Want a large-ish saloon that isn’t German? Good news! Here’s a large-ish saloon that’s Swedish
Day one: Here comes the S90. It looks big, which it is, being longer and wider than an E-class or the new 5-series. It’s made from the same box of bits as the equally unsmall XC90 and has a similarly smashing Scandi-tastic interior, all light leather and portrait aspect touch screen. First impressions are slightly undermined by the cheap clack of the central locking and then immediately repaired by the niceness of the insides which look and feel expensive, from the softness of the leather to the real metal on the door releases and the stereo volume control. Also, as in the XC90, the S90 has keyless start operated by a sweet little metal twist knob between the seats. It’s an unusual and interesting way of doing something very mundane. Very nice. Very Volvo. What’s more remarkable is that this press demonstrator is the base model in the range and yet it feels upmarket, in a cleverly minimalist sort of way.
Day two: The last XC90 I drove had a very bumpy ride and this was a disappointment. The S90 is better, but not perfect which is a shame because in all other respects this is a very comfortable car. It’s also not a sporty car. There are no paddles for the autobox. There is no sense that it wants you to hare about the place like a nutcase with a wasp in his vest. It is calm and sensible and relaxing, which is why the ride should be better. On the plus side, the massive touch screen through which most functions are controlled is excellent. In the XC90 it could seem a bit sluggish. Here it’s fast and smooth and as logical as one of those Swedish television detectives who spends 80 percent of his working day sighing at a lake.
Day three: I have to go somewhere that requires use of the sat-nav. Like every other function in the S90 (except, weirdly, the fiddly buttons on the remote key) the nav is exceptionally easy to use and contains the two greatest things any car can offer, which are an easily accessed button for unilaterally muting the nav voice and a very clear, very simple way to cancel guidance. Bravo.
Day four: This S90 has some semi-autonomous ability. You can set the cruise control and the lane keeping thing and it’ll almost drive itself, though it shouts at you if it senses your hands are off the wheel for too long. As these systems go, it’s about as good as I’ve tried to date. Which is to say, you can let it run on a busy stretch of London’s wretched North Circular and only once or twice feel that it’s going to plough you into the central barrier. Later today I get stuck in a jam on the M1 and discover that it works like a charm in nasty stop-start traffic, bringing you smoothly to a halt when the car in front stops. To move off again you have to dab a button on the wheel or tap the accelerator which, given the generally effortless and relaxing atmos, feels like a bloody imposition. It’s only after a while I realise that it’s made particularly necessary by the effortless and relaxing atmos. You might have nodded off at a stop. If the car could set off on its own, the next thing you know you’re accidentally in Reading. And I’m sure Volvo doesn’t want that on its conscience.
Day five: I’m so impressed with the way all the tech on the S90 functions that today I decide to go all out and try the voice control. This sort of thing never usually goes well in cars because they have to do all the processing in their little brains, unlike your phone which can beam everything to a more powerful mothership and back again. But maybe the S90 is the car in which it’ll actually work? Sadly, it isn’t, and after a hopeless attempt to programme the nav, this Volvo becomes the latest in a long line of cars to which I have shouted, ‘OH FUCK OFF YOU FUCKBOT’. Shame.
Day six: There’s something curious about this car; everyone is interested in it, and everyone likes it. Pretty much every person from my office has not only asked me what it’s like but also then asked if they can nab the keys to have a poke around it, up to and including the Grand Tour presenters themselves. TV’s Jeremy Clarkson is especially keen. He even likes the rear lights which, for me, are inexplicably wide and badly resolved, making the rear look like a bad impression of an underbaked American car from the ‘80s. It’s the only styling clanger on the whole thing. Everyone who looks around the Volvo is impressed except for our runner who claims not to like it, probably because he is about 12, but then asks to sit in it on two separate occasions, probably because he knows he won’t be 12 forever and one day he too will experience the interesting in Volvos that age and wisdom brings.
Day seven: It’s not just colleagues who like the S90. Tonight while driving home a man in an old shape S60 pulled up next to me at some lights, waved to get my attention, and then gave a massive smile and a thumbs up. But in a very pleasant way. Obviously.
Goodbye: My time with the S90 is at an end. It’s not perfect, but then what is? I don’t like the smallness of the key buttons. I think there’s a piece of metal trim on the passenger side dash that looks weirdly glued on. And I wish the ride was a snadge better. But that’s it. Everything else about this car is excellent and I like it very much indeed. It’s calming and cheering, all at the same time. I feel like I could happily use one to drive around Sweden solving crimes, the inherent ennui of my surroundings and the grisly nature of my work effortlessly balmed away by the understated good nature of my thoughtfully designed and beautifully made car. There’s something else that draws me to the S90, something that’s beyond the car itself, and it’s the fact that it’s a Volvo. With SAAB now gone, it’s fallen to Volvo to act as a magnet for nice people and it’s a job they’re well equipped to do. Pricks, twats, shits and ne’er-do-wells don’t buy Volvos. And that in itself is one of the things that makes the S90 attractive. It’s a nice car for nice people. Nice.
The car talked about here is a Volvo S90 D4 Momentum. It has a 2-litre twin turbo diesel engine making 188 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 7.9 seconds and on to 140mph, though it would probably consider both things unseemly. In this spec, it costs £33,650.