THE V90 is so handsome that it’s hard not to spend a brief moment admiring it after parking. I rarely do this, but I caught myself doing it almost every time I left this Swede in the lot.
The V90 and the S90 were designed by a team headed by Thomas Ingenlath, senior vice-president of design at Volvo Cars. They are incredible bold design leaps.
In the wake of the Geely takeover, much has been said about the hands-off approach that the management had subscribed to in order to manage their newly- acquired Swedish outfit. This is all and well because the Volvo team was already making good progress in terms of design.
Starting from the XC60, they have been creating a design language that speaks well to automotive fans.
The V90 is the penultimate expression of this confident new patois. It has a masculine, powerful undertone to it. A long, low bonnet that melds into a swoopingly raked windshield that is garnished with a strong, crisp shoulder line which begins at the end of the headlamp and runs all the way to the edge of the rear door.
Gaze at the V90 from the side, and the car seems to stretch on forever.
It is hard to even imagine that this glamorous wagon is the spiritual descendant of the dowdy 240. Gone is the straight-angle rear door with a drop as steep as the Hogklint cliff in Sweden. In its place is a graceful sweeping door which reminds you of fighter jets and spaceships.
Interestingly though, at 4,936mm, the estate is actually a few centimetres shorter than the sedan, which measures in at 4,963mm.
Beneath the elongated hood of both the V90 and S90 is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine pushing out 254hp at 5,500 rpm, and 350Nm from a low 1,500rpm. Power is driven through an eight-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox to the front wheels in both cars.
Performance is inspiring. Both cars do the century dash in seven seconds, astonishing for cars weighing close to two tonnes. The cars can reach a terminal velocity of 230kph as described in the accompanying literature from Volvo, a claim we were unfortunately not privileged to test.
The V90 and S90 we drove came with 18-inch 10-spoke turbine rims shod with 245/45R18 tyres which were very tasteful.
Priced at RM393,888 for the V90 and RM388,888 for the S90, both Volvos come with a comprehensive list of driving and Intellisafe safety assists including pilot assist, ACC, city safety collision avoidance with intersection support, run-off road mitigation, driver alert control with lane keeping aid. Preventive safety devices include hill descent control, ready alert brake, emergency brake assists and fading brake support in addition to the more usual electronic stability control, electronic brake distribution and anti-lock brakes. In short, both Volvos have more safety aids than a magician has tricks up his sleeve.
Inside, the design continues to inspire, with fine leather, judicious use of metal and wood garnishing and quality soft touch plastics.
Quality and fine craftsmanship rule the day. As a rule of thumb, in the Volvos, all that appears chromy and shiny is real metal, while all that appears woody is real wood.
The V90 we drove was equipped with an Amber interior, with dark wood accents that added a touch of premium to the cabin.
The S90, on the other hand, had a light Blond interior which gave it a bright airy ambience but may not stand up too well to abuse.
The seats in both Volvos are firm, but amazingly comfortable.
The cabins are nice places to be in, but they are still a rung below the best interiors from Stuttgart.
The V90 is equipped with 40:20:40 split-folding rear bench with power-folding outer rear seats and headrests and a tonneau cover. In the S90, the rear bench is fixed.
Both cars are equipped with digital instrument clusters with 12.3inch TFT adaptive digital displays. Interestingly, they are not touch capacitive, but are worked via an infra-red grid.
They operate with a single button, similar to an iPad, and are a joy to use, with all car functions nor more than just a few swipes away. In fact the simple user interface is a lesson to the German manufacturers with their fussy and repetitive controls.
Are they just pretty to look at? Are they brilliant to drive?
It was hard to keep our hands off the V90, to be honest. A combination of alluring looks, comfort and good ergonomics makes the V90 irresistible. Driving it just felt good. So much so that you would come up with reasons to fire the engine up and take it for a drive.
We attacked the tight corners of Fraser’s Hill in the V90. On another earlier weekend, I cruised the North-South Expressway to Melaka in the S90, gobbling up miles at speed, with the laybys and exits just flying by. Both routes revealed the capabilities of Volvo’s new scalable product architecture (SPA) platform.
The V90 and S90 both carry a lot of weight. The V90 weighs in at 1,723kg while the S90 is 1,719kg.
This heft defines the character of both cars from the beginning.
On the sinewy stretch of asphalt heading up to Fraser’s Hill, the V90 clawed for grip as its weight was shifted from left to right.
Suspension is handled by double wishbones at the front and an integral-link rear axle with a composite leaf spring to make room for more luggage.
Nonetheless, the steering is direct enough to be engaging. The drive up Fraser’s did not become a chore, but was entertaining enough to elicit a few giggles from this driver.
But it is on the stretch to Melaka where the capabilities of the chassis were more ably demonstrated.
Sit down deep into the leather seats, turn on Waze navigation to warn of road ‘hazards’, and bury that throttle deep into the carpet.
Even in base T5 guise, the Volvo cruises effortlessly at high speed, steady as a rock and serenely quiet, the Thor’s hammer headlight clearing a path on the NSE as well as it does on any Swedish Motoring,
Technology also makes the T5s easier and safer to drive.
Inside, both cars are equipped with a plethora of driving and safety aids, including Volvo’s pilot assist with steering support for semi-autonomous driving as well as adaptive cruise control (ACC). Of the two, it was the ACC that we used the most. The pilot assist is a Level 3 autonomous system that is about the best available in the market. It still requires constant attention to remain engaged, detecting inputs on the steering wheel, and disengaging when not detected. After a while, it became a bother and I barely used it.
The ACC, on the other hand, is a very useful system. Once engaged, it detects the car in front using an array of radars and brakes or accelerates accordingly, although you still need to provide steering input. It makes driving in traffic less stressful, and you can go for long periods, with the ACC doing the braking and accelerating.
Their modern, iconic designs make the V90 and the S90 attractive propositions in a sea of conventional luxury sedans available in the market.
But beneath the skin, both cars offer practicality, performance and safety in a well-sorted package.
The S90 is nice, but it is the V90 which has it all. Competent on the road, big on space and imbued with an unmistakable style which will likely become legendary over time, it’s a pity that wagons have historically sold in low numbers here. It would be great to see more of them on Malaysian roads.