-topping T8 plug-in hybrid runs $64,645. All of those figures include a mandatory $995 destination charge.

The EPA rates it at 23 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined with all-wheel drive.

Volvo considerably streamlined the S90's optional equipment for 2018. Most models only have a couple of option packages to choose from, including a fantastic Bowers & Wilkins audio system. At $3,200, it's an extravagance, but its mode tuned to emulate the opera house in Volvo's hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, makes it worth every penny.

Order the right color combination and the 2018 Volvo S90 can be a perfect 10 to our eyes.

The squat, coupe-like proportions of the 2018 Volvo S90 are a delight to behold and its interior is as serene as they come. We’ve rated it a 9 out of 10 and with certain wheel designs and color combinations, it may even be worth an extra point. 

The S90’s long hood provides it with a rear-wheel-drive profile even though its front-wheel-drive platform underneath disagrees. Up front, the vertical fascia is abrupt yet graceful, with a concave grille and swept-back headlights. LED running lights that Volvo says represent Thor’s hammer are distinct, even in an era of permanently on lamps affixed to just about every new car, truck, and SUV.

From the side, the S90’s roof appears lower than it is and it looks divine on the optional 20-inch alloy wheels (that, admittedly, don’t do much for its ride quality). For 2018, the S90’s longer wheelbase stretches the back doors by four inches, but it’s hardly noticeable; this basic design works well regardless of cabin length. At the rear, the S90 is at its most distinct. An upright, boxy trunk lid delivers copious luggage space, but it looks more delicate than its proportions suggest thanks to C-shaped taillights that snake around. Blocky, chrome Volvo lettering finishes things with a retro flair.

Volvo describes the S90’s interior as its Scandinavian sanctuary, terminology that suits its light, airy demeanor. Even darker hues are hardly cave-like. Contrasting tones soften things up and stand in contrast to staid German rivals. Inscription trims are snazzier but far from frumpy, with leather and French stitching scattered about. Gorgeous matte wood trims are on offer, too, and they’re worth selecting.

This year’s larger back seat doesn’t look much different until you’re back there, but a $3,450 Luxury Package available on S90 Inscription trims includes a swanky fold-down armrest lined with the same wood as the interior that delivers something of a business class feel.

A sedate, relaxed feel sets the 2018 Volvo S90 apart from more manic rivals.

The 2018 Volvo S90 scores a 7 out of 10 for its performance thanks to its nimble feel and its cosseting ride quality. We like its engines, too, but the standard is high in this segment and they don’t stand out quite enough. 

No matter which S90 flavor you choose, you’re going to wind up with a 2.0-liter inline-4 and a turbocharger, plus an 8-speed automatic transmission. T5 models end there with 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque shuttled to either the front wheels or all four. Though a little short on refinement, this engine provides more than adequate passing power and it mates well to the automatic transmission.

The all-wheel drive T6 adds a supercharger (in addition to the turbo), which pushes things up to 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. Predictably, passing is easier in the T6, and it feels much more robust with a full load of passengers and their gear.

This year, the S90 T8 plug-in hybrid finally arrives with a 10.8 kwh lithium-ion battery paired to the T6’s engine. Combined output rises to 400 hp and 472 lb-ft and there’s the added benefit of about 20 miles of electric-only range. We’ve not yet driven the S90 T8 but will update this space when we do so.

Both the S90 T6 and T8 are exclusively offered with all-wheel drive.

Regardless of powertrain, S90 models are essentially the same underneath. Its chassis is tuned more for ride comfort than performance, and in that it excels as long as it’s not optioned up with the admittedly sexy 20-inch alloy wheels. Standard models riding on 18- and 19-inchers ride with a wonderful compliance, yet they’re composed and confidence-inspiring when the road turns twisty. The optional air suspension smoothes things out without feeling pillowy. A trio of drive modes—Comfort, Dynamic, and user-configurable Individual—make more difference on air suspension models.

There’s a little more road and wind noise than we’d like to see from a car marketed for its serenity, but the high-zoot, optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system drowns out bad pavement.

The S90’s thick-rimmed steering wheel hints at sportiness, but its demeanor doesn’t quite push it in that direction. It is more nimble than its size would suggest, especially given that this year’s longer wheelbase puts it at a hair over 200 inches from bumper-to-bumper.

One additional perk: properly equipped, the S90 can tow up to 4,600 pounds.

Comfort & Quality
With a larger back seat than last year, the 2018 Volvo S90 is as luxurious as ever.

There’s more to love about the 2018 Volvo S90’s interior, especially if you find yourself in the back seat. Palatial rear-seat room, comfortable front seats, and a high-buck feel add up to an 8 out of 10. 

The S90’s four-inch wheelbase stretch this year went entirely into taking what was already a fairly roomy back seat and transforming it into something that resembles the business class section on a Boeing Dreamliner—only without the turbulence. There’s ample stretch-out room and an optional Luxury Package on the range-topping S90 Inscription adds a roomy fold-down armrest trimmed in leather with large pop-up cupholders.

