SINGAPORE – Volvo previous flagship limo, the S80, was as anonymous as a bow of oatmeal – if anything, its image was enlivened by a storming T6 variant that produced about 270bhp from a turbocharged straight-six (hence the ‘6’ in T6).
Like a lot other brands though, such as AMG for instance, the nomenclature persists, even if none of the succeeding S90 models today has anything more than a four-cylinder.
The S80 was a pleasant enough car that worked everywhere: it didn’t feel out of place at the country club nor in an industrial district. No one would ever key a Volvo on purpose, because many wouldn’t give it a second glance to begin with.
Sure, there are other brands that come across as being more ‘beige’ than Volvo, but few of them operate in the price and positioning segment that Volvo is attempting to crack. In such a premium marketplace, ‘anonymous’ just isn’t going to cut it.
Volvo is better known for its station wagons, especially the fire-breathing 850 R wagons – and we’re still grappling with the focus-shift to its executive sedan. We can still see hints of ths S80 about its rear haunches – arguably its oddest perspective – but the S90’s design is a change from traditional executive sedans. Its rear-end draws heavily from the broad stanced Concept Coupe, but it looks less agreeable when applied to the S90’s sensible form.
With the S90’s new model name, it’s a big hint from Volvo to expect a step up over the old model. This is especially apparent in the chic new interior, where the Nordic design language of cool, light and airy has a nine-inch touch display as modern centrepiece.
It looks and works like an iPad, which Gen Z will have no trouble picking up. The switches feature a slightly fussy knurled pattern that won’t look out of place on expensive furniture and when specced in lighter upholstery, the overall look reminds me of an Apple Store.
With the S90’s prominent front grille that is shared with the other ‘90’ variants, Volvo clearly hopes to move away from anything that could be deemed bland or anonymous, by making sure you know that the car barrelling towards you is recognisable as a Volvo in your rearview mirror. Its main feature, the now family trait, ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime LEDs is a powerful contrast to the ordinary face of the S80.
The T5 we sampled sees the shared 2.0-litre tuned to 250bhp. It’s punchy in the right places and it feels like it has the least turbo-lag of the lot. However, it could do with more insulation to improve cabin refinement.
With the S90, Volvo is making a big effort to get out of its safe zone, and it’s a refreshing change to find an executive sedan that doesn’t attempt to masquerading as a performance machine (or sports sedan), so the S90 doesn’t bother with flappy paddles. The display shows your speedometer and the rev meter will only pop-up in ‘Dynamic’, which reinforces the fact that the driving experience panders largely to daily commutes.
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Volvo S90 T5
Engine: 1969cc, inline4, turbo
Transmission: 8spd Geartronic auto
Top speed: 230km/h
Fuel consumption: 8.6l/100km
This feature first appeared in Top Gear Singapore #62 (May 2017)