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Friday
Apr282017

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

By Christopher A. Sawyer

When they delivered the car the rain had just stopped, and a slick coating clung to every surface. Low clouds and diffuse light eliminated glare, and lit the car so evenly that the Mussel Blue Metallic paint quietly shimmered, contrasting and blending with the metallic trim that accentuated the S90’s lines.

 

 

 

 

 

The two-tone interior looked unlike anything I had ever seen in this segment. The dour blacks and grays so typical of the genre were replaced by blonde perforated Nappa leather swimming in a sea of charcoal accents. A nightmare, perhaps, if not cleaned at the first sign of dirt, but a visual delight. And one that perfectly frames the linear walnut wood inlays framed by subdued brightwork that was the same shade and texture no matter where you looked.

 

 

 

The large infotainment screen stands Tesla-like between two large vertical air vents, and replaces the controls were have come to expect from Volvo with a crisp, easy-to-read  display. The overhead view of the car created by the cameras to the front, rear and sides dazzled, and supports inch-perfect parking, bringing the precision seen in the fit, finish and fixtures to the drive itself. That precision also makes itself known in the perforated aluminum screens that cover the door-mounted speakers of the optional Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system. They encompass the switches for the door locks and seat memory, while giving you a chance to see “behind the curtain” where the tweeter and mid-range speakers reside.

The controls for the engine, drive mode, and the infotainment input knob replace the straight or crosshatch knurling you find on other luxury cars (often those much more expensive than the nearly $67,000 (as tested, with destination charge) S90) with a three-dimensional wave pattern that mimics the look of cut crystal.  It’s quite elegant, and unexpected.

 

 

 

 

The back seat has good forward sightlines to minimize motion sickness, and is no less luxurious than the front cabin. Leg room is very good, but 2018 models will be cavernous as Volvo substitutes the long wheelbase model built in Sweden for sale in China. The extra 4.7 in. of wheelbase — planned for from the beginning, so the styling is not marred by awkward door shuts, elongated window openings or the longer roof — brings rear seat leg room to 40.5 in., and should make the rear cabin ambience not just luxurious, but regal. Unfortunately, only the long-wheelbase version will be offered in the U.S. while China, where larger back seats are a sign of status and the average person shorter, will get both.

Under the hood sits the Shroud of Gothenburg. Make that shrouds. Most every surface is covered by finely grained matte black plastic covers that hide the dirty bits that make the S90 move. In the case of our T6 all-wheel drive Inscription model that means they hide the turbo- and supercharged 2.0-liter inline four mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It has plenty of low-end grunt, a prodigious mid-range, and strong high-end power, proving the wisdom of pairing a supercharger and turbocharger together. Shifts are smooth, and keep the engine in the power band. However, the Drive Mode does the S90 no favors. Forget ever putting the system into Eco mode. This is automotive self-flagellation that sucks the very life out the car for very little return. It is best used when transporting adherents to the left of the political spectrum, especially if the term “man-made climate change” is said out loud. Comfort is the default setting, and the one most drivers will use most. Dynamic quickens the responses, holds shifts longer, and feels like something you’d want the car to do on its own when you call down to the engine room for more power and responsiveness before easing itself back to Comfort. Or you can select throttle sensitivity, transmission responsiveness and steering weight from the Individual menu.

And the all-wheel drive system  grips the road, though the chassis — which is not tuned to be overtly sporty — tends toward mild understeer. Where the S90 falls a bit short is in its ability to soak up the bumps and keep them from being transmitted into the cabin. Surprisingly, the S90 uses a Corvette-like rear composite transverse leaf spring, which frees up room better used to provide a Mafia-size trunk. But it is the optional 20-in. wheel and tire combination that transmits a surprising amount of noise into the cabin while treating road irregularities with less finesse than expected. You very quickly get used to the “bump-thump” emanating from the wheel wells, but wish the ride engineer had spent a bit more time tuning the foundational damper valving, and less time playing with the Drive Mode changes.

This is a loverly car, and one that shows there is more to luxury than fine materials and Germanic precision. The interior and exterior design are balanced, luxurious and unique, and stand out in a sea of similarity. Volvo, yes Volvo, has created a contender that not only has opened the eyes of consumers, but of the competition. And it is they who find themselves having to respond.

 

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