If space is the ultimate luxury, the S90 would be the ultimate luxury car.
Car Class: Enterprise/National/Alamo – Premium Elite; Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Luxury
Availability: Enterprise/National/Alamo; Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty
Alternatives: BMW 5-series, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac XTS, Infiniti Q70L, Lexus ES350, Lincoln Continental, Mercedes Benz E Class
|Drive off||Walk away|
|Spacious cabin||Finnicky infotainment|
|Advanced safety features||Stiff ride|
|Fit and finish||Lack of insurance coverage|
With the highest model number in the lineup, the Volvo S90 is the brand’s flagship. First introduced in 2017, the S90 replaces the aging S80 and brings contemporary styling and up to date technologies. With just one year on the market, the 2018 S90 adds an additional 12 cm in the wheelbase to provide rear passengers with more room. More importantly, the S90 is no longer made in Sweden. Instead, it is produced and imported from China, home of Volvo’s parent company, Geely. How does this international midsize luxury sedan fare as a rental in the North American market? Join us this week as we take on the roads in the 2019 Volvo S90 T6 Inscription.
Base momentum trims of the S90 are equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder motor producing 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque (T5). Most S90s on rental lots we have seen are of the Inscription trim like ours, which comes standard with a 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine producing 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (T6). Fuel economy with the T6 engine is rated at 9.3L/100km combined city and highway. However, we average a much worse 11.1L/100km during our time. Forced induction engines are rarely able to meet their posted fuel economy in the real world and the S90 is no exception.
We found acceleration from the T6 to be adequate. Drivers looking for more oomph can select the ‘Dynamic’ drive mode which will sharpen throttle response, tighten the steering and quicken the shifts from the 8-speed automatic. However, doing so will also result in more engine noise being piped into the cabin. While we enjoying the engine notes of some vehicles, this is unfortunately not one of them. No amount of computer trickery can disguise the noise a small 4-cylinder makes, which is unfitting of a vehicle in this class. Fortunately, road and wind noise are subdued, even at high speeds.
For such a large vehicle, steering is surprisingly light, especially in ‘Eco’ mode. This makes the vehicle feel smaller than it is and easier to maneuver in tight city streets. Optional on the Inscription trim and equipped on our rental, the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires do the ride no favours. During our drive, we constantly found the suspension crashing into larger bumps and manhole covers. While this may be acceptable for a performance sedan, the S90 is no performer, at least not in T6 form. Pick a model with smaller rims if you prefer a softer ride more akin to a luxury sedan.
Like most other Volvos, visibility is excellent with large side windows and a low beltline. To further aid the view around the vehicle, our rental is equipped with a 360 degree camera. Unlike some systems from Infiniti, the images are crisp and very helpful when parking in tight spots. For drivers looking for the ultimate in parking assistance, our rental S90 also came with Volvo’s excellent self-parking system, which not only can parallel and perpendicular park itself but also get out of tight spots.
Comfort and Convenience
Being the top Inscription trim with several optional packages, our S90 rental comes very well-equipped with features including a 9-inch Sensus infotainment system with navigation, Apple Carplay and Android Auto and 4 USB ports, B&W premium audio, 4-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, heated and cooled 16-way power adjustable front seats with memory, heated steering wheel and rear seats, rear side and rear window blinds, panoramic sunroof, LED head and tail lights, and many more. In addition, all S90s are equipped with Volvo’s PilotAssist, a suite of active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. Blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert is available in a package.
Befitting its flagship status, the S90’s interior is crafted using fine materials including open pore wood, aluminum and Nappa leather. The dash is wrapped in soft leather and garnished with pieces of genuine open-pore walnut wood, which add a nice contrast to the otherwise monotone cabin. Moving along to the door panels, the leather and wood combination continues and even extends to the insides of the door pockets. Needless to say, the seats are upholstered in perforated Nappa leather. Soft and firm in all the right places, they continue Volvo’s tradition of making one of the most comfortable seats in the industry. Together with 16 ways of adjustment, drivers of all sizes will have no problems finding a comfortable driving position. One gripe we do have is the steering wheel. While most automakers have gone to an electric adjustment for the steering column, Volvo continues with a manual tilt and telescoping wheel, which can be annoying if there are multiple drivers during a rental.
