Volvo’s handsome large sedan has been on sale for two years now. Since then the Volvo brand has been growing and releasing new, equally good looking models, specifically SUVs and wagons. But they have also made some substantial, if subtle, changes to the big sedan. The first change is that in order to make space in the factory for all those new wagons and SUVs, Volvo moved the S90 assembly to China.
Along with this move, all U.S. market S90 models will get a 4.7” stretch in the wheelbase. Long wheelbase models have been popular in China for some time and many automakers offer LWB versions of their many models just for that market. BMW 7-series and Mercedes S-class have been sold in the US market only in long wheel base version for some time. Now they are joined by the Volvo S90.
The extra space created by the longer wheelbase goes directly into the rear seat area, specifically the leg room. The front seat in these pictures is set for my height of 6’2”. The rear seat still has a ton of legroom for its passengers, enough for me to comfortably stretch and cross my legs. It is a really executive feeling to sit back there but works great if you have children, too. The kids are easier to buckle in, they can’t kick your seat, and one button disables all of their controls.
That’s right, there are now more controls back there than before. Rear passengers can move the front passenger’s seat in all directions, open and close the sunroof and its sunshade, and the rear sunshade. This is in addition to the rear windows and their sunshades. If you ever played in the back of a limo as a kid, this will entertain kids of all ages longer than expected and totally not drive the driver crazy. Nope. Not. At. All.
The exterior of the 2018 S90 does not look much different than the previous model years. The styling changes to gain the extra length are subtle at best. To really see the difference between the SWB and LWB models, the two cars need to be seen side-by-side. The rear doors are longer but they don’t look long. All dimensions and proportions are extremely similar to the SWB S90 and thus this model remains equally handsome.
It should be noted that the driving dynamics remained pretty much unchanged with the longer wheelbase. The S90 is a super smooth highway cruiser but it does hustle without an issue when instructed to do so. Handling remains smooth and predictable, without much body roll and with obvious understeer when pushed too hard. Like many cars this size, the S90 prefers smooth and calculated maneuvers rather than quick and sudden inputs – don’t autocross your S90 but do enjoy a spirited road trip.
This model was equipped with the supercharged and turbocharged two-liter T6 engine. It makes 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. It’s a great powerplant but I noticed that it is very sensitive to weight. It screams in the S60, turning a rather average sedan into an underrated sleeper. But in the XC90, and even the V90 Cross Country, it simply feels just adequate. In the lighter S90 it is nicely matched to the chassis and while it does not overwhelm with power, this is not a slow car.
Being that this is one of the few cars on the American market to be assembled in China, I paid particular attention to build quality. But I really couldn’t find a single issue that was representative of poor quality. I found some design issues, such as the rear sunshade that does not go all the way to the top of the window or the touchscreen that tries too hard, but no actual quality issues. I drove the Sweden-made S90 when it first came out two years ago and that left me a bit disappointed as neither the 12V receptacle nor the USB ports were working, but I saw no such issues in the 2018 model.
Like most sedans these days, the S90 has not been a stellar seller for Volvo, and has been significantly overshadowed by the company’s SUVs. That is unfortunate. Part of me wants to believe that with the extended rear legroom and rear passenger controls, Volvo wants this sedan to find use as an upscale livery vehicle, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Whatever the case, what is fortunate is that if you shop around you may find an amazing deal on a new S90. There really is a lot to like in this sedan.
[Disclaimer: Volvo provided the S90 for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018]