Volvo S90 long-term test: a boot full of Wellies

Published: 21 October 2019

► Volvo S90 joins our fleet
► Not hybrid, not diesel
► Not very Volvo, then?

Month 7 living with a Volvo S90: summer? What summer?

This month we’ve been recreating last summer’s en masse Pulman family holiday to Anglesey – albeit with two new babies now in tow and the spectacular weather of 2018 swapped for rain, rain and more rain. The S90 was a worthy replacement for the VW Arteon we were up here in 12 months ago: it just swallowed all the pram, cot and other paraphernalia needed; the in-built rear window blinds kept the back seat dark enough that our little one snoozed through both evening journeys to and from the island; and the comfy front seats meant mummy and daddy (and their aching backs) arrived as refreshed as can be expected when you’ve a 10-month-old. 

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920 (£49,370 as tested) 
Performance 1969cc turbo 4-cyl, 247bhp, 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph 
Efficiency 42.2mpg (official), 34.3mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2 
Energy cost 17.1p per mile 
Miles this month 747
Total miles 2789

Month 6 living with a Volvo S90: safety first?

Volvo badge

Volvo has declared it doesn't want anyone to die in its vehicles by 2020, and that means far more than just seatbelt and airbags.

The S90 has tech galore, including City Safety, which can detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals and apply full braking, as well as Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous system that can take care of the steering, throttle and brake to keep you in your lane and at your chosen speed.

Then there's the matter of the recently announced limit of 112mph on all new Volvo models from next year. Makes me think I should exploit this car's 140mph max while I can, although that's not really in the spirit, is it?

Fearful of a cacophony of beeps and bongs, I've been surprised by the subtlety of the S90's watching brief. It politely warns of speed cameras ahead, the wheel lightly vibrates when you cross motorway lanes without indicating, and the orange illumination in a door mirror – warning of a vehicle in your blindspot – aids rather than distracts. There's been no sudden vehicle-instigated braking, no emergency tightening of seatbelts, no attempts by the computers to override my inputs. That, I like to think, is a sign that I'm playing my part in ensuring no one comes to harm in this Volvo.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920 (£49,370 as tested) 
Performance 1969cc turbo 4-cyl, 247bhp, 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph 
Efficiency 42.2mpg (official), 32.2mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2 
Energy cost 18.4p per mile 
Miles this month 278
Total miles 2042

Month 5 living with a Volvo S90: the road trip

1. Green pump!
Having basically never left London, the Volvo finally stretches its legs. First up, fuel – I still have to remind myself to put petrol in this big saloon – and collecting a film crew from Heathrow.

S90 pembrey

2. To the track
We cruise past Swindon and Bristol, over the now toll-free Severn Bridge, and keep going on past Cardiff and Swansea. Our destination is Pembrey Circuit, the 'home of Welsh motorsport'. Wonder what Anglesey makes of that?

S90 rallycross

3. Race you?
I know which is more fun on the recently opened rallycross section of the Pembrey track, but faced with the return leg to London I've only got eyes for the Volvo. Aside from a stop to fill up, it's an easy 200-mile journey home.

S90 isofix

4. Family friendly
The baby's seat goes back in (I'm now practised enough that's there's no swearing, and only a little sweating) and the pop-up Isofix flaps mean no need to remove seat cushions or plastic cover panels – neither of which are usually ever seen again.

S90 child seat

5. Parental guidance
A quick turnaround, and we're off for our first big family trip during daylight hours. Given it's nap time, the rear window blinds go up. Together with the already tinted glass and frankly outstanding driving, our little one sleeps the whole way to the great-grandparents. Return journey also as successful. Father of the year!