Our S90 Inscription is equipped with the Climate Package, which in addition to the standard heated and cooled front seats, adds a heated steering wheel, rear seats and wiper blades. Given Canada’s climate, we certainly hope all S90s on rental lots will be ordered with this essential package.
Ease of Use
As a concept, the S90’s Sensus infotainment system is great. Instead of the horizontal layout of other infotainment displays, the S90 utilizes a 9-inch vertically oriented display with a ‘home’ key much like an iPad. Below the screen lies a row of buttons for select functions such as defoggers, hazard lights, volume and track seek. Unfortunately, using it is nowhere as sleek as it looks. The menus are confusing to navigate and the lack of fixed contextual buttons means we are always taking our eyes off the road, even when adjusting simple settings such as the temperature. Making matters worse, the system can sometimes be slow to respond to touch inputs, especially when bringing up the map display and destination entry. This is a car that you will want to take some time to familiarize with before driving off the rental lot.
In line with the latest trends in automotive design, our Inscription trim comes with a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster. Unlike other versions from Audi and Cadillac, Volvo’s display lacks customization. Additionally, interacting with the instrument display also takes some getting used to. While buttons on the steering bring up menus to change trip, media, phone and navigation settings, an obscure button on the signal stalk resets the trip computer. Moreover, some of instrument cluster settings are buried in the centre touchscreen. If there is one bright side to the infotainment, we are glad Volvo does not lock out the settings when the vehicle is on the move, allowing the front passenger to help in figuring out everything.
Fortunately, the S90 continues to employ a traditional PRND shifter with a manual mode. Immediately behind it lies the start stop toggle. Different from the push-buttons in almost every other car, the toggle does feel different when first using it but after a while, it will become second nature.
Thanks to the 12 cm stretch in wheelbase, space in the S90 is in absolute abundance. Even with the front seats at their most rearward position, rear legroom is plentiful for the tallest of passengers. What does limit comfort, however, is headroom. Due to the panoramic sunroof and sloping roofline, taller passengers in the rear may have to slouch in order to avoid hitting the roof. Complementing the space, the S90 Inscription also comes with electronic side and rear window shades as well as the ability the control the front passenger seat from the rear. Normally features reserved for full-size luxury cars which are more likely to be chauffeur driven, we appreciate the availability in the S90 and the comfort it brings to rear passengers on long journeys.
Popping open the powered trunk lid reveals 13.5 cubic feet of space, which slightly trails other vehicles in its class. Despite the elongated wheelbase, trunk space remains unchanged over the previous model year. That said, families should have no issues fitting their luggage. For more space, the rear seats can be folded 60/40 and a ski pass through is available if long items need to be transported.
In the sea of midsize luxury sedans, the S90, with its distinctive Thor’s Hammer headlights and Scandinavian styling, stands out. As more drivers switch into SUVs and its bigger brother, the XC90, the S90 is becoming a rare sight on the roads. More than once we have gotten double takes from other road users as they figure out the make and model. Which is pity really, because with the latest stretch in wheelbase, the S90 has become a full-size luxury offering without the added price tag at the rental counter. Granted, the S90 has its fair share of flaws (none of them lethal), but if space is your yardstick for luxury, them nothing comes close in its class of rental.
Avis/Budget: Currently, no Volvos are in the Avis/Budget fleet in Canada. The closest alternatives will be the BMW 5-series, Cadillac CTS and XTS as well as the Jaguar XF, all of which are part of the Specialty Series.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Classified as a Premium Elite, the Volvo S90 is a rare sight in the fleet. Equipped with the optional Climate, Vision and Convenience packages, they are all very well-equipped and among one of the top choices in this rental category.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Intriguingly, the S90 is classified as Luxury. However, be expected to fork up an upgrade charge if you are trying to get into one with a Luxury reservation as Hertz tends to assign other vehicles in the same ‘class’ (i.e. Chrysler 300) first. That said, we have spotted the S90 in the reserved areas for President Circle members in airports with Ultimate Choice.