That’s not to say that front seat passengers are sitting in coach. Firm, supportive, multi-adjustable seats wrapped in one of two grades of leather can be heated, ventilated, and even fitted with massagers—for a price. They’re among the best in the business and the view out is similarly top-notch thanks to narrow roof pillars and a relatively low belt-line.
The S90’s trim is suitably upscale, but a careful selection of optional equipment can transform its interior. Several wood trims, both glossy and matte, elevate the interior experience.

S90 Inscriptions go even further with standard leather-wrapping on their dashboards and door panels, although their Orrefors crystal gear levers may take things too far. It’s not that we dislike the use of crystal (although it’s rather cold in winter and rather toasty in summer), it’s that the gear lever’s operation is less intuitive than the simple, leather-wrapped unit standard on the S90 Momentum.

We don’t have enough data to rate the 2018 Volvo S90 for its safety, but it is exceptionally equipped with collision-avoidance tech.

While we don’t have enough information to rate the 2018 Volvo S90’s safety record, we have little doubt that it’s among the safest new cars available today. 

Volvo’s commitment to vehicle safety is one of its hallmarks; the automaker may have more Ph.D.s gathered together in its massive Gothenburg, Sweden, safety center than are on the Harvard University campus at any given time. To that end, the S90 features extensive use of high-grade steel and aluminum in its construction and it’s littered with airbags.

Active safety features on the S90 include standard low- and high-speed automatic emergency braking that’ll bring it to a halt day or night if it detects impact with a human or an animal, blind-spot monitors, active lane control that can detect cars coming up from behind in addition to painted lane markers, a rearview camera, and road sign data transmitted directly to the cabin.

The standard LED headlights can be upgraded to units that bend with the steering wheel and automatic high-beams on Momentum trims. That tech’s standard on the Inscription trim, but even it isn’t enough to please the IIHS. Although the S90 aced the agency’s crash-testing and its automatic emergency braking is rated “Superior,” the IIHS says that the 2017 S90’s headlights are “Marginal” at best.

We’re still waiting for the IIHS to sample the 2018 to see if things have improved there and we’re hoping the NHTSA will crumple up a few S90s to see how the sedan fares in their testing.

The 2018 Volvo S90 represents a remarkably good value for a large luxury sedan.

The 2018 Volvo S90 is available in two trim levels that range from luxurious to genuinely decadent and its beautiful infotainment system is one of the industry’s best. Accordingly, we’ve rated it at 8 out of 10 points here. 

Sure, some German rivals offer more customizability, but none are as kitted-out from the get-go. The S90 T5 Momentum comes standard with much of what’s optional in pricier rivals like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series: leather upholstery, a panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat, and a 9.0-inch infotainment screen with navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A $1,000 package adds four-way automatic climate control, a 12.3-inch LCD screen that replaces the instrument cluster, and LED headlights that curve with the steering wheel. It’s probably worth the cash, but the $2,550 Convenience Package with its power trunklid, 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control, and rearview mirror compass is a bit spendy. Probably worthwhile are some stand-alone options such as heated seats and a heated steering wheel ($750), a head-up display ($900), and perhaps the rear air suspension ($1,200). Harder to justify but still fantastic is the $3,200 Bowers & Wilkins audio system that replicates the unique sound of the opera house in Gothenburg, Sweden.

All-wheel drive can be added to the S90 T5 for $2,200 more.

Aside from powertrains, the S90 T6 Momentum and S90 T8 Momentum mostly mirror their T5 sibling, although it comes standard with the LCD instrument cluster.

Volvo’s Inscription trim level is optional on the T6 and T8 and it’s rather decadent—as it should be for a $4,500 premium. Ventilated front seats with more power adjustment, nappa leather trim, French stitching on the dash and door panels, 19-inch alloy wheels, and walnut wood inlays are among the trim package’s most notable upgrades.

All in, an S90 T8 Momentum can run $80,000—although T8 models qualify for around $5,000 in federal tax credits thanks to the plug-in hybrid powertrain’s ability to run solely on electricity.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Volvo S90 is one of the least thirsty in its segment thanks to its small 4-cylinder engines.

The 2018 Volvo S90 scores a 7 out of 10 on our scale, but with three engines and two drive options, the story’s a bit more complicated than that. 

The most efficient version is, predictably, the T5 with front-wheel drive: 24 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined. That’s impressive and near the top of its class, even accounting for its premium fuel requirement.

Adding all-wheel drive drops those figures slightly to 23/32/26 mpg.

The S90 T6’s turbo- and supercharged engine is thirstier yet with its standard all-wheel drive: 22/31/25 mpg.

The plug-in T8 is rated at 29 mpg combined, and 71 MPGe when its battery is figured in. It can travel up to 21 miles on electricity alone. 

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