S90 holiday

6. Room for three
Originally this was to be ed-in-chief Phil McNamara's car, before he discovered the third addition to his netball team was on the way. We fill the boot and back seat for two nights away with one baby, so the S90 would never have worked for him.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920 (£49,370 as tested) 
Performance 1969cc turbo 4-cyl, 247bhp, 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph 
Efficiency 42.2mpg (official), 23.3mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2 
Energy cost 16.9p per mile 
Miles this month 598
Total miles 1764

Month 4 living with a Volvo S90: urban dweller

Big family journeys in the Volvo are being foiled left, right and centre. First to go was a trip up to Liverpool to visit the great-grandparents, scuppered by the need to have a Macan in nearby north Wales 24 hours later for our posh SUV Giant Test.

Baby seat and general clobber transferred, the Porsche did a great job on the journey (the sub-30mpg from its 2.0-litre petrol notwithstanding). Next for the chopping block is a week in France. For that I blame the threat of a no-deal Brexit – not wanting to spend the week parked in Kent on the M20, we’re flying. Departing from Southampton will mean our first foray as a family beyond the M25. Not likely to be a thrilling drive, but at least it’s out of London.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920 (£49,370 as tested) 
Performance 1969cc turbo 4-cyl, 247bhp, 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph 
Efficiency 42.2mpg (official), 23.3mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2 
Energy cost 25p per mile 
Miles this month 103
Total miles 1166

Month 3 with a Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro: spec secrets

Volvo S90 interior driving

Moments after ordering the S90, I started worrying whether I’d done the right thing. I had no qualms about the S90 per se, but I did start to question the combined effect of all the options I’d specified. There’s blue paint, plus R Design Pro spec, meaning big wheels, tinted rear windows, a more aggressive front bumper and the deletion of the chrome strips along the doors. Inside, sports seats trimmed in black leather, black headlining, and perforated black leather on the steering wheel, gearstick and key fob. In short, a BMW 520d M Sport wannabe with a dark and foreboding cabin.

Then I spent a bit of time in a Volvo XC60 with its lovely tan leather, and a few days in a new V60 which was white as alabaster. Both had gorgeous slabs of lightly coloured driftwood across their dashboards, too, hinting at some idyllic Scandinavian lakeside retreat with its own private jetty. All of which made me wonder why I’d tried to create a Germanic S90.

Mercifully the reality is different, as there’s none of the try-too-hard detailing of the BMW. Rather, it’s all nicely restrained and understated, with the metal trim and little touches like the white stitching atop the leather-trimmed dash brightening the cabin.

It helps that the central portrait touchscreen is set below the parapet, blocking out less light. When the digital screen ahead of the driver really tells you all you need to know, there’s no reason why another should be up in your eyeline. 

It drives really well too. There’s no over-the-top bravado or excessive sportiness, rather a decent ride, a hint of heft from the steering and the sensation of wide front tyres with lots of grip, a responsive throttle pedal, and a pleasing little noise from the four-pot petrol. If only it consumed fuel like a 520d…

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920 (£49,370 as tested)
Performance 1969cc turbo 4-cyl, 247bhp, 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph
Efficiency 42.2mpg (official), 31.6mpg (tested), 156g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.1p per mile
Miles this month 319
Total miles 1063 

Month 2 of our Volvo S90 long-term test: the Volvo On Call app

Volvo On Call app in our S90

Even before the sleep deprivation, I could never really remember where I parked our car. Now, running on empty 10 weeks into becoming a family of three, I'm often unsure whether I've showered and I definitely don't have a bloody clue where I last left the S90.

Step forward Volvo's On Call app, which has a map to remind you where your car is. You can turn on the lights too, in case you're really struggling – and sound the horn if you're an arse. It also lets you lock and unlock the doors and start the engine remotely on cold mornings. I'm not sure I want another car idling in London, but knowing where it's parked is a literal step in the right direction.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920
As tested £49,370
Engine 1969cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 247bhp @ 5500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1800rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive  
Performance 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 156g/km CO2
Miles this month 158
Total miles 744
Our mpg 28.1
Official mpg 42.2
Energy cost 20p per mile

Month 1 living with a Volvo S90 T5: hello and welcome

Volvo S90 LTT hello

Hot on the heels of one new arrival, a diminutive milk tyrant, comes another addition to the Pulman household: a sensible Volvo. As a panicked new father, faced with a mountain of paraphernalia inversely proportional to the baby's size, it's the obvious solution.

