From £34,9508
Entry-level Volvo S90 D4 is less poised than some rivals but still a thoroughly compelling and recommendable thing

What is it?

Walk into your local dealership and say "I'll have your cheapest Volvo S90, please", and this is what you'd get. Well, sort of. Our car is an Inscription model, which is £3k more than the base Momentum trim thanks to its swankier leather, bigger digital driver's readout and keyless entry, among other extras. But even Momentum gets leather, LED headlights, the fully connective Sensus navigation touchscreen you see here and all manner of advanced driver aids. Not too shabby, then. 

Read our Volvo S90 full review here

More to the point, this is the first time we've driven the front-wheel-drive 188bhp Volvo S90 D4, complete with 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox, on UK roads. So is it worth spending an extra £6k to step up to the four-wheel-drive, 232bhp S90 D5 (currently the only other model in the S90 line-up), or is this D4 - specced perfectly to match rivals such as the BMW 520d and new Mercedes E 220 d - the pick of the range?

What's it like?

Properly compelling, in a way that you might not expect an executive saloon to be. Everything, from the eye-catching design and the novel twist-and-go starter mounted between the front seats to the Swedish flag stitched into the leather, speaks of this being a bit different to the aforementioned rivals. And proud to be different.

It also feels impressively classy. The way the door thunks shut with satisfying solidity, or the way the window scrolls down slowly at first to allow you more easily to stop it precisely, speaks of painstaking build quality and even more painstaking thought processes behind the making of this car. 

The diesel engine fires up with an audible but far-away grumble and step-off is smooth if a bit lazy, bleeding into a power delivery that doesn't suffer from overly bothersome lag despite the D4 not getting the PowerPulse air compressor that the D5 has to reduce its turbo lag. What with the standard eight-speed auto - also smooth and a bit lazy - blurring shifts so well, the S90 D4 is perfectly suited to surfing around on its more than adequate torque band, enjoying suitably boss-like acceleration and overtaking when you want it and just settling to a fairly charming mooch the rest of the time.

Maybe we'd like the engine to be a touch less gruff when you do go for harder progress, but the D4 is one of the quieter engines in the class on a steady throttle. Tyre noise is more likely to intrude on your consciousness, especially over coarse surfaces, but even that's easily ignored. 

Our car came with optional £950 adaptive rear air suspension and rode on 18in alloys, which gave it a pillowy ride comfort much of the time but did come at the cost of quite wallowy, long-wave body movements that some might find a touch off-putting. Even over fairly smooth road surfaces there's a sense of the car floating about quite a bit, so it comes as no surprise that - even in Dynamic mode - there's quite loose body roll when you weave through direction changes.

That ride comfort isn't infallible, either. Hit a mid-corner pothole and the suspension rebounds quite jarringly, although the rest of the time you rarely feel more than a mild shiver even over poor surfaces.

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Inevitably, the soft suspension doesn't lend itself to particularly precise, incisive handling, but the steering is at least hefty and predictably geared enough that you've got the confidence to make the most of the decent grip levels. So don't worry; there is still real satisfaction to be had in threading the S90 down a B-road. It's not a sloppy mess by any stretch, just a bit softer and more roly-poly than the likes of the keener-feeling BMW 520d. In among all this, it's worth clarifying that the S90 is a stand-out motorway cruiser. It tracks straight and true with little effort on your part, and between that directional stability, very decent overall refinement and even the standard 'Pilot Assist', which is in effect a very advanced combination of adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist, this will do the long-distance haul with serious style and serenity.

There's little to criticise in the S90's cabin. The driving position from the broad, cushy seat is very good and offers decent breadth of adjustment, visibility all-round is good, the dash is mostly easy to fathom, the screen easy to see and one of the easier systems to get used to and there's masses of space in the back seats and a really sizeable boot. You even get 60/40 split folding rear seats as standard, which many rivals don't offer.  

Should I buy one?

Yes. The only reason you shouldn't is because you really want the better handling poise of one of the Volvo's rear-wheel drive rivals, or indeed the extra gumption and all-weather peace of mind that the four-wheel-drive S90 D5 and its competitors can offer. Honestly, this front-driver will so rarely be caught out in any way on UK roads, and is still such a satisfying thing in which to spend time, that the extra cost seems a bit hard to justify. Crucially, you also get really competitive emissions on the S90 D4, which means it'll work out splendidly for the huge swathes of company car buyers that shop in this class.

Volvo is back, then, and this time it's brought the 'want one' factor. 

Volvo S90 D4 Inscription 

Location: UK; On sale: Now; Price £35,555; Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, twin-turbocharged, diesel; Power 188bhp at 4250rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1680kg; 0 62mph 8.2sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 64.2mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 116g/km, 23%

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Matikho 28 November 2016

Focus on a larger market

I agree with xxxx, its better to build something that attracts 50% of the market than building something that only appeals 1% of the market if you are serous about making profits
mn49 12 June 2016

Hopefully Better in the metal

Having been initially disappointed in the xc90, but then being thoroughly impressed when I saw it in the metal, I hope the s/v90 are the same. Personally I'd be interested to see what the momentum trim version looks like on this and the v90, in my opinion the xc90 momentum with it's blacked out grill and more tasteful wheel options looks far better than the more expensive inscription.
Pete-Suffolk 11 June 2016

Eye catching design?

I would certainly question the 'eye catching design'. It looks ok in estate guise, but the saloon must surely be one of the dreariest designs around. There is a certain awkwardness around rear quarters in the saloon, which is alleviated in the estate. Overall I find the shapes of the new ranges of Volvos very disappointing. The XC90 is a definite step backwards from the lovely previous model. I still want one, but could not argue that the new one looks better than the old! I have a current XC60, and am worried that the new model will be duller looking than the current one. Losing the pronounced Volvo 'shoulder' is a mistake in my view, as is the much duller looking nose.