Franschhoek - Imagine being chauffeured in a classy new sedan, arriving at your destination through vineyards in one of the Cape's most breathtaking towns, Franschhoek.
The driver stops in an enclosed courtyard, complete with a fountain. There are large, double wood doors and arches leading into the ‘Sandstone’ private residence. There's a little wooden walkway above an enormous Khoi fish 'pond', while the light streams in from an alluring chandelier above a beguiling new Volvo S90.
It's not difficult to believe that the beauty before me is the very same car I had just gotten out of, but its stylish looks overwhelms me all over again when gazing at it.
READ: Volvo's new S90 - Svelte Swedish sedan headed for SA
The S90 is the automaker’s second new model since Volvo began its revival in 2014. The S90 raises the bar set by the multi-award winning XC90, on which it is based.
The automaker says the S90 is its contender in the large, executive sedan segment, and takes on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series.
Under the bonnet
The S90 features the same engine range as the XC90, which includes petrol and diesel versions; front- or all-wheel drive, and are mated to an 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. All engines are part of the Drive-E engine family – designed by Volvo, for Volvo. All units are aluminium 2.0-litres featuring forced induction.
In diesel guise there’s the D4 and D5 in FWD. The D4 is twin-turbocharged good for 140kW/400Nm. Volvo claims average fuel consumption is as low as 4.4-litres/100km on the combined cycle, and CO2 emissions of 116g/km. Zero to 100km/h sprint takes 8.2 seconds and it has a claimed top speed of 230km/h.
What do you think of Volvo's new S90? Would you choose this over BMW's 5 Series or Mercedes' E-Class? Let us know via email, Facebook and Twitter.
The D5 engine features PowerPulse technology with a two-stage, series-sequential twin-turbocharger system with variable geometry, the engine is further augmented by a 2.0-litre tank of compressed air, says Volvo.
The D5 makes 173kW/480Nm. Below this rev range, PowerPulse ensures a smooth driving experience, with the results making the engine actually feel more normally-aspirated rather than turbocharged. Combined fuel consumption is rated at 4.8-litres/100km ; 127g/km CO2 emissions; 100km/h sprint takes 7 seconds and it has a claimed top speed of 240km/h.
Petrol variants comes in the form of the T5 with front wheel drive, power figures are 187kW/350Nmwith a 6.5-litres/100km fuel consumption and 149g/km emissions. 100km/h sprint takes 6.8 seconds and its speed is 230km/h.
The big daddy of the lot the AWD T6 features a turbocharger and supercharger, which supplements the turbo and takes care of low-down grunt until 3 500 rpm. This all results in figures of 235kW/400Nm. The T6 does the 100km/h dash in 5.9 seconds, and has a 250km/h top speed.
Even with those powerful figures, Volvo still claims a 7.2-litres/100km fuel consumption and 165g/km emissions.
Image: Volvo SA
Having sampled both engine options, the S90 drives like a charm on the road. It's comfortable in every sense of the word, goes into corners and handles twisties with ease. The diesel units are achingly quiet and has delicious, grunty torque needed for overtaking.
It's the type of car you'd want to be driven around in, or if you're behind the wheel, take a leisurely cruise. I say this only because there's a new BMW 5 Series on the way and its performance will be highly competitive. The S90 isn't the kind of car you'll chuck around corners and make the tyres screech, even though it's very capable there of. Like you wouldn't go hiking up Table Mountain in a ball gown.
Even with Mercedes' sophisticated E-Class, it's still a mean beast on the road and although the S90's T6 delivers a supreme drive with seamless gear shifting, its almost too beautiful for ts own good. Like a model collector who's cars remain encased in a display cabinet.
One of its first attractions luring you to the car is its obvious relaxed, confident styling at every angle.
Designed by Volvo’s Thomas Ingenlath, the car exudes the svelte muscular traits with its Thor's hammer signature headlights. It has elegant, assertive proportions and makes no attempt to subtly hide its powerful presence.
