"The S90 clearly demonstrates the transition we are going through. I actually think people will be even more surprised when they see it than they were when they saw the new XC90. It really is quite impactful; a car that your eye just keeps getting drawn to. The design and dimensions make it a far more premium-looking car than the S80, the interior is an evolution of the XC90's, but a step up again, and it has a real distinction about it."
Speaking to Autocar earlier this year, Volvo's vice-president of product strategy, Lex Kerssemakers, admitted that the large saloon market was contracting, but said the market was still too big and too important for a car company’s image among buyers to ignore. “The opportunities are getting smaller, but the market is still big enough to give us a strong business case,” he said.
“Demand in China and the US remains strong, and we believe we have a package of assets from the powertrain to the interior to the design that means we have no excuses not to fight with the very best for sales in the sector.”
Volvo is targeting S90 sales of around 2000 units per year in the UK - just under a fifth of the number of BMW 5 Series sold annually in the same area. “We are not doing this to drive volume,” said UK boss Connor. “It won’t make the difference between success or failure; we can treat the S90 as a proper halo model. It can be a price-led segment but we won’t play that game. I can honestly say we have no volume aspirations; there’s no pressure to sell thousands, and we’ll supply only what the market wants.”
The S90 is unlikely to remain the largest Volvo saloon; the company’s Chinese owner is keen for an even bigger model to be spun off the SPA platform, which can extend to over five metres in length. That could give Volvo the basis for a hybrid limousine - although privately, company sources admit that brand equity will need to be strengthened by the S90 itself before it can support a £100,000-plus model.
The cars the S90 must beat
Next-gen BMW 5 Series: Due before the end of 2016, the next generation of 5 Series gets an all-new platform and BMW’s range of four-cylinder and six-cylinder diesel engines - plus a petrol-electric hybrid that should match the S90’s CO2 emissions. Expect elements of the carbonfibre construction tech from the latest 7 Series to help cut the 5’s weight. Touring and GT versions will follow.
Jaguar XF: Recently refreshed exec saloon uses a switch to an aluminium platform to deliver significant weight savings, and strong CO2 emissions of as little as 104g/km. The all-new chassis brings even crisper handling, too - and a successor to the previous generation’s Sportbrake estate is also in the pipeline.
Next-gen Mercedes E-Class: Merc’s mid-range executive saloon will do battle with the S90 for headlines in Detroit, where it’s also scheduled to make its debut. Codenamed W213, the new E-Class switches to the same modular MRA platform as the latest C-Class and S-Class. Sources are promising a “two-generation leap” in the car’s interior quality, and major gains in refinement delivered by new petrol and diesel engines. An E350e petrol-electric hybrid is also planned.
Next-gen Audi A6: The next A6 is due in early 2017. Expect a switch to the second generation of the VW Group’s longitudinal-engine MLB platform, bringing a slight increase in wheelbase but shorter front and rear overhangs for a larger cabin. The new A6 will continue to offer four-cylinder diesel and six-cylinder petrol and diesel power, with the cleanest six-pot diesel emitting less than 110g/km of CO2. An e-tron hybrid edition is also on the way.