Volvo S90 review: A nice car for nice people

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Follow Gavin

When Grey Advertising was given the unenviable task of changing the public perception of motorcyclists in America, the firm came up with the memorable 1960s ad campaign: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” Five decades on, these nice people would feel right at home in a Volvo S90.

The S90 and its sibling, the V90 estate, represent the second chapter in a new era for Volvo. Having laid the foundations with the unbelievably nice XC90, the Swedish giant is in the midst of revamping its entire range, starting with the S90 and V90, which will do battle with the Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series.

Only they won’t: a Volvo S90 driver would be far too nice to consider a battle. Instead, he or she would move aside, wave Mr Premium German past and settle back into what must be one of the most comfortable driver’s seats in the world.

Volvo calls it “relaxed confidence”, a thinly veiled attempt to disguise the fact that – dynamically at least – the S90 cannot match the Germans. But to compare the S90 to these rivals would be to do it a massive disservice. Instead, it stands alone as a unique proposition in the executive class, with an interior that’s as nice as anything this side of a Rolls-Royce.

Seriously, you wouldn’t feel any more relaxed if somebody ran you a hot bath, filled the room with scented candles and fired up the latest ‘whales and dolphins’ playlist. You could have had the day from hell, but just an hour spent behind the wheel of a Volvo S90 would make things peachy again. It really is that good.

Then there’s the driving experience which – you’ve guessed it – is just so incredibly nice. “We’re not going after the Germans when it comes to driving properties,” Volvo told me, which essentially means you shouldn’t expect to find an S90 pinned to your rear bumper on the outside lane of the M4 or hugging the apex on the exit slip road. In 190hp D4 guise, as tested here, performance is adequate but hardly scintillating – although you could upgrade to the more powerful 235hp D5, which has the added bonus of all-wheel drive. On the flip side, your monthly budget will take a hit, as the D5 gives up 5mpg compared to the D4, and in reality it’s likely to be much more. Our advice: stick with the more relaxed and efficient D4.

Not that you need drive the Volvo S90 at all. Engage the Pilot Assist and you’ll be wafted along the motorway in a manner that’s as close to an autonomous car as we’re prepared to get right now. It’ll maintain a nice distance between you and the car in front, controlling the brake and throttle as if it were wearing woolen mittens. It’s all so very calm and unhurried.

And the good vibes continue when you venture off the motorway and make a break for home on the backroads of the Home Counties. The ride quality is simply astonishing, with the S90 ironing out the creases as if a layer of Wilton was being rolled out in front of the car. It’s a car for taking the long way home, but only because it’s more relaxing than a glass of your favourite single malt in front of the woodburner.

My English teacher always taught me to avoid the use of the word ‘nice’. But to you, Mrs Bell, I will say this: never before has a word been more appropriate for a new car.

The Volvo S90 is a nice car for nice people. Everybody else can stick with the Germans.

Related articles