Late Model Review: 2017 Volvo S90 T6

On September 22, 2016, I drove the then-new grande dame of Volvo’s lineup, the all-new S90 sedan. It replaces the S80, which itself replaced the good old boxy Volvo 940/960/S90 Series in 1999. I miss those boxy Volvos, owned a couple of those boxy Volvos, and was curious to see what the new, non-boxy, sleek new Volvo flagship was like.

So, what’s new? Pretty much everything. Including the engines. Gone is the venerable 3.2L straight six and the T6 twin-turbo, replaced with a four cylinder, 2.0L turbocharged, supercharged engine with 316 hp. Confusingly, the two available engines, despite being four-cylinder powerplants, are labeled T5 and T6. If you speak Volvo, you know that used to designate five or six cylinders. No idea why that was done. I blame marketing.

And now, let me pause for all the know-it-alls to go, “AUGH! A four cylinder in a $65,000 Volvo! What?!” But let me tell you, the only way I knew this was a four-cylinder was reading the brochure. If you told a test-driver that it was a six, you’d probably get away with it if they weren’t car guys. But first, a walkaround. However, I still miss the 3.2 six in the S80. It was, as Ferris Bueller once said, so choice…but I digress. Onward!

This is about the nicest looking Volvo in years. The previous S80 I liked, especially after the mild refresh about four years ago, but it still looked a little anonymous, and a little too close visually to the S60. Even I, a Volvophile since but a tot, sometimes mistook them for the cheaper S60 in traffic. That will not be a problem with this car. It is large and in charge, with classic long hood, short deck styling, lots of chrome, lots of gadgets, and major ambience inside!

The front end is its best feature. And there is a nod to the past for those in the know, with a grille nearly identical to the classic Volvo 1800E and ES. Other than the traditional Volvo crossbar, it is a dead ringer for the one used on 1972-73 1800s. Lots of details abound too, like ‘VOLVO’ script in the side of the tail lamps, the ‘Thor’s hammer’ running lights, and a groovy ‘Inscription’ logo in the side chrome strip (that’s Volvo for ‘Brougham’ by the way).

The only thing I wasn’t really sold on was the rear styling. The first time I saw those taillights and that huge blank swath of metal between them, I thought it was bad. I no longer hate it, it is growing on me, but it really needs to have the license plate relocated to the trunk lid or something.

My former 1991 940SE, owned 1997-2004.

Or maybe I just want it to look more like my good old 1991 Volvo 940 from the back. Now that was a great car. I still miss it.

Open the door and lots of Scandinavian luxury awaits. Generous use of wood trim was much appreciated by your reviewer, and the leather thrones were suitably cushy and orthopedically designed, as in proper Volvo tradition.

Two things I don’t particularly care for, the touch screen and the keyless start (call me a Luddite if you must), are at least intuitive enough, and the car fires up with just a little bit of growl. I drove Volvos exclusively for nearly 20 years, and despite the newness of this model, much was familiar. The rock-solid handling, those most excellent seats, and a quiet, smooth ride.

Of course, being a 2017 model, there are a couple of mildly annoying nanny ‘assists’, namely a blinking speed limit sign that pops up if you go over the speed limit. The speedometer does a happy little blinkety-blink thing at the same time. Yes, yes I know, car! Now go away.

The heads-up display, however, showing the area speed limit and your current speed, seemingly just above your front bumper, however, was very nice.

All in all, the Volvo delivers. Classy, comfortable, and with its four-cylinder powerplant, surprisingly fuel efficient as well, 22 city and 31 highway. Not bad at all, especially when you factor in the all-wheel drive. Klockau says check it out.

Car provided by McLaughlin Cadillac-Volvo-Subaru, of Moline, Illinois. Special thanks to Brian Cox and Dave Calvert, for putting up with me, ha ha.

16 Replies to “Late Model Review: 2017 Volvo S90 T6”

    • John C.

      The 17s were still made in Sweden. My 18 V90 T5 Inscription, also Swede made, has required no unscheduled service in 18 months of service though the T6 is more complicated.

      • CJinSD

        All of the aspersions you cast on people who were frustrated enough with UAW3 car ownership to buy a German or Japanese brand, and you drive a Geely?

        • John C.

          Yes, and traded in a trouble free Buick built in Lake Orion, MI by the UAW. What was the domestic alternative, for an upscale domestic standard size wagon. I don’t do SUVs/CUV and the Regal Crosstour was not out yet, and made in Germany and only made jacked up. 10 to 20 percent of a big country auto market for interesting foreign oddballs is fine.

          • CJinSD

            If only a large percentage of Americans would buy cars that they don’t want, then you driving your Geely wagon would be a harmless expression of your perceived uniqueness? Freedom of automotive choice should be an all-or-nothing thing. You say you had a good experience with the UAW, but that isn’t reason enough to buy one of the hundred or so CUVs their employers offer. ‘I don’t do SUVs/CUVs,’ excuses you from being a gargantuan hypocrite exactly how? I didn’t do fake wood, fake radiator shells, fake convertible tops, fake wire wheels, fake landau bars, and fake gauges in the ’80s. That’s why I bought West German cars. It wasn’t political, although I’d certainly respect a political reason for not buying a Swedish/Chinese car today.

          • John C.

