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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Don Adair: Volvo’s new S90 flagship pays a winter visit

Like an emissary from the Land of the Midnight Sun, Volvo’s new S90 sedan stopped by for our first real taste of winter.

Of course, Volvo knows winter. The rigors of Swedish winters gave rise to its focus on stout construction and safety innovation. 

Volvo’s new flagship, the midsize S90 reflects Volvo virtues, both traditional and contemporary. It is sinfully comfortable, elegantly designed and, above all, a paradigm of safety.

Metal inlays and wood trim finish its leather-lined five-passenger cabins. Its deeply bolstered seats are some of the best in the business and its tablet-style control interface — it manages, audio, A/C and navigation — sets the standard for touchscreen systems.

Most important, though, is Volvo’s commitment to build cars so safe that, by 2020, “ … no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.”

The S90 and its SC90 crossover counterpart are the first mass-market cars to include as standard gear a full suite of safety and semi-autonomous driving technologies. At highway speeds (up to 80 mph, various accident-avoidance systems allow near hands-free operation. 

Adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain a constant distance from vehicles ahead and automatic braking can bring the S60 to a full, emergency. The S90 can center itself in its lane and, should the car drift onto the shoulder of the road, it attempts to steer itself back to safety.

If the S90 does leave the road at speed, airbags built into the seatbacks deploy to safeguard occupants’ spines.

In town, the system detects to and responds pedestrians and cyclists and this year adds large-animal detection, with automatic braking. Volvo says its accident-prevention systems reduce the chances of rear-ending another vehicle by 41 percent.

Other measures include lane-departure warning, road-sign recognition and a drowsy-driver alert. Inexplicably, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are options.

The S90 is available in front-wheel-drive (T5) and all-wheel-drive (T6) configurations. A turbocharged 250-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers T5 trims. On T6 trims, an added supercharger boosts output to 316 hp.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard. T5 models are rated at 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway); T6s are good for 25/22/31.

All S90s are equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, a 9-inch Sensus infotainment display, 10-way power front seats, a 10-speaker audio system, LED headlights and foglights, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition.

The topmost Inscription trim (available on T5 and T6 models) brings, adaptive LED headlights, headlight washers, Nappa leather upholstery, upgraded front seats with both heating and cooling, a leather-wrapped dash panel, walnut trim accents, four-zone climate control, a 12-inch instrument display and Apple CarPlay integration.

For all that it is, the S90 is not a sport sedan. Its chassis lacks the locked-in feel that the Germans own. Its electrically assisted steering system is unnaturally and heavily weighted and, on occasion, our T6 tester’s 20-inch wheels failed to filter out the impact of a rough road surface.

In consideration of the S90’s manifest virtues, though, these complaints register as a small price to pay. This Scandinavian visitor is always welcome in our driveway.

Contact Don at, or visit

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription
Vehicle base price: $46,950
Trim level base price: $52,950
As tested: $66,105
Options included active bending LED headlights; walnut inlays; Nappa leather; ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; leather dashboard and door panels; power seat bolsters; laminated side windows; 360-degree surround-view camera; blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert; heated washer nozzles; Bowers & Wilkins premium sound; 20-inch wheels; metallic paint; more.
EPA rating: 25 combined/22 city/31 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.