The latest Volvo S90 saloon was launched in the UK towards the end of 2016 and serves as an intriguing alternative choice of large executive saloon next to the usual choices offered by Germany’s premium brands.
Now the S90 range has expanded with the new range-topping and sportier R-Design trim, which sits above Momentum and Inscription. It’s available with the same couple of diesel engines as other versions of the S90. However, the exterior styling gets some small changes and the suspension has been lowered and stiffened to give this car a sportier look and feel.
But do these changes make a significant, worthwhile difference? And how well does the whole package hold up next to other large executive saloons?
While Volvo do make T5 and T6 petrol engines for the S90, only a couple of diesels are available for the saloon in the UK market and even the sportier R-Design trim is no exception.
That’s not necessarily a problem though, since the frugality of diesels can appeal to executive car buyers planning to cover long distances and especially when they have a decent amount of power.
The S90’s diesels are both 2.0-litre units, and the one expected to lead sales is the D4 which delivers 187bhp. The D5 has 232bhp on offer but that comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which impacts on efficiency, whereas the D4 powertrain uses front-wheel drive.
With a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.2 seconds the S90 with the D4 feels as though it has plenty of pace to offer. The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox utilised delivers power in a very smooth and effective manner. The engine feels well-suited to drivers who want to get from A to B in a reasonably brisk but overall relaxed manner.
Ride and Handling
The car does handle well, but it’s hard to really notice big differences in the dynamics compared to other versions of the S90 outside of the R-Sport trim.
Certain versions of the Volvo S90 fully embrace the role of comfortable cruiser and that’s reflected in the way the suspension and steering is set-up. In the R-Design trim though, the ride is 15mm lower, the suspension's springs are shorter and stiffer and there’s passive monotube dampers too, all to enhance cornering dynamics. The car does handle well, but it’s hard to really notice big differences in the dynamics compared to other versions of the S90 outside of the R-Sport trim - mainly because the ride is firmer and the car can get somewhat unsettled on bumpy roads. Also, while the steering is light and easy-going, it lacks enough feedback to encourage an enthusiastic driving approach. If you’re really keen for your S90 to have a sportier drive, then you’ll want to consider the optional Active Four-C Chassis for £1,500. This raises the ride height to the same level as other S90s, but adds four corner adaptive dampers and rear air suspension. Overall though, while the S90 R-Design is no saloon for adrenaline junkies, it does for the vast majority of time deliver a quiet, comfortable and relaxing driving experience, and does brilliantly as a motorway cruiser.
Interior and Equipment
The concave design of the S90’s front grille is inspired by a classic Volvo from the Swedish manufacturer’s past – the P1800.
It’s hard to fault the interior of the S90, even in its standard trim and the range-topping R-Design adds even more kit to the mix. The standard eight-inch TFT driver’s information display is replaced in favour of one with a crystal-clear 12.3-inch screen. R-Design models also come with unique alloy wheels, silver door mirrors, a sports steering wheel and sports seats fitted with leather and Alcantara. All S90 models come with the likes of climate control, heated mirrors and seats, parking sensors and sat-nav. There’s loads of standard safety features too, including Pilot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control, which allow the S90 to drive semi-autonomously in its lane at speeds of up to 80mph. All the leather and plastic materials used within the S90 feel top notch and the nine-inch touchscreen and other controls are easy to use. The cabin is also spacious and airy and plenty of light comes in thanks to the large windows. Head and legroom both front and rear is abundant too, while the boot has 500 litres of capacity as standard. The Volvo doesn’t have the biggest boot in its class, but it’s not far off rivals with the biggest and it is still plentiful space-wise.
This S90 R-Design has the same fuel economy and CO2 emission figures as other versions of the saloon with the D4.
The S90 starts at £35,455 when going for the R-Design trim, which is £1,500 more than the starting price for the entry-level Momentum. That’s not a huge amount extra to pay for those that want their Volvo saloon a bit sportier, but you’ll likely want to save up at least an extra £1,500 for the optional Active Four-C Chassis. Most of the other options available are additional equipment packs that cost around £1,000 to add. The option pack most likely to catch the eye is the Xenium pack (costing £1,750) which includes a parking camera with a 360-degree surround view plus a power sunroof. This S90 R-Design has the same fuel economy and CO2 emission figures as other versions of the saloon with the D4, claiming 64.2mpg combined and 116g/km of CO2 - attractive figures particularly for company car drivers.
The Volvo S90 was already a classy, practical and efficient alternative choice of large executive saloon before the R-Design trim arrived and this version shares those same strengths. Not only are the styling changes of the R-Design quite subtle, but so are its driving dynamics - to the point where it’s questionable whether the drive is enhanced enough to make the extra investment worthwhile. If your heart is set on an executive saloon that’s particularly interesting to drive, then options from the likes of BMW and Mercedes are more likely to pique your interest. If you’re desperate for a Volvo saloon but wish it was a bit sharper to drive, then the R-Design can fulfil that specific wish. However, those who opt for lower trim levels won’t be short-changed, particularly when they fully embrace the S90's potential for comfortable cruising.