I am though, in my early 30s, and reluctant to embrace the traditional Volvo estate, so my Swede is the big S90 saloon. It's a handsome car, all clean Scandipure lines and subtle presence, and in my corner of south-west London it scores bonus points for the novelty of not being another XC90 or XC60.

The S90 may not be an everyday sight in the UK, but globally it's a big deal, especially in China. Worldwide sales were up 22.6 per cent to 57,142 in 2018 – and it outsold the V90 and V90 Cross Country combined.

Beneath the unassuming skin it's Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the modular platform that underpins all the 90- and 60-series SUVs, saloons and estates that have been built under Geely ownership, while inside it's the same infotainment system Volvo has cleverly rolled out across its range without all its models feeling like a set of matryoshka dolls.

A diesel engine is an option, but I've gone for the 2.0-litre four-cylinder, another bit of tech that proliferates across the Volvo range. In the S90 you can have a turbocharger and a supercharger plus hybrid gubbins for the near-400bhp (but near-£60k) T8. Ours, though, is the new T5 version, which means a single turbo like the entry-level T4, but 59bhp and 37lb ft more for 247bhp and 258lb ft totals. Only the D5 and the T8 hybrid power all four wheels, so drive goes through the front via an eight-speed auto.

Volvo S90 long-term side pan

The cheapest S90, in T4 Momentum guise, comes in at £36,120, and for that you get everything from adaptive cruise control and heated front seats, to tyre pressure monitoring and LED lights – but you need the £41,620 R-Design or £42,3070 Inscription trims for the T5 engine.

Inscription is the posh trim with walnut interior inlays and chrome exterior trim, while R-Design is Volvo's equivalent of BMW's M Sport. A host of detail tweaks inside and out including sportier seats, silver mirrors, swathes of metal across the dash and doors, and perforated leather for the steering wheel, gearstick and key. We settled on the £44,920 R-Design Pro spec, which further adds keyless entry, 20in wheels, a heated steering wheel, tinted windows, bendy lights and a head-up display.

First impressions pottering around London, besides it being blue and big (it's a lengthy 4963mm) are of a vehicle uninterested with the frenetic pace of life. Close the S90's door and suddenly your world is a calmer place, with barely a button in sight throughout the uncluttered cabin. While the Germans stand tablet-aping screens proud of the dash and up in your eyeline, nothing in the Volvo rises above the stitched dash. And while usually I can't stand such minimalism, the portrait-format nine-inch central touchscreen is a doddle to use.

We'll come to the infotainment system in more detail in coming months, but for now, combined with the fact the engine is quiet, the seats supremely comfortable, and the digital dials clear and easy to read, life aboard is serene, quiet and relaxing. At least, that is, until the little one in the back starts crying...

Volvo S90 long-term headlight

Volvo S90 T8: spec highlights

An actual colour? that’ll cost you
Ice White paint is the only no-cost colour option, while our choice of Bursting Blue is the only adventurous one – the rest are all shades of white, silver or grey. It’s £1000; the others are £700.

The screen can’t multitask
If you’re prepared to do without the head-up display that’s standard on Momentum Pro, R-Design Pro and Inscription Pro models, you can get a heated screen. It’s a no-cost deal that works for us: it quickly de-ices the screen on frosty mornings. 

No more notes under the wipers
We’ve got a 360º around-view camera system as part of the £1600 Xenium pack, which also comes with a sunroof, plus Volvo’s Park Assist Pilot tech that can do automatic parallel and 90º parking – in case the four cameras aren’t enough.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Pro

Price £44,920
As tested £49,370
Engine 1969cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 247bhp @ 5500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1800rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive  
Performance 6.8sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 156g/km CO2
Miles this month 49
Total miles 586
Our mpg 23.6
Official mpg 42.2
Fuel this month £13.01
Extra costs None

Check out our Volvo reviews

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy