Anonymous. Bland. Sensible. Stodgy. These are a few of the descriptors we've leveled at recent Volvo models, including the outgoing S80 luxury sedan. It's been faint praise for an automaker struggling to keep pace with evolving competition, but that all changes with the 2017 Volvo S90.
With a sleek, coupelike shape, bold upright grille and stylish LED headlights, the S90 is far more stylish than its predecessor. The overhaul continues inside, where the S90 cabin is trimmed with high-quality wood and metal accents. Volvo wants you to think of it as a "Scandinavian Sanctuary," and if you close your eyes you might transport yourself to the lobby of a stylish Swedish hotel.
The S90 retains many of the features of the well-equipped S80, but adds a more powerful engine (available in two power grades), more cargo space, semi-autonomous driving capability and a vastly improved infotainment experience. Optional all-wheel drive also makes a return with the S90, and a plug-in hybrid model and a high-performance Polestar edition will also eventually be available.
The S90 is an impressive luxury effort, but ultimately still lacks some of the polish of its established European competitors, like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and the redesigned Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The S90 rides just a little rougher, the handling has a little less bite and the engine sounds just a bit more strained when asked to deliver. None of this detracts from the S90's place as a fine midsize luxury sedan, deserving of a spot on any list that includes the aforementioned German contingent, as well as more value-oriented luxury sedans like the Acura TLX, Cadillac XTS or the new Genesis G80.
Volvo's reputation for innovative standard safety features continues with the S90, which offers collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, lane departure warning, road sign recognition, a system that helps you avoid running off the road (and another that helps minimize the damage if you do), a drowsy driver alert, and the OnCall telematics system, which can remotely start or unlock the S90 and notify authorities in the event of a crash.
Curiously, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert remain optional.
Semi-autonomous steering, lane keeping and adaptive cruise control (combined, called Pilot Assist) allow the S90 to drive itself through slow traffic jams or even swift-moving traffic, requiring only that the driver touch the steering wheel at regular intervals.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Volvo S90 is the automaker's largest four-door, five-passenger sedan, available with two engines and two trim levels called Momentum and Inscription.
Standard equipment on the base Momentum trim includes 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and foglights, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10-way power front seats, a navigation system, a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a 10-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs, and satellite radio. Other touches include birch interior accents, power-folding rear head restraints (improves visibility when rear passengers aren't present), illuminated door handle approach lighting, and a high-gloss black grille.
Upgrading to Inscription trim brings 19-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights, headlight washers, Nappa leather upholstery, upgraded front seats with both heating and cooling, a leather-wrapped dash panel, walnut trim accents, four-zone climate control, a 12-inch instrument display and Apple CarPlay integration.
The S90 offers a few options packages. The Momentum Plus package, available for the Momentum models, offers several items from the Inscription feature set including adaptive LED headlights and headlight washers, four-zone climate control, a cooled glovebox, the larger instrument display and Apple CarPlay.
The Climate pack, optional for the base Momentum trim, includes heated front and rear outboard seats, a heated steering wheel, heated wiper fluid nozzles, and a heated windshield.
The Vision pack is available for both trims and includes auto-dimming side mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree view camera.
The Convenience pack, also available for both trims, includes autonomous parking, front parking sensors, a power trunk lid, a compass embedded in the rearview mirror, and Homelink programmable buttons for garage doors.
The S90's stand-alone options include a rear air suspension, unique 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats (base Momentum), a wood-inlay steering wheel, a head-up display and a Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system.
The S90's twin-charged T6 engine (the only version we've driven) offers crisp and powerful response. It gets the sedan's mass up to highway speeds in no time, and instills plenty of confidence for merging and passing.
Overall, the Volvo rides like a proper luxury sedan, but falls short of its competitors in both steering feel and ride quality. Although precise, the S90's steering feels needlessly heavy and resistant. Even at cruising speeds and in Comfort driving mode, the wheel requires more effort than seems necessary. It's meant to impart a sportier feeling, but ultimately leads to quicker driver fatigue. It's not a deal breaker and you probably won't notice it except on longer drives, but it's one of those unpolished details that keeps the S90 from being a class benchmark.
Our other complaint is the S90's ride quality, which, while impressive over smooth road surfaces, tends to bottom out and hit bumps and imperfections rather harshly. We think the fault lies more with the 20-inch wheels (the only size we tested) than inherent suspension settings, but it's another area where the Volvo still needs to catch up with the class leaders.
Slide into the 2017 Volvo S90's seats and you're immersed in an elegant, minimalist cabin that rivals anything from its German contemporaries. This new interior, with its wood inlays and chrome and metal accents wrapping from door to door across the dash, is arguably the S90's greatest leap from its comparatively tepid predecessor.
A large tablet-style touchscreen serves as central command for navigation, phone, climate and audio functions. Volvo has done away with almost of the buttons on the dash, including its well-known "mode man" climate control. The only controls left include the car's ignition switch and a strip of buttons for audio advance/rewind and defrost functions.
The S90's seats are some of the best in the business, wrapped in fine material regardless of trim level, with support and adjustments suited for extended periods of driving. With 36 inches of legroom, the rear seat of the S90 offers plenty of room for an average-size adult sitting behind a 6-foot driver.
The S90's trunk measures 13.5 cubic feet, which is a bit small for a midsize luxury sedan.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.