Car enthusiasts have been bemoaning the slow and steady encroachment of computers and autonomous driving into our vehicles. Indeed, the thought of no longer being able to drive our cars can be scary. Yet if the smart car future is anything like that which Volvo is envisioning, it might be something to look forward to.
Boring may be the first adjective that comes to mind when one mentions autonomous driving, yet this Volvo S90, that comes equipped with many autonomous features can hardly be described as looking boring at all. In fact, 'boring' is no longer an applicable adjective for Volvo.
The S90 is just the second car of a whole new model range that will be reborn. Key to this rebirth is Volvo's 'Scalable Product Architecture' (SPA) platform that will serve as the backbone of all future Volvos. In essense, no matter what the size, all future Volvos will be built upon this and will look and feel very much like this new crop of cars. And if the XC90 and S90 are anything to go on, that spells a very exciting future for what used to be a very boring brand.
The S90 draws stares with its broad, almost shark-nose like grille. Slim headlights stretch out of it, illuminated by the new 'Thor's Hammer' daytime running lamps. Intakes sit where you'd expect the foglights to be. Those in turn are hidden in a broad lower valence that underlines the facade.
Towards the side, the rest of the body bears a minimal amount of flourishing. Large 20 inch wheels are the only thing that stand out. The car establishes a regal presence with a large body to greenhouse ratio of 3:1, something typically employed by ultra luxury marques like Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin. Behind, the tail bears distinct C-shaped tail lights that garnish a rather unremarkable tail. Yet this odd lack of flair may very well be the genius in Volvo's design, allowing it to stand out simply because it's not the typical brash and flashy styling.
Whatever lack of flair of the exterior is more than made up for by the interior. Many modern luxury cars integrate quite a lot of technology, yet few do it as unintrusively as Volvo. This S90 is upholstered in the monotone color scheme, with brushed aluminum and piano gloss accents, though this plain interior might have benefitted more from the adventurous interior schemes offered abroad.
In front of the driver is a fully digital instrument cluster. The tachometer dial changes depending on the driving mode, or can be customized with 'themes'. Like its contemporaries from the VW Group, the center space can display which doors are open, trip info, consumption, audio settings or even GPS Navigation with up-to-date local maps. The wheel itself has all the usual cruise control and remote entertainment controls. It can also adjust the displays on the instrument cluster, calling forward fuel consumption, range, and average readouts.
Getting in one's favorite driving position is easy with a power adjustable steering wheel and seats with memory, 4-way lumbar support (even for the passenger).
Yet the real jewel of Volvo's in-car infotainment is in the center of the dash — its iPad-like center display. The massive tablet is responsive and operates quite smoothly. Fiddle around with it and you'll find it grants access to navigation, the entertainment system, climate, any connected phones or devices, safety settings, and even a built-in vehicle manual to figure things out on-the-go. Like any iPad, just hit the home key to return to the main menu.
Driving controls are all grouped on the divider between the seats. The main drive selector knob and drive mode roller are even decorated like jewelry. Choose a drive mode and it accordingly changes the color of the tachometer and speedo. The rest of the consols is kept neat with sliding shutters hide the cupholders and power jack.
Behind, rear passengers also get dual-zone climate control, adjusted by flush touch-screens. As an added feature, the rear bench features built-in booster seats that rise to accommodate children and put them in the proper position for the seatbelt. It also has ISOFIX attachments for easy installation of child seats.
The trunk, in turn, is large enough for most requirements. It opens and closes at the press of a button. It may not be able to handle large golf bags, but thankfully keeps the first aid kit easily within reach. The spare and tools are kept out of sight underneat the trunk floor.
Propelling this all forward is a 2.0-liter twin turbo diesel D4, generating 193 PS along with 400 Nm of torque. This is sent to the front wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission, with manual mode.
Fully independent suspension on all four wheels keeps it aloft. This model rides on the traditional shocks and springs setup, though there is an air-suspension option.
Twisting the start knob brings the vehicle quietly to life. In all honesty, I thought I was driving a gasoline engine as it's incredibly smooth and quiet. The only giveaway is the sheer amount of torque, easily rolling the car along in traffic by barely touching the pedal. There's a lot of power on hand, but the on-board drive-by-wire system prefers to deliver it more smoothly and progressively, rather than by neck-snapping aggression, even in sport mode.
This time around, the stop-start system is left off by default, making it far less annoying in traffic. There's also an auto handbrake feature that can activate at stoplights, allowing you to take your foot of the brake once it comes to a full stop. Just a tap on the throttle and it disengages again.
The ride itself is balmy, and while there is some roll in corners, it's not as much as you'd expect. The body and light 4-cylinder engine hardly penalize the suspension, allowing it to take on sweeping roads surprisingly well for its size. The steering is also reassuring, adjusting from light to heavy but responsive at higher speeds.
Come nightfall and harsh weather, the S90 really begins to show its smarts, with tech like Active Bending Lights with Auto Dimming that turn into the corner in sync with the steering wheel, and dim when there are oncoming vehicles. Naturally, this vehicle also comes with Volvo's trademark suite of extensive safety features. There's City Safety which includes the full auto brake feature and adaptive cruise control. There's also the automated parking feature which can handle both parallel and perpendicular spaces. It also has a “Drive-out” feature that brings itself out of the same tight space. Finally, there's also Lane Keeping Assist for the highways, and Cross Traffic Alert, that alerts you of cars coming when pulling out of a driveway.
Our little weekend cruise with the S90 netted a fairly respectable 11.1 km/L in the city with heavy traffic and 16 km/L in the highway. In addition, all the proximity sensors tend to sound the alarm quite frequently in heavy traffic.
Perhaps our only caveat with the car is how easily the steering controls and touch screen can be marred by fingerprints. They're easy to wipe off but can be rather unsightly when you forget.
Beyond that, the S90 is one of those cars that truly takes all the chores out of driving. The amount of tech integrated into the car is staggering, and thanks to the clever interior design, is hardly daunting either. Best of all, it's relaxing to drive, whether in heavy traffic or out of town in light traffic.
With all that real estate, all the standard tech, and the plush interior trim, the S90 D4, priced at P3,995,000, makes a very tempting proposition. For those that have been fearing the day when cars and computers finally take over all the driving, a ride in a modern Volvo could change your mind.