Though we seldom experience snowy conditions in South Africa, our test drive of Volvo’s sedan in wintry USA underlined the effectiveness of its all-wheel drive system. Picture: Jesse Adams
Upstate New York - Volvo's S90 is still an unconventional choice in the executive sedan leagues where the 5 Series and E-Class reign supreme in sales, but having spent two weeks with one over the holiday season we’re scratching our heads as to why.

Our two-litre turbo and supercharged T6 unit was handed over just like any test car, except that delivery happened in a frozen north-eastern United States in December, where record low temperatures and wintry conditions added some unusual elements to our evaluation.

South Africans might never need to worry about the challenges of driving on such slippery roads, or defrosting a car coated in ice like a glazed doughnut before departure, but I can confirm that options such as heated seats, washer nozzles, steering wheels and front windscreens do come in quite handy where white Christmases are a real thing. Likewise the T6’s standard all-wheel drive system, which might be a token extra in our market, was a life saver (maybe literally) when negotiating country lanes coated in a fresh layer of snow.

Aside from a steering wheel positioned on the left side, our S90 Inscription was identical in specification to South African models and though it was loaded to the hilt with fancy options, each one, right down to the massaging seats (R5500), perforated nappa leather upholstery (R11 500) and must-have rear air suspension (R17 500) is available here too. Not to mention those heated items, whether we need them here or not.


Cabin is easily as classy as its German rivals. Picture: Jesse Adams

The T6 in basic Momentum trim comes in at R858 630, and for that you get a relatively large four-door saloon with enormous rear legroom, a massive boot, and an ultra-modern interior with a now obligatory digital instrument cluster and a large portrait-shaped touchscreen (satnav included) to control almost every vehicle function.

Cabin quality and attention to detail is on par or perhaps even a notch above its direct European rivals, where intricately machined speaker grilles, warm wooden inlays, stitched leather dash toppers and perfectly sculpted metal accents impart an air of Swedish obsessive compulsiveness.

In typical European fashion, Volvo’s options list is lengthy but if budget allows and you’re willing to go wild ticking boxes, the S90 can be decked out to levels of luxury that previous Volvos could have only dreamed of. Our test car tipped over the R1 million mark with all its extra parking gadgets, driving aids, safety systems and creature comforts, but in this form it easily stands shoulder to shoulder with similarly specced BMW 530i and Mercedes E250 models in terms of pure poshness and perceived quality.

Volvo’s engine downsizing strategy might be a tough pill to swallow for fans of burly six and eight-cylinder engines, but the Swedes have done well to extract decent punch from this two-litre four. Two litres is as big as you’ll get capacity-wise in any Volvo model going forward, but with clever twin-charged petrol and compressed air-tank diesel solutions, outputs are up to the task of moving the S90’s big body around.

If ride quality is top of your list, choose the optional rear air suspension. Picture: Jesse Adams

The 235kW/400Nm T6 scoots along with decent pep, both off the line and when overtaking at highway speeds, and if you were able to cover your ears under acceleration you might think there were more cylinders under the hood. The combination of a slightly buzzy exhaust note paired with such instantaneous power sometimes makes for a strange sensation.

Fuel consumption was also impressive, and though we couldn’t get near Volvo’s claimed 7.2 litres per 100km we found its actual 8.1 litres per 100km satisfactory for the performance.

One minor downside is the sedan’s ride quality; as with the D5 diesel we tested in 2017, there was a tendency to jitter over slight surface imperfections.

That said, the D5 rolled on optional 21 inch wheels and this T6 was fitted with optional 20s. If ride quality is high on your priority list it’s probably wise to stick with standard 18 inch rims and higher profile tyres, and to pay in for the aforementioned rear air suspension option.

VERDICT

The S90 leaves nothing on the table in comparison to more mainstream luxury sedans. It’s very well made, exceptionally spacious and comes with all the same trick gizmos as its established competitors. It’s also the only all-wheel drive option in its price bracket, though you might need to take it to upstate New York in December to fully appreciate this.

FACTS

Volvo S90 T6 Inscription

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl turbo/supercharged petrol
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 235kW @ 5700rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 2200-5400rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):5.9 seconds
Top speed (claimed):250km/h
Price: R911 130
Warranty: 5-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

BMW 530i - 2-litre turbo four185kW and 350NmR879 394
Mercedes-Benz E250 - 2-litre turbo four155kW and 350Nm R769 208
Jaguar XF 30t - 2-litre turbo four221kW and 400Nm R839 762
Lexus GS 350 - 3.5-litre V6232kW and 380Nm R906 100

Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd

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