Fantastic interior design
Volvo has returned to the executive saloon segment with its most stylish offering yet: the S90. Built to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Audi A6, it's a very Scandinavian take on what a businessman's four-door saloon should be.
Under the skin, the S90 actually shares its architecture with the XC90 seven-seat SUV, and it shows on the outside, too. The 'Thor's hammer' headlights that debuted on the XC90 have been carried over, as has the concave grille. The interior is identical, too, with a stylish, well-built cabin dominated by the nine-inch central touchscreen.
Even the engine range is similar, with the flagship diesel being the four-wheel-drive D5. It's a 232bhp unit that uses electric supercharging to spool up the turbochargers and provide added boost, as well as providing competitive 127g/km CO2 emissions – an important consideration when many of these cars will go to company drivers.
The vast majority, though, will go for the even more economical 188bhp D4 engine, which manages 116g/km CO2 emissions and returns more than 64mpg. Only one other engine will come to the UK: a plug-in hybrid called the T8, which is expected to improve greatly on the diesels' economy and performance figures.
There's a familiarity around the range structure, too, with the basic Momentum car providing more than enough kit to be getting on with, while sportier R-Design and more luxurious Inscription models offer more toys and improved aesthetics.
The S90 isn't as good to drive as the Jaguar XF, and it isn't quite as comfortable as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but it offers a good compromise. It's a truly likeable, stylish alternative to the established executive saloons, and if you're fed up of the offerings from the German 'big three', this should be high up on your shortlist.
Prices start from GBP32,555, and rise beyond GBP45,000 once you've opted for the top-spec trim level, the more potent engine and a handful of choice options. It's a lot of money, but it's broadly similar to the amount charged by the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar, so it's no worse than its rivals in the value stakes.
The low roofline of the S90 does hamper its passengers' comfort slightly, but only those over six feet in height will find headroom a problem. Legroom is good, though, and the boot is also relatively spacious. At 500 litres, it's marginally smaller than those of its rivals, but a difference of between 20 and 40 litres is hardly noticeable. And anyway, those after true practicality will want the larger V90 estate.
Driving the S90 is an easy task. The only gearbox on offer is an eight-speed automatic, so it's basically a case of stop with one pedal and start with the other. Keeping an eye on what's going on is a simple affair, too, thanks to the clarity of the digital instrument display and the optional heads-up display, which provides a less distracting summary of the key information.
Volvo's decision to prioritise comfort was a good one. Cars of this ilk are rarely used for anything sportier than the occasional A-road dash, so effortless motorway miles are the order of the day. Here, the S90 excels, with a supple ride spoilt only by the optional 20- and 21-inch alloys. The four-cylinder diesel gets a bit grumbly under acceleration, too, but once you're settled into the cruise it's fine.
Central locking and keyless start are standard across the range, and though the keyless system has been at the centre of many hacking scandals, it's generally considered to be a relatively secure way of theft-proofing the car. The Volvo badge is also likely to help, as thieves will tend to target more mainstream premium cars.
Volvo is notorious for building safe cars, and the S90 is no exception. It has not yet been tested by Euro NCAP, but as it uses much the same safety systems as the XC90 SUV, it seems likely that it will match its stablemate's five-star score. A fleet of driver assistance systems, such as pedestrian-detecting autonomous emergency braking, are included, along with a plethora of passive safety systems, such as airbags and crumple zones.
With front-wheel drive as standard and all-wheel drive as an option, it's clear that handling prowess wasn't at the forefront of the Volvo engineers' minds when they created the S90. But then rear-wheel drive is no use on Swedish snow, so Volvo has chosen instead to focus on comfort. It's nowhere near as pointy as the Jaguar XF, then, but the only real gripe is the steering, which feels a little too vague unless you're in the aggressive sport mode.
With its fine leather and high-grade wood trim, the S90 probably won't be the first choice for young families, but those with older children will find it great for long road trips. The optional on-board infotainment systems will keep everyone entertained and there's enough space to prevent children coming to blows immediately. The boot, too, should be big enough to cart all the family's holiday paraphernalia from one side of the country to another.
Many youngsters dream of driving a GBP35,000 saloon car, but the truth is that it's beyond reach for the vast majority. If you're looking at insuring your children on your S90, you're probably staring down the barrel of an expensive insurance bill, thanks to the relatively powerful engine and sheer value of the car. There is, though, a comprehensive list of safety equipment that should make the Volvo a cheaper option than some of its rivals.
The Volvo is long and wide, so it won't fit into every gap you'll find, but it is available with a range of electronic gadgets to make parking as stress-free as possible. The reversing camera is large and clear, while a 360-degree manoeuvring camera is available as an option to make parking even more of a doddle. And if, for any reason, you can't use the cameras, parking sensors are also fitted.
Getting in and out of the S90 is a doddle, thanks to its sensibly sized doors and big, armchair seats, but the rear passengers may find the low roofline a bit of a menace when trying to duck into the back seats. It isn't a problem but those uninitiated occasional passengers might clip their heads on the top of the door frame.
The S90 is offered in a wide range of shades, but very few hues. Of the 13 paints on offer, all but five are white, grey or black. The remainder comprise two shades of blue and two different metallic browns, as well as a solid red that's only available on R-Design cars. Basic Momentum cars pair these colour schemes with chrome window surrounds and a black grille, while Inscription models add brightwork along the doors and a chrome-plated grille. R-Design variants, meanwhile, get smarter alloys and Alcantara upholstery.
The Niro's colour palette is limited to just six colours: two shades of white, a grey, a black, a red and a blue. Basic '1'-spec cars are only offered in white, grey and black, while the top-of-the-range First Edition model is only adds blue to that list. Only the mid-range '2' and '3' versions offer you the full complement of hues.
The S90's infotainment offering is dominated by the nine-inch touchscreen system that takes up most of the central dashboard. It's a relatively intuitive system and it is mated to an impressive sound system and a satellite navigation set-up that's streets ahead of the one used in Volvos of old. As an option, though, you can upgrade to the 1,400W Bowers and Wilkins stereo, which is an expensive choice at £3,000, but provides professional-quality audio with 18 speakers.
Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.
Petrol engine options – None. Diesel engine options – 2.0-litre D4 (188bhp), 2.0-litre D5 (232bhp) Transmission options: Eight-speed automatic. Trim levels: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription