“Look, ma, no feet!”
I never thought I’d utter those words while driving, but here I am, skirting corners along winding roads in the quaint enclave of Montauk in New York’s Long Island, putting the pedal to the metal sans, well, my own feet.
“Pretty cool, eh?” says my car companion, who has, perhaps against his better judgement, trusted me with his life.
This cool factor is thanks to Volvo and the new semi-autonomous 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD, its flagship sedan. It might just be the hottest new player in the midsize luxury segment. Since China’s Zhejiang Geely Holdings acquired the Swedish carmaker in 2010, Volvo has invested $11 billion in all-new vehicle design and engine architecture. The XC90 was the world’s first glimpse into the direction that Volvo—once a brand known mainly for its dedication to safety features—is hoping to drive towards.
“In 2010, we were bought by a new company and we needed to develop new platforms,” says Dean Shaw, Volvo Car USA’s vice president of corporate communications, during a presentation in Montauk. “Power engines, new electrical systems, everything from the ground up. We invested billions and focused on who we were here to serve: the people and the environment.” The sleek design and functionality of the XC90, equipped with a host of semi-autonomous driver assists and a stellar infotainment system, earned it nods from car aficionados. And now, Volvo is adding to its luxury game with the S90.
The S90’s front end follows the same new design direction as the XC90, with LED lighting and the signature waterfall-style grille bearing the Volvo monogram. The S90’s chassis uses six grades of steel, including the high-strength boron. The T6 engine in the S90 is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder that is both turbocharged and supercharged; it offers 316 horsepower and is the same engine that is equipped in the XC90 T6.
The S90’s stunning interior feels very Swedish in its minimalist design and aesthetic. The industry-leading seats are elegant, comfortable, and relaxed, with supple leather and unmatched ergonomics. The polished air vents, which Volvo calls “Airblades”, are vertical rather than horizontal. The dashboard is finished with beautiful natural flame birch wood, and is highlighted by polished metal on the outer edges. And the sunroof adds a beautiful touch, allowing natural light and fresh air to stream in from above. Visually speaking, this interior is a superior one.
The nine-inch touchscreen is the centerpiece of the S90’s cabin, controlling the climate, multimedia, telephone, and connectivity through Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. The integration into the sculpted dash of the S90 is seamless, and the system has a brilliant display.
The vehicle offers its own Wi-Fi hotspot and includes Apple CarPlay, and the HMI features simplified sat-nav mapping: your destination can be set by voice control or remotely via an app on your smartphone. And if all that wasn’t enough, the S90 integrates a Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker stereo, enabling you to rock out in the car to different sound modes including Studio, Individual Stage, and Gothenburg Concert Hall.
But the pièce de résistance is its enhanced semi-autonomous driving features, referred to as the Pilot Assist II. Unlike the 2016 XC90, you no longer need a car in front of you for the system to work; in fact, both the 2017 XC90 and S90 work up to speeds of 130 kilometres per hour. The Pilot Assist almost enables the S90 to drive you (it does require keeping your hand on the steering wheel). And if you find yourself in need of a caffeine fix or a snack, the Driver Alert feature will show you where the next closest rest stop is.
The S90’s Pilot Assist feature uses radar and camera guidance to aid with steering, acceleration, lane keeping, and even automatic braking at speeds up to 130 kilometres per hour. The system was competent enough that I spent almost my entire drive through the Hamptons with it activated. While I had to be a little more alert coming around bends and making turns, it was a thrilling yet relaxing experience. The Volvo drove so well that I would let it take me around again.
Keep your hands on the wheel with our Winter 2016 issue.