            Fear not CJ, you won that war. It is no longer possible, ouside of a few trucks or pony cars to buy a car designed by, built by cars made of American parts and where the profits stayed in the USA. My Buick was really an Opel that I am sure in Opel’s mind they soiled for the USA by adding chrome, torque, and sound deadening. The next generation of my Buick is now China only.

            So the world is better right. Caddy is better run by a Chinese woman too cool for Detroit. Audi is better building for China. Volvo is better being subject to whether Geely can make their next junk bond payment to our friends at Goldman Sachs. The world is better right, CJ got his wish.

  1. Harry

    I soon need to replace my 2011 XC70 T5 AWD, the best practical vehicle I have ever owned. You mentioned the quiet smooth ride, a lack of that has been a source of complaint on reviews of the S90’s platform mates. Can you comment on a comparison? The canned test drive loop the only dealership with two hours provides has no sections of rough pavement, and I drive many miles on rough and unpaved roads.

    I don’t know if I trust the other reviews as having a good basis of comparison for other Volvo’s, and or if the ride complaints are like when Clarkson dumps about interior trim, just trying to find something bad.

    I test drove the new V90 and for my purposes, I didn’t like it much. The greenhouse is much shorter, the hatch is clipped so my dogs can’t raise their heads above shoulder level, and the sensor pod behind the rear view mirror blocks a lot of glass. Also, the 40/20/40 folding rear seats are replaced with 40/60, which is much less useful when carrying 4 people and 4 sets of ski gear (part of my job)

    I was the annoying guy in the dealership with a tape measure making notes and comparisons on window size with my current vehicle and noted that greenhouse on the XC90 is near identical with my XC70, and there were things to like about the interior layout. However, once I cross into the SUV zone (anything I can’t easily lift and secure a mountain bike on the roofrack, another part of my job) I have a world of choices that cost less. Or I could just get a suburban or pickup like everyone else I know.

    Yes I unreasonably pine for an awd Roadmaster, and the XC70 was probably the closest I was ever going to get.

  2. John C.

    A while back my wife had a 2008 V70 with the 3.2. The 3.2 was smoother than the 2.4 5 in her earlier 04 V70. There was however a huge mileage penalty over the earlier one and the transverse inline 6 freaked out any non dealer mechanic at first sight. The earlier V70 being the only way to break 30 mpg highway with three rows in the market of the day, a unique selling point beyond just being a wagon. During the 08’s ownership, I wondered if Volvo should have zigged instead of zagged and updated the first V40’s 1.9 turbo for that V70, That would have also lessened the weight gain of the 08.

  3. Texn

    McLaughlin Cadillac-Volvo. Purveyors of fine Chineee automobiles.

    We had a 86 760 GLE, it was a solid vehicle. Replaced by a 98 3.2TL, which was recently replaced by a 16 GX460. The GX reminds of that old Volvo; tough as hell, great on snowy Idaho mountain roads, and thirsty.

    • Tom Klockau Post author

      And Subarus! 😛 This one was a Gothenburg-built one though, in 2018 they stopped importing the standard wheelbase S90 and offered only the long-wheelbase model. Which sounds good, until you find out all the long-wheelbase 90s are built in China.

      The redesigned 2019 S60 will be built in South Carolina though. Will be reviewing one in the near future.

  4. stingray65

    Nice look, but almost seems like false advertising because the long hood would suggest a nice inline 6 and rear drive (like the old 164), not a transverse 4.

    • Tom Klockau Post author

      I agree, this was originally written on another site when the car was new. Since then, I’ve grown to loathe lunchbox-sized 2.0 four cylinder turbos. In a car of this class, give me a six-pot mill at least!

    • John C.

      It is interesting how much better remembered the 164 is than the later 264. A not Volvo, not balance shafted 90 degree V6 versus a pretty good inline 6 with a Volvo pedigree. The 164 was as close as America got to those spit at but dripping with class English cars like the Farina bodied Wolseley 6/110 or the Humber Super Snipe/ Imperial. Class with an inline 6, wood-leather and overdrive just totally shitcans the German and Japanese of the day, at least in terms of driving them as they were actually used.

  5. Daniel J

    I actually like the GM 2.0 turbo used across its various cars, even more so than the V6 in the maxima I test drove a few months back. Wasn’t a fan of hondas new 2.0t.

    Ended up with a mazda6 and its new 2.5T. I think the engine is special, but car reviews seem to hate is diesel/DI rumble, and I love it. I’ve seen a review who compare it quite favorably to the XC40s turbo.

  6. scotten

    I REALLY like the looks of this car and considered leasing ones (they had some really good deals in 2018), but…. isn’t this car made in mainland China?

  7. Shortest Circuit

    I did try it on for size, and as an older Volvo owner, I can say this is a pretty nice but inconsistent car. That I4 is muffled, yes, but on hard…ish acceleration it drones through all that sound deadening. The suspension is cushy, but I would like it to be more progressive like the old ones… this does this uncanny thing that it glides silently over small bumps, midsize bumps, then on a big one it does this wallow-*muffled crash* thing. Wouldn’t it be better _not_ to completely iron out the road, but be consistent? Other than that… familiar characters on the display I know from the 960/S80 sedans, seats that should be taught at seat designer school, the crystal shift knob is a bit kitsch but I would like to have that just for the flash factor.


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