Scandinavian Dark Horse

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Volvo have been on a bit of a roll recently. After turning their conservative design philosophy completely on its head over the past few years, the Scandinavian carmaker has gone from making stuffy boats for geography teachers and introduced sleek and contemporary cars for the modern era.

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Introduced in 2017 and refined for 2018, the Volvo S90 is the flagship saloon offered by Volvo. Built to compete with the prestige of the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series. It plans to take on German rivals by dropping into the market at a more competitive price point, offering more kit as standard, while adding an extra level of soul, style and flair to a traditionally conservative market segment.

This S90, as provided by Volvo Cars Perth is the T6 Inscription Edition, the range-topper for the non-hybrid powered models, and also, possibly the last exclusively internal combustion engined saloon Volvo will ever make. Come the changeover into 2019, the entire Volvo fleet will either adopt hybrid technology or become all-electric vehicles. It is the ultimate representation of what Volvo is capable of, and a perfect way to sign off decades of cutting edge development with petrol engines.

The S90 is the Volvo for all purposes, all conditions and all lifestyles. It’s a car that could look just as good parked outside Casino de Monte Carlo, as it would running the kids to School on a wet Wednesday morning. In part, that is down to the genius of the design.

Volvo has created a look inspired by its heritage and influenced by the future of automotive artistry. The front of the car is a tall flat structure, embodying the signature Volvo ‘turbo-brick’ shape made iconic by 1980s 240GL IKEA wagons. For the S90, a more modern & aggressive style is carried through thanks to its chiselled nose that tapers off housing the marque’s statement ‘Hammer of Thor’ headlights, which are, as the name suggests, a Bi-Modal LED crafted into the shape of the legendary Mjolnir.

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From the handsome front, the body then flows back with a single curve carried along the body of the car before tapering off into a planted rear, framed by beautifully curved tail lights. The bodywork is finished in Onyx Black with chrome and steel highlights, a great contrast combination for a car of this nature. It manages to stay contemporary and conservative in its first impression, yet, when you get up close and start appreciating the design details, you realise how bold and striking Volvo has become with their design language. Initially the black masks this factor, if you wanted people to stop and stare, a grey or a titanium silver would look absolutely flawless. Personally, I like how the Onyx adds another level of mystery and exclusivity to the design language.

But as handsome as the outside is, the new age Volvo experience depends heavily on the interior and atmosphere its passengers will experience. It is simply the best interior this side of Bentley & Rolls Royce. The cabin feels as if it was designed with the purpose of being as luxurious and functional as possible, all the while maintaining a code of minimalism in its aesthetics.

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It’s as sharp and crisp as the decor in a Scandinavian coffee house. Sporting soft black Nappa leather with perforated details and premium milled components and beautiful light walnut wood inlays. The fit and finish feels as though it had been handmade and formed with perfect precision. It is immediately apparent that this is a complete different car than sitting in the German equivalents. Where offerings from Mercedes & BMW now feel uniform and corporate, the S90 has a unique personality to it and pushes forward a new kind of luxury that isn’t solely dependant upon gimmicks.

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Volvo are pushing for the luxury of having an easy driving experience. Not over complicating the drive by designing the interior with modern contemporary focus and simplistic controls. Where the styling paints the picture of ease, the car is loaded with technology to make the drive effortless.

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The dashboard is dominated by the Sensus Connect 10” touchscreen, breaking current design codes by being rotated into a portrait orientation, rather than the traditional landscape view employed by most manufacturers. If you’ve ever used an iPad or an Android tablet, the layout and ease of controls would be instantly familiar. It’s a complete breeze to fly through the menus, with essential information like cabin temperature settings, current media streaming, navigation and car stats all a single button touch away, or alternatively, the linguatronic voice command system is the first one I’ve ever used that has been able to successfully decipher my Yorkshire mumble without accidentally calling the emergency services.

One of the most important aspects of any car is the seating arrangement. The S90 Inscription gets heated contour nappa leather buckets, with adjustable air bolstering and the optional mechanical cushion extension for under-thigh support. They’re as comfortable as any posturepedic lounge room recliner, instantly moulding to any body shape.

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Starting the engine, you’re greeted, or rather you aren’t, by a near-silent hum from the 2.0L four cylinder nestled under the bonnet. The inline-four uses a combination of turbocharging and supercharging to produce a healthy 316hp. This is fed through an 8-speed geartronic transmission to an all-wheel-drive system with adaptive chassis controls. On the move, the engine quietly whispers away as the automatic gearbox instantly slinks through its eight cogs with effortless ease.

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Despite good specs on paper, the engine and gearbox aren’t designed for performance. The S90 is not meant to invoke whiplash from acceleration, but much like a more premium Bentley, is to waft its occupants along at a hasty speed. It will get up and go, but the delivery is more about soothing your brow rather than attacking it with plyers.

Even at 60%-70% throttle, the 8-speed short shifts at 2500rpm, using the wave of torque to propel the car, rather than ringing every last rev. However, if you do want it to hustle, the 235kw is more than capable of blasting you down the road at good pace. It might not have the animalistic bark of the old Yamaha V8s, but today’s twincharged-four has more poke and a satisfying growl from the twin exhaust. Under load, it accelerates from 0-100 in under 6 seconds.

Composure through the corners is the S90s party piece. The 20” Inscription wheels are wrapped with the latest Michelin Pilot Sport 4s, which are without a doubt the best road tyre on the market. They’re near silent at speed on the freeway, and with some heat in them, are as grippy as you’d ever need. Even in the small hurricane we experienced during the road test, the Volvo was composed & planted.  No run flats for this S90, which in my opinion are the plight of so many modern cars with the ride and atmosphere completely drowned out by tyre roar and feedback of every bump through your spine.

When you’re done playing chauffeur for yourself, you can quickly slide it into semi-autonomous mode and let the car take over. One of the biggest cards Volvo has had up its sleeves in recent years are its foray into autonomous systems.

The autonomy of the Volvo is split into two categories. There’s radar adaptive cruise control, a staple of a lot of cars these days, but in this S90 it has been refined and simplified to a single handpad on the wheel. Here you can set speed, distance to the car in front and basically let it do its thing. It’ll maintain a set distance measured in car lengths and hold you to that, pretty much without any input from the driver. A set and forget feature that you really don’t need to put much thought into.

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The second mode is called Volvo Pilot Assist. It’s an addition to the adaptive cruise control where the S90 will take over the reigns and steer for you with complete confidence. It seems to work best at any speed above 70kph, and it’ll set itself in the middle of a lane and keep on going indefinitely. It’s a brilliant system, perfect for the morning commute where you want to concentrate on necking a coffee or listening to a Jilly Cooper audiobook.

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Now, a few of the features on this car are indeed options, which can inflate the $112k starting price quite quickly. The model we tested was listed at $125k thanks to its laundry list of options. For me, the options all had a place - the Bowers & Wilkins Stereo, the Contour Nappa Leather Seating, Sports Steering wheel, Heated seats, they all added to the driving experience, the only item I felt was irrelevant were the paddle shifters made redundant by the excellent auto box... Leave that off your options list.

I think immediately you should forget about its German Rivals. Even with the options boxes ticked like on this model, it still comes in cheaper than the equivalent BMW 540i and Mercedes E350. Although, the Jerrys still offer six cylinder options, the four cylinder petrol in the Volvo, with its twincharger power, is more than competent enough for high-speed cruising and the lower capacity returns compelling miles per gallons when you’re on an economy run.

Volvo has continued making strides towards its goal of a hybrid takeover by 2019 with the technology in its flagship models such as the S90 driving this push. The S90 T6 Inscription hits the goal of exactly what it sets out to be and will have a special place in history as the last exclusively petrol powered cars Volvo ever produced. And in a body this pretty is set to be a future classic for sure.

Its fast, refined, stylish, comfortable, economical and a breeze to drive. The perfect tool for a morning commute or a weekend away with the family. It’s very hard to fault, if you’re in the market for an executive sedan or a full-size family saloon, it’s a difficult proposition to even consider another model. The Volvo is a through-and-through dark horse. There’s so much more beneath that subtle Scandinavian tuxedo.

Thanks to Volvo Cars Perth for loaning the vehicle. This T6 Inscription is currently on sale at Volvo Cars Perth. Head to their website for more details.

www.volvocarsperth.com.au