Cars

Published on June 29th, 2016 | by Subhash Nair

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Volvo S90/V90 Previewed in Spain

Once every few generations, a car company takes control of its products and steers it in a very radical new direction. For Volvo, this began with the new XC90. But its flagship sedan and estate models, the S90 and V90, are the ones that will really put the brand’s revolution in full motion.

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But before we get into our review, let’s get the technical information out of the way. Just like the XC90, these cars are built on the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform – which the company will continue to use on their upcoming mid-to-large sized vehicles. The SPA platform is an advanced, modular base that allows multiple configurations with a fixed firewall-to-front wheel length.

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Here are the powertrain options for the S90 and V90:

VariantPowerplantDrivelinePower (hp (+electric motor) @ rpm)Torque (Nm (+electric motor) @ rpm)
T52-litre TurbochargedFWD254 @ 5500350 @ 1500-4800
T62-litre Turbo+SuperchargedAWD320 @ 5700400 @ 2200-5400
T8 Twin Engine2-litre Turbo+Supercharged (Electric Motor for Rear Wheels)AWD (Electric)320 (+87) @ 5700400 (+240) @ 2200-5400
D42-litre Turbocharged DieselFWD190 @ 4250400 @ 1750-2500
D52-litre Turbocharged DieselAWD173 @ 4000480 @1750-2250

While testing the S90 and V90 in Spain, we were given a chance to test the D5 and T6 variants. This preview will focus particularly on our experience with the Volvo S90 T6, as it’s the closest to the version that we’ll see on Malaysian roads in the not too distant future.

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All S90s and V90s come with double wishbones at the front, allowing the tyres maximum grip during high-speed maneuvers. Interestingly, just like the XC90, a polyurethane composite leaf spring is used at the rear. It’s a very compact design that allows them to fit hybrid electric motors at the rear while still having one of the largest boots and rear passenger compartments in the segment. Another advantage of this unique suspension is the reduced Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels.

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You definitely feel both advantages of this suspension set up. We had no problems taking these cars around a bend yet felt that it beat many of its continental rivals in comfort on straight roads.

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Volvo employs a diamond-cut scroll wheel behind the gear selector for drivers to choose which mode the car is set in. We felt this was placed a little too far back as it had our elbows reach into the rear passenger section during use. However, there is a marked difference between ‘Comfort’, ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Eco’ modes on the T6. The torque that this motor churns out is unbelievable. It just keeps pushing the car forward no matter how fast it’s already going. The power and noise levels were less pronounced on the D5, which was extremely hushed no matter how hard we pushed it.

Swedish Craftmanship

Take one look at the S90 and it’s clear Volvo’s design team have done their job right. It sits lower and wider than its competition and has great proportions despite not having a large displacement engine. Sweden’s history of metallurgy has sure paid off as the company shows great prowess at creating complex shapes with hot-formed boron steel.

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It would have been too easy for Volvo to pander to its fan base by endlessly referring to its older material. Instead we get a thoroughly modern car with just a few tasteful nods to older features. The ‘Cat Walk’ shoulder line is one element that has been carried forward. In addition, the front grille takes inspiration from the classic P1800. But on the whole, the S90 feels like a great leap forward for both the company and the industry. It’s unequivocally next-gen with just a pinch of classic Volvo.

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At the front of the vehicle, you find a very striking concave structure for a grille. In a world dominated by oversized hexagonal grilles, the S90’s curves inwards and takes a sensible portion of the car’s face. Each of the 23 chrome-finished ribs sit floating against a darkened backdrop, each perfectly parallel to the other with the signature diagonal band confidently placed near the centre. The swollen Volvo logo in the centre houses a front camera and some other bits and but most of the Intellisafe sensors are found at the top of the windscreen.

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‘Thor’s Hammer’, Volvo’s signature Daytime Running Lights are the . The slight blue hue adds a high-tech feel to the car’s overall look. There are few things here (besides the aforementioned ‘Cat Walk’) that can be traced to the XC90 or in fact any other recent Volvo design. It does mean that the rear isn’t quite as exciting to look at than the front. We would have preferred for the taillights to look a lot more like they did in the concept, but perhaps that’s being saved for the facelift.

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There’s an undeniably authentic, premium feel to the S90’s interior. The 3-dimensionally shaped wood pieces are so precisely cut they make you question if they are indeed plastic mouldings. But as Volvo Malaysia’s Managing Director Lennart Stegland put it, “In our cars, wood is wood, metal is metal and leather is leather.” At first glance, it looks a lot like the cabin of the XC90 but while it does share some styling and material choices, it is distinct in a number of ways. Firstly, note the chrome fins on the air vents – this piece of retro styling is really clever and feels right at home in this executive sedan.  The iPad-style Senses display in the middle of the dash is also better integrated into the design. Here, it is elegantly flanked by the said ‘finned’ air vents and meets with the top of the dash without leaving much of a gap. There’s also no wood around buttons below the display, which makes sense with the height restrictions of this bodystyle. The Orrefors crystal gear knob was also absent from the test units here, but might be brought in as an option.

