From £32,3507
The Volvo S90 R-Design is a thoroughly recommendable car, but even this most sporting S90 doesn't offer the polished dynamics that its rivals do

Our Verdict

Volvo S90

Sweden guns for Germany’s big-hitters with a new full-sized exec

Doug Revolta Autocar
7 February 2017

What is it?

The Volvo S90 is a refreshing Scandinavian alternative in an executive saloon segment filled with big-hitting German rivals. This new R-Design trim is, for now at least, its sportiest variant.

Available with either of the 2.0-litre diesel D4 or D5 engines at launch (with a hybrid T8 to join later), R-Design gets a black grille, 18in alloys, dual exhaust pipes and sports seats, as well as a sporty suspension set-up and a lavish leather and nubuck interior.

We’re driving the D5 variant, which isn’t a full-blooded Polestar performance model (although a Polestar Optimisation Pack is available) but still offers a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine with 232bhp and 354lb ft, all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission.

In the UK, R-Design is expected to be the joint most-popular trim in the S90 range, alongside entry-level Momentum. It offers head-turning looks, a plush interior and the promise of a sportier drive, but it faces tough competition from all-wheel drive BMW M Sport and Mercedes-Benz AMG Line rivals in its class.

What's it like?

It looks the part, but - as with the V90 R-Design - the lowered suspension doesn’t do many favours for its ride. It’s 15mm lower, the springs have been shortened and stiffened, and it also gets passive monotube dampers which use one valve to deliver compression and rebound damping.

That translates into a ride that delivers sharp jolts and thumps over imperfections, especially around town and on B-roads. It's much better on smooth surfaces though, offering a more compliant and relaxing ride. The stiffer suspension does also offer a trade off for better driving dynamics, with tighter body control and sharper cornering, but as the improvement is only minor it’s still worth ticking the £1500 option to get adaptive dampers with rear air suspension. This removes the lowered ride height and will generally make the S90 more comfortable - which is surely one of the main reasons why you'd be considering this car anyway.

The S90 R-Design is adept at cruising over long motorway stretches, with an interior that remains quiet apart from some tyre noise over coarse surfaces, and the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist function is a great asset for removing some stress from particularly monotonous treks. But when you hit some country roads, this R-Design model ultimately doesn't deliver the same levels of engagement as its German counterparts, even if it is still enjoyable in its own right. The all-wheel drive system offers lots of grip, but the steering doesn’t offer much feel and its self-centring occasionally feels overly keen as well, especially in the weightier Dynamic mode.

Performance is impressive and it'll munch through overtakes without any problem, but it doesn't feel properly quick or agile like a BMW 5 Series 530d xDrive (which is a noticeable 1.6sec quicker from 0-62mph) does. The D5 engine does, however, have a clever PowerPulse air compressor which reduces turbo lag. This means response is good even at low revs, and power is delivered smoothly, with only the slightly sluggish eight-speed auto gearbox impeding the slickness of the acceleration.

The S90’s interior is beautifully crafted. Aside from the impeccable fit and finish there’s plenty of space for all, the boot is a good size, the 9.0in touchscreen infotainment system is incredibly intuitive and R-Design adds a crystal clear 12.3in digital instrument display.

Should I buy one?

The S90 is an excellent, classy car, but this R-Design trim compromises some of the standard car's best qualities - chiefly its ride comfort. Not only that, but the quality of the competition - the excellent BMW 5 Series M Sport and Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMG Line - only highlights the lack of cohesion to be found in the R-Design's harsh ride quality and slightly flat-footed handling. Even so, in most areas, the Volvo shows itself to be a very credible contender and it does undercut its rivals on price (even if almost £50k after a few options is pretty steep for this version).

The R-Design range costs from £32,955 for the front-wheel-drive 187bhp D4 model, which is considerably cheaper and more efficient, if slower, than this D5 model. So unless you need that all-weather security and extra oomph from the engine then you’re probably better off going for the D4, and spending some of the money you save on adding air suspension. The excellent entry-level Momentum variants of the S90 still make more sense overall, though.

Volvo S90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design 

Location Birmingham; On sale Now; Price £41,955; Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, twin-turbocharged, diesel; Power 232bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 354lb ft at 1750-2250rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1763kg; 0-62mph 7.0sec; Top speed 145mph; Economy 58.9mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 127g/km, 27%; Rivals BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Join the debate

Comments
11

7 February 2017
Two guys are standing at the bar. One says to the other, what do you drive? Oh says his friend, a Volvo S90 R-Design D5 PowerPulse AWD. Presumably somebody at some point thought this monicker was a good idea and someone equally stupid signed it off.

7 February 2017
Nice car, although seemingly needs expensive air suspension to work properly. What it really needs, though, is a nice petrol six under the bonnet.

7 February 2017
scrap wrote:

Nice car, although seemingly needs expensive air suspension to work properly. What it really needs, though, is a nice petrol six under the bonnet.

Or a straight 5 or V6 (if worried about tax and do the mileage then a V6 diesel) just so as you'd know you'd spend nearly £45,000 on something other than a common or garden 2.0 diesel 4 pot.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

jer

7 February 2017
Exec cars are really sports saloons are they? Once you move from the small exec to the large you get much better refinement but the weight makes it difficult to make a sporty drive.

7 February 2017
I know the interior of S90 is highly regarded, but every time I look at its dash, my eyes can't help but get drawn to the two vertical massive air vents in the middle, which look very unsightly and take away from the look of the dash.....at least to my eyes.

7 February 2017
A very handsome car, but why oh why can't designers make the area below the front grille and lights look convincing - it almost always looks a mess and an afterthought.

7 February 2017
abkq wrote:

A very handsome car, but why oh why can't designers make the area below the front grille and lights look convincing - it almost always looks a mess and an afterthought.

It's better on the non R-Design models. The rear end is the problem for me. Saw one in black the other day and it looked bland and dated.

tm

7 February 2017
For decades now Volvo cars almost invariably comment on what fine cars they are that lack the German dynamic qualities. Who cares? The article above mentions that it is "fun in it's own right" which I wholeheartedly agree with, having owned one. My best friend had a comparable-sized BMW that we used to swap. When taking one of them to give a good thrashing on a great road, the BMW did have an edge, but that was such a rare occurrence that I was always, always glad to have my Volvo back for the real world.
The Germans have mastered the art of building cars that reviewers find hard to criticize, though they have little soul or character. Volvos have soul, character, and are fun to drive, in their own way. The entire conversation needs a reboot, though I really don't care that much as long as excellent cars like this are available. On an average day the benefits of what this car has to offer far exceed the "dynamic edge" the Germans have, which for all intents and purposes is unusable day to day.

tm

7 February 2017
apologies, meant "For decades now review of Volvo cars..."

7 February 2017
it probably is a nice car except for the harsh ride as notedon the R design but you are paying for A SIX CYLINDER AND GETTING FOUR AT THAT PRICE.Probably aGREAt second hand buy unless the turbos are thrashed after trying to wring out the bhp.

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