Set off in the D5 and it’s immediately obvious that refinement is one of its chief talents. There’s none of the gritty-sounding engine dirge common to many four-cylinder diesels; the engine revs smoothly and, provided you don’t push it to unnecessarily peaky revs, remains remarkably quiet. We’d go so far as to say it’s about the most hushed in this class, even more so than the seriously quiet Audi A6 Ultra.
Wind also slides calmly and quietly over the Volvo’s A-pillars, and while it’s hard to comment on tyre noise given the unusual conditions of our test drive, the S90 D5 certainly clearly offers refinement levels more akin to the class above.
Performance is full of hearty mid-range response; the S90 responds keenly to a prod of the throttle even from basement revs. You can thank something called PowerPulse, for that, which might sound like a next-gen defibrillator, but is actually a compressed air system fitted only to the D5, which spins the turbo up before the exhaust gases can get to work, reducing lag. It’s subtle, but it pays off in very sprightly initial throttle response. You don’t get any uneven surges in power as you build revs, either.
On top of all that, the eight-speed auto shifts near-imperceptibly just when you’d want it to, completing the sense that this is a car to sit back in and enjoy the calm, rather than to work hard. Sure, Volvo will tell you that the S90 offers a dynamic edge, not least thanks to the variable drive modes that are standard if you add the optional air suspension that was fitted to our test car.
However, with steering that has good weighting and a soft-edged response on turn-in, but little real sense of directness, it has the distinct feel of being a car that’s best off in that satisfying ‘serene-yet-making progress’ state.
Certainly, with the active all-wheel drive serving up secure handling even on compressed snow, you’ll be able to thread the D5 down a B-road with serious verve and no qualms about whether it’ll grip predictably through that switchback. But will it handle with the flair of a BMW 5 Series? No, we’d say not.