Volvo S90 Drive Review. Subtle Sophistication And The Art of Quiet Luxury

In a world exceedingly focussed on ostentatious shows of wealth, quiet luxury has emerged as a trending concept over the years, serving as the antithesis to vulgar extravagance. Referring to an idea of luxury that is understated, refined, and elegant without being overly flashy or showy, quiet luxury sharply contrasts with traditional notions of conspicuous display and bold expressions of wealth and opulence. It is all about a carefully curated collection of high quality, detail driven, immersive, yet, understated choices. Stealth wealth, as some would call it.

Volvo has long embraced the concept within the automotive landscape. And the Volvo S90 stands tall as an embodiment of everything that whispers quiet luxury. With its clean lines, minimalist aesthetics, and attention to detail, the S90 effortlessly captures the idea of ‘stealth wealth’ or ‘quiet luxury’ in spirit. Where sophistication and opulence is conveyed through subtlety rather than extravagance. The S90 has been around for a while now, but rather than vying for attention in its segment, it has managed to create a niche for itself by drawing on its Scandinavian heritage and offering an experience that is distinct from its (mostly German) rivals. We spent a couple of weeks with Volvo’s flagship sedan to find out what sets it apart. And must say, it was eventually hard to let go of the zen-like experience.

The Volvo S90 boasts of a sleek and elegant exterior that continues to turn heads despite the design being mostly unchanged since its inception in 2016. This is both a testament to the timelessness of Volvo’s design philosophy and relative rarity that the S90 enjoys on Indian roads. The Scandinavian-inspired design language emphasises strong, clean lines and minimalist aesthetics, with the front fascia featuring Volvo’s iconic and instantly recognisable ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED headlights. The S90’s mid-cycle refresh added a bold front grille with vertical slats and lots of chrome, giving the luxury sedan added flaunt value without compromising on its philosophy of minimalism. The side profile is flanked by a sharp shoulder line that extends from the headlamps along the sides, accentuating the car’s length and making it look almost like a land-yacht. The sloping roofline and tastefully integrated chrome accents on the window frames and doors further contribute to the S90’s premium design. The strong shoulder lines tastefully blend into the subtle boot-lid spoiler at the back, and the quintessential C-shaped Volvo tail lamps round off the S90’s stellar exterior design. The S90 whispers its luxurious appeal rather than screaming it out loud, and the overall design is quietly stunning, elegant and refined.

Step inside the Volvo S90, and once you are done admiring the illuminated Volvo logo on the door sill, you are greeted with a supremely spacious cabin that exudes an air of Scandinavian luxury. High-quality finishes, hand stitched soft-touch leather, wood veneers, and brushed metal accents are tastefully used throughout the interior, creating an ambiance that is unmatched by most segment competitors. There’s subtle ambient lighting throughout the cabin, and no matter where you look or touch, the S90 feels premium and expertly crafted. Including the felt lined door pockets and storage areas. 

Our test car came optioned with the gorgeous Amber Nappa leather seats with contrasting white stitching and Pitched Oak wood veneer. The cabin strikes a delicate balance between the charm of old-world luxury and modern conveniences. The dashboard design is reminiscent of other modern Volvo offerings, with a minimalist design dominated by a large vertically oriented touchscreen infotainment system. Volvo has pioneered the ‘less is more’ approach in cabin interiors, and other manufacturers have adopted the minimalist trend in recent years. While the approach is laudable and doing away with physical buttons does give the central console a cleaner look, some physical buttons (for climate control, at least) would have been nicer. Intuitively, one tends to reach out for a single touch functionality for climate control, rather than getting intimidated by multiple setting levels.

The ergonomic and well bolstered front seats, which are heated, cooled and provide multi-setting massage functionality, offer exceptional comfort and support during long journeys, making the Volvo S90 an ideal choice for both daily commutes and extended drives. Everything on the seats, even the thigh extender, is electronically adjustable, reinforcing the lounge-like in-cabin luxury. The rear seats are equally comfortable and roomy. Sink into the rear bench, personalise your climate settings, pull up your privacy screen, buckle up, and feel the world around you slowly fade into the background. The S90 is one luxury sedan that you’d rather be driven in than drive yourself, and Volvo has done a great job in ensuring that rear seat comfort is not compromised.

The S90 comes with a long list of features, many of which are expected in a car at this price point, such as automatic headlamps and wipers, 360-degree surround view camera, 4-zone automatic climate control and a small sunroof whose shade, rather un-luxuriously, has to be manually operated. Tech features available in the S90 include a 9″ infotainment system with built in apps like Google Maps, Google Assistant and Spotify, wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a fully digital instrument cluster, built-in air purifier, and a wireless charger that invariably made our iPhones overheat. Standout features of the S90 have to be the supremely comfortable seats with heating, cooling and massage functions, and the absolutely stunning 19-speaker 1410W high-fidelity Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, which comes with an innovative fresh-air subwoofer. It is an immersive concert-like audio experience and continues to be one of the best sounding speaker systems in any car currently on sale. 