Volvo claims unprecedented luxury with unique quality overall. This might sound a bit all too much, but with attention to detail such as open pore walnut wood materials embracing the fascia ,and smooth chromed air blades with diamond-cut shutter knobs, you can’t blame Volvo for being this overzealous of its latest addition.
Even the seats are designed around the human spine and designers were briefed to create every aspect of the car based on comfort, space and light.
Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo vice-president design, says: “Even the new shaped grille has 23 metal rips carved in a concave manner, derived from the P1800 when Volvo showed this the first time, giving the S90 a proud attitude to the front."
The S90 is lower, wider and longer than any of its rivals and Volvo says this is thanks to something called the dash to axle measurement. This means the distance from the centre of the front wheel to the dashboard which symbolises a premium product. Historically the term first meant to accommodate larger or longer engines needed to accommodate the premium segment.
Volvo claims the car has a classy, stylish Scandinavian design with looks of a sleek, elegant saloon on the outside and fresh, and modern inside.
The rear end's design is something new from Volvo, and will probably take some getting used to with its obscure tail lights and large flush area. But when you're looking at it in the metal, it will grow on you sooner than you'll realise.
Volvo’s S90 head of design, Robin Page, says: “The car’s design started with the centre iPad screen being the focus on the inside and then we built around it. There’s chrome all around the car, more beautiful materials and solid decorative wood.”
What makes this car so luxurious inside is the fact that there’s hardly any plastic in front of you, only wood, metal and glass.
Volvo also boasts with its IntelliSafe, its latest safety system already available in the XC90 in SA and comes with large animal detection and lane keeping assist.
The Pilot Assist in the S90 is the second-generation of the system which was first launched in Volvo’s XC90 here in SA, extends the scope of the semi-autonomous function to include low speed traffic jam situations, driving situations on roads with proper road signs, says Volvo.
When activated, acceleration, braking and steering are assisted to help the driver comfortably follow the traffic flow in the current lane with about a three-car gap.
The driver can override the system at any time by using either the brake pedal, accelerator pedal or steering wheel. The turn indicator can be used to temporarily abort the steering support if the driver wants to change lanes and automatically turns off if the driver does not keep a hand on the steering wheel.
So en route to the launch on our chauffeured drive, we were demonstrated how the system works. Simply activate Pilate Assist by using the steering wheel buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. The Adaptive Cruise Control settings like time gap and set speed are available, necessary status information is shown in the instrument panel: i.e. steering support on/off.
If you accidentally turn the system off, the driver receives a warning.
But here's my concern. While the system might be great, and a step in the right direction towards an autonomous future, I honestly think South Africans are not ready for this kind of technology, not with the amount of bad driving and lawlessness on our roads.
The system is exact in keeping its following distance but just as it slows down with oncoming traffic, it also speeds up significantly as soon as the car ahead of it is out of range. So when the car is in a bend, it can't read the road angles and the driver has to take control. It really is amazing, but not being able to predict other road users' actions, the driver simply shouldn't solely rely on Pilot Assist alone.
Would I buy it?
With all that said, its nice-to-have features and convenient functions are a treat, and I'd be more than willing to spend this kind of money for an alternative option to a German luxury sedan.
Volvo S90 D4 Geartronic Momentum - R698 500
Volvo S90 D4 Geartronic Inscription - R742 000
Volvo S90 D4 Geartronic R-Design - R727 500
Volvo S90 D5 Geartronic AWD Momentum - R777 700
Volvo S90 D5 Geartronic AWD Inscription - R821 200
Volvo S90 D5 Geartronic AWD R-Design - R806 700
Volvo S90 T5 Geartronic Momentum - R675 200
Volvo S90 T5 Geartronic Inscription - R718 700
Volvo S90 T5 Geartronic R-Design - R704 200
Volvo S90 T6 Geartronic AWD Momentum - R828 400
Volvo S90 T6 Geartronic AWD Inscription - R871 900
Volvo S90 T6 Geartronic AWD R-Design - R857 400