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An unlikely option for Malaysia though is the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System. Design-wise, each grille is perforated in a way that leaves the speakers within them visible. It’s a look that screams of exclusivity, and we’re doubtless ex-Bentley man Robin Page had a lot to do with that. Being a Bowers & Wilkins system, it is indescribably crisp and tuned perfectly for the acoustics of both V90 and S90 interiors. It was also nice to see a degree of customizability to the listening experience too, through Volvo’s Sensus system. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard Dr. Dre’s ‘2001’ album while on ‘Gothenburg Concert Hall’ mode.

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Sheer Usability

Animations on the digital instrument cluster and on Sensus are smooth and pleasant. Users can move functions around to suit their personal needs and the entire thing is a lot more functional and natural to use than anything else we’ve encountered due to its similarities with tablets. The only thing that bugged us a little was how inelegant certain executions were. For example, when adjusting the passenger seat massage function, the entire Sensus display is temporary used, blocking out all other controls. We feel a smaller drop-down notifcation even a quarter of the size would have sufficed.

If there’s anything the Swedes do better than the Germans it’s the user experience. The Germans have been leaders in adding technology to the automobile, but the Swedes have a much better handle at making technology usable. In principle, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with computers running car systems. Most car owners are more focused on things like emission levels, safety and fuel efficiency and that’s where milliseconds and millimetres matter the most. With computers and electronically-actuated components these are much easier to manipulate and control.

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The problem is that the level of competition between premium German brands can often result in imperfect execution. Technology becomes a gimmick or an excuse to upgrade. Sometimes it can also seem a little rough around the edges. With Volvo, they’ve taken a bit more time to give the car a real ‘finished product’ feel. It’s the sort of thing you get when you buy an Apple product. 90% of the time, they make products with software that feels just as well sorted as the hardware. The S90 successfully brings that feeling into the automotive industry despite our test cars being pre-production units.

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Take their semi-autonomous mode, Pilot Assist, for instance. It debuted in the XC90 but in the S90 and V90, it works at speeds of up to 130km/h and doesn’t require a lead car to function. These updates can be added to the XC90 later on through a software/firmware update.

With just a push of a button, the S90 drives itself. The catch is you need to have your hands on the steering. This ensures the driver retains responsibility of the vehicle as he can override the controls with ease. On rougher roads with faded lane markings, the system still maintains speed and distance from the vehicle ahead of it but the steering input must come from the driver alone.

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This is a pragmatic, effective way to get the self-driving feature some mainstream use. All it does is reduce driver fatigue during the more relaxed sections of the drive. It’s Volvo finding another safety feature from what the others would market as a gimmick. More alert drivers = fewer mistakes. The Volvo way.

Still the Safest in the Business

Speaking of safety, there’s no end to it on the S90. Intellisafe comes with an extensive array of aids that ‘Support, Prevent and Protect’. We’ve seen a few of them on other cars, but there are still a few worth highlighting. Run-off road Mitigation and Protection uses sensors to detect when the vehicle might unintentionally leave tarmac. It’s statistically the highest cause of accidents involving just 1 car, so it’s pretty wise of Volvo to take steps to address it at speeds of 65-140km/h.

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They’ve also got loads of other mitigation and avoidance technologies that detect other vehicles, large animals, pedestrians as well as cyclists. This means that the car is pretty effective at foreseeing possible collisions, but it also means it’s a little bit intrusive at times. Once during our test drive, it applied the brakes and tightened seat belts even though we were slowing down at a fairly reasonable rate. However, we can see how this could have been life-saving, had our eyes not been on the road.

Tesla and other vehicle manufacturers prefer to place baterries along the floor to lower the centre of gravity. On the T8 Twin Engine Volvos, the battery packs are placed at the centre, where a transmission tunnel is usually found. According to Mr. Stegland, this is the safest place to place Lithium-ion batteries. Placing them flat on the floor opens up the possibility of explosions in the event of a high speed side collision. It shows just how much thought Volvo’s engineering department put into their products.

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The S90 and V90 show a lot of promise. It returns to the segment comfort, quietness and tasteful design elements that have been missing from European marques ever since performance became the benchmark. There’s nothing but innovative thinking behind every aspect of the car, and it brings some polish and user-friendliness to the whole experience. To top it all off, it’s classy in a way that only cars that cost twice as much usually are. We can’t wait to see it roam our roads.


About the Author

Written work on dsf.my. @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.



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