The 2019 Isle of Man TT Senior winner loves big engines and old vans. Good lad
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What is this? It’s the new Volvo S90. It’s a wee while since an S90 has been offered – nearly 20 years, in fact – but the last S90 was just a rebadged version of Volvo’s boxy 900 series. This new version is rather different, and even if it does retain its spiritual ancestor’s three-box shape, we’d argue it’s a heck of a lot cooler. We’d argue it’s cool full stop. Explain why. Well, just look at it. It is wilfully different to a BMW 5-Series or Jaguar XF, Volvo vehemently going its own way and acknowledging its past – with that unmistakeable side profile – while adding lots of intriguing design quirks, like the headlights it insists on calling ‘Thor’s hammer’.
Round the back, and the looks may divide opinion. But you won’t miss it. If a 5-Series blasts past you on the hard shoulder, we’d wager you might not be able to decipher quite what size (or age) of BMW it is until it’s long overtaken. This is more recognisable. Will the S90 even actually overtake me, though? Probably not. It’s not a car you’re compelled to grip the wheel of tightly before projectiling yourself at the horizon. In fact, you’ll be tempted to hang around and enjoy your time in it. Which brings us to the other branch of the S90’s coolness; it’s unashamed calmness is at odds with every big saloon rival save perhaps the Lexus GS. And that doesn’t look nearly as swish. Don’t mistake this as a criticism of the way the S90 drives. Sharing its mechanicals with the XC90 SUV and V90 estate, it’s pretty talented, if not ultimately as agile as that Beemer or the quite lovely Jag XF. But assessing its grip limits is not appropriate. Here’s a car in which you’ll enjoy your time driving; it smooths out urban bumps and takes the stress out of motorways. The XC90 is our Zen Car of the Year, and its, um, Zen-ness has successfully made its way into this saloon car. Still need convincing this is cool… Fine. Then how about the optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo, which comes packing 1400 watts, 19 speakers and the ability to play Kisstory with the audio character of Gothenburg Concert Hall? The audio is adjustable in all manner of ways, in fact, all through the rather swish, portrait infotainment screen. It’s not immediately satisfying ergonomically, but once you’ve adjusted, it’s ace. What about those old-fashioned ‘engine’ things? It has some. We’ve driven the D5 diesel, which comes with 235bhp, clever turbo lag-beating tech and standard all-wheel drive. It’s probably all the engine you’ll need, powerful enough to make the S90 feel brisk, and quiet enough to keep that Zen award firmly on Volvo’s mantelpiece. Don’t want diesel? Hold your horses until later in the year and the XC90’s 407bhp T8 petrol-electric hybrid powertrain will make it into the S90. Thus fitted, we expect it to be the Q car brought bang up to date. And therefore possible traffic cop fodder… Yikes. Will they be able to afford it? Well, S90s start at £32,555 for a 187bhp D4 diesel with front-wheel drive. All come with an automatic gearbox. Upgrading to this D5 AWD requires £7,000, while posh Inscription trim is around £3,000 more. So the car we’ve tested is around £45,000 with options. That’s punchy: similar money buys a BMW 530d, with over 20bhp more and a six, rather than four-cylinder engine. But you know what? The S90 is probably worth it. It’s a feel-good car. And if, in the competitive world of S-Line an M-Sport, you still aren’t convinced the S90 is cool, then the sportier R-Design version lands soon. Whether its dropped suspension breaks the aura of calm, though, remains to be seen…