The finest Volvos of years gone by were achingly over-engineered, with designs that favoured functionality over form and were imbued with the latest innovations in occupant safety and technology. Enter the Volvo S90 today, a vehicle that shares the safety principles that made its ancestors so popular and then some. Styled by a sleek and chiselled design resembling a well-tailored suit fitted to your favourite in-shape rugby player, the S90 is one of the most handsome amongst its accomplished yet mundane competitors. It’s only fitting then that I headed to the prestigious Val de Vie Estate to borrow the keys to drive the car on the surrounding Cape Wineland roads.
The S90 takes inspiration from the timeless P1800 coupé with its bold grille set between Volvo’s signature Thor’s Hammer LED daytime running lights. The S90 is a large executive sedan measuring nearly five metres long with smooth bodywork and prominent lines emphasised by the R-Design body kit and sporty 19-inch alloy wheels, making for a beautifully balanced shape offering both elegance and sportiness.
Step inside and the classy design execution continues: The interior is plush and feels like a thoroughly modern place to spend time. Swathes of luxurious nappa leather line the seats that are both supportive and comfortable with electrical adjustment for the front seats. The inner door cards and the steering wheel receive the same opulent leather treatment, this time with a perforated effect.
The vast facia houses metallised vertical air vents with solid metal knobs that offer a jewellery-like finish aside the unique nine-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen. Dubbed the Sensus Connect system, the touch-screen is responsible for operating the majority of in-car controls, including functions such as climate control, phone connectivity and media, as well as selecting your choice from the various traction control settings andchoosing from the plethora of safety functions available.
The safety technology on-board is comprehensive, including six airbags, pedestrian and large animal detection, emergency braking and an intuitive adaptive cruise control as standard. The latter is a system whereby the vehicle is able to maintain a safe following distance at a set speed from the car in front without the driver needing to cover the brake pedal. This technology could prove to be a very handy feature for those long-distance cross-country trips. Taking things a step further is the Pilot Assist system, which effectively steers the vehicle in the middle of the lane and can operate for around 15 seconds without the driver making any steering inputs. It is mind-bending how far this technology has come.
On the undulating roads between Paarl and Franschhoek, the S90’s ride was rarely flustered thanks to the supple suspension handling most bumps with little fuss. Only rough tar and sharp road imperfections penetrated the otherwise whisper-quiet cabin. From the inside it’s difficult to tell that the D5 is in fact powered by a clattering diesel motor. Crack the window and you’ll notice double-glazed glass on all four portals, insulating occupants from the harshness of the outside world. This neat touch demonstrates the Swedes attention to detail in their efforts to suppress ambient sound. Sure, a price tag of about R900 000 is high. But double- glazed glass is often only seen on obscenely priced luxury cars.
The 2.0-litre diesel motor seems a little out of place in a car this large, but it’s boosted by two turbochargers producing healthy performance figures of 173 kW and 480 Nm. The twin-turbo motor uses technological wizardry called PowerPulse, too, in pursuit of lessening the effects of turbo lag.
The system utilises an auxiliary 2.0-litre chamber of compressed air that injects pressure into the turbochargers at low speeds for instant boost. It’s a clever solution to an age-old problem, and it works by offering uninterrupted and smooth progress with strong in-gear acceleration as the 8-speed automatic works seamlessly in the background. At a cruise of 120 km/h the rev counter reads only 1 800. This low cruising engine speed makes the D5 an ideal luxury high-speed tourer.
All things considered, the Volvo S90 D5 R-Design ticks many important boxes for a vehicle of its kind. It excels with a head-turning exterior, sumptuous luxury, spaciousness, a modern interior, as well as a strong and innovative engine. Indeed, we are living in the age of the SUV. However, the large executive sedan remains a less compromised package that handles better thanks to a low centre of gravity.
The S90 goes the distance with the best of SUVs in terms of style and prestige, while offering more than enough space for most families. At the price, it’s got some strong competition. But, very few offer as generous a standard kit and as much aesthetic character.