Some notable omissions are wireless Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a panoramic sunroof, which would have taken the cabin experience to another level. While the S90 doesn’t have the biggest sized boot, short family trips should be manageable with the car’s boot capacity of 461 L. We managed to fit a set of golf bags with ease and still had ample space to spare.

Volvo has always been a byword for cutting-edge safety technology, and the S90 upholds this legacy. The luxury sedan comes equipped with an array of advanced safety features, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and collision mitigation through automatic emergency braking. Also on board is a fantastic 360-degree surround view camera which helps navigating through tight spaces and parking. Additionally, the car’s advanced city safety system can detect pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals, reducing the risk of collisions in urban environments. One of our favourite safety feature in the S90 is the cross-traffic alert system which works while turning into oncoming traffic and while reversing out of parking spaces. While the abrupt automatic breaking can be a bit jolting at times, we’d much rather keep the system on to ensure peace of mind. In the event of an unavoidable collision, the S90 is equipped with multiple airbags and an energy-absorbing safety cage to protect occupants. Safe to say that the S90 remains one of the safest cars out on the roads even today.

The S90 B5 Mild-Hybrid is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a 48V mild-hybrid system and an 8-speed automatic transmission, putting out a combined power output of 250BHP and 350Nm of torque. 0-100 km/h takes 6.9 seconds, and like all Volvos, top speed is electronically limited to 180 km/h. But the S90 is much more than just these figures. The driving experience is more relaxing than it is thrilling. The engine itself is a spirited unit, with strong and smooth power delivery across the rev range, and most customers would be more than happy with the available grunt. Initial pick up is smooth and the S90 gradually powers ahead without throwing you back in your seat, often feeling like a fast sailboat on the road. While it’s forte lies in being a comfortable cruiser, the S90 does a great job at tackling corners, and at low to medium speeds, the car feels incredibly planted on the road with minimal body roll. The steering is well weighted too, and the ‘firm’ steering setting does add some much needed weight to the otherwise feather-light steering. This one is a front wheel drive, and you can feel the front end understeering under harder cornering. But overall, the S90 is a dynamically well sorted car that feels confident and extremely safe on the road. If we had one complaint, it would be the omission of paddle shifters for the 8-speed transmission. While the gearbox is usually quick to shift down when you floor the throttle, we’d much rather have the option of manually taking control and shifting gears, in situations where timing is of essence.

Spirited driving is hardly what the S90 is built for, as this is a fantastic sedan to be driven around in. The S90 has one of the best suspension setups in the business, with a soft, smooth and cushy ride that irons out all but the biggest bumps. Even on particularly bad stretches, the S90 maintains its confidence and composure, thanks in part to the Air Suspension set up at the rear axle. The car soaks up road imperfections with ease, giving passengers the feeling of floating on air. The steering, as mentioned earlier, is extremely light and easy to use in city driving, adding to the relaxing personality of the car. The S90’s double-glazed windows also ensure that minimal road and wind noise enters the cabin, and the overall experience of being chauffeured around in the S90 is unmatched at this price point. 

One of our few complaints with the S90 has to be its fuel efficiency, with the car returning a combined average of approximately 10.5 km/l. The addition of the mild-hybrid system allows for smooth engine start-stop functionality and regenerative braking, and theoretically enhances fuel efficiency and reduces emissions, but even the most sedate driving only got us a maximum of 11.5 km/l. 

The Volvo S90 B5 Mild-Hybrid offers a compelling package for discerning buyers in the Indian market, and the fact that it’s Volvo’s flagship sedan makes it an even more compelling buy. Its elegant exterior design, luxurious interior, advanced safety features, and smooth driving experience make it a strong contender in the luxury sedan segment. Many critics cite Volvo’s limited service network as one of the drawbacks of buying into the brand, but a minor battery issue on our test car gave us an opportunity to experience Volvo’s service network, which proved to be a prompt, timely and hassle-free experience. 

The S90 competes with the likes of the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and the Lexus ES. At INR 67.90 lacs, the S90 significantly undercuts some of its competitors, and while it may not be the most thrilling drive in its segment, it certainly is one of the most luxurious, comfortable and safest. As a luxury family sedan with a primary purpose of transporting its occupants in utmost comfort, the S90 checks all the right boxes. Like many other Volvo offerings, the S90 is human centric, and focussed on a holistic experience rather than an overt focus on singular features. It never ceases to make you feel special every time you step inside it. The S90 is a true charmer, and for those who prioritise style, comfort, and safety, it would be our pick in the luxury sedan segment.

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