Review: Volvo S90 & V90 T6 R-Design, invokers of aspirations [+Video]

Like death and taxes, Volvo’s synonymity to safe mobility is one the same, known and revered the world over. But the paradox is that it’s both Volvo’s greatest success and crippling Achilles’ heel, because no one talks about Volvo cars and their performance unless they care enough to research.

Circa the turn of the century, the prideful Swedish brand launched the 850 R, one that came with a 2.3-litre turbocharged straight-five that’s good for 250 hp and 350 Nm of torque. As its cult status grew, Volvo saw the need for making unassumingly fast cars (otherwise known as sleeper cars or sleepers), yet uncompromising in all safety aspects. This went on for at least 15 more years and, through the magical touch of Li Shufu and his bounteous resources, gave way to the ravishing duo we have here today.


NameVolvo S90 T6 R-Design (AWD)Volvo V90 T6 R-Design (AWD)
Engine1,969cc; twincharged (turbo and supercharged) inline-4, DOHC
Transmission8-speed automatic
Max Power320 hp @ 5,700 rpm
Max Torque400 Nm @ 2,200 – 5,400 rpm
0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed5.9 seconds; 250 km/h6.1 seconds; 250 km/h

Volvo, now backed by billions of Chinese dollars, went back to the drawing board to strategise, and first on the agenda is the pursuit of a substantially more dominant corporate face. The resulting endeavour brought forth first the XC90 with an astonishing new fascia, which quickly permeated its way throughout the 90-Series range and beyond.

The T6 R-Design pair here currently sit at the top of their respective range, and they’re fully imported though in very small quantities. According to Volvo Car Malaysia, it’s business as usual until the CKD versions come around. Fans and soon-to-be-fans of the Volvo brand now have a whole lot of reasons to be excited about.

Another big change besides the new face is engine choice. Volvo’s pledge to being environmentally friendly means they won’t revisit the idea of big bore engines, settling instead with the new VEA (Volvo Engine Architecture) or Drive-E family of enforced four-cylinder engines. They’ve got big dreams too, with plans of electrifying all models by 2019 and the launch of five all-electric vehicles by 2021.

Much like its German rivals, the T5, T6 and T8 badges denote power, yet all three share the exact same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Goodbye glorious inline-five and sixers… moving on. The twin-charged T6 nestled under the duo is supercharged for low to mid-end pull and turbocharged for mid to high-end runs. Charged air is almost readily fed into the engine at any given time, providing a fat dollop of propulsion at the disposal of your right foot.

With 320 hp and 400 Nm on tap, the transverse engine zings free of hesitance, running short on steam only at the very end of the rev range. This is characteristic of forced induction, even the new Civic Type R suffers the same. Nevertheless, the engine is specifically tuned for the purposes of day-to-day commute, with peak torque fizzing from 2,200 rpm through all four wheels.

Despite weighing dangerously close to the two-tonne mark, both the S90 and V90 feel unusually light on their feet. I mean that in a good way, because it’s easy to make a heavy car go fast (like all Bentleys), but to actually make them feel fast and nimble at the same time is a different feat altogether. Comparatively, the V90 is almost a full 300kg heavier than the Honda CR-V 1.5 Turbo AWD and just 60kg shy of the Mercedes-Benz S400h L.

Drive it hard and you’ll realise you can’t outrun physics. Body roll becomes apparent, but never enough to unsettle balance. There’s ample grip from the 255/40 R19 Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres for some extra peace of mind, though the real difference between the two is in the way they’re sprung.

If your first guess is that the sedan drives better, then you’re right. It’s more firm footed in the bends and is much less busy from having to manage weight transfer. The V90 is just 43kg heavier, but it’s considerably taller at 1,475mm (+32mm). As compensation, Volvo revised the rear suspension geometry in favour of a more comfort oriented setup. The flip side is it rolls a fair bit more, but if I were to choose between the two, I’d choose the pliancy of the V90 any day. Plus it looks better, I think.

Few car designs have wowed as much as the new crops from Volvo. Three years on and the XC90 still feels like it hasn’t aged one bit, and the same can be said about the S90 and V90, no doubt. The Bursting Blue paint colour here is exclusive to the T6 R-Design and is accented with satin aluminium side mirror caps, 19-inch lightweight R-Design alloys, dual exhausts and a suitably sporty grille. Nothing overly elaborate, just pure, tasteful elegance. Just pray you get used to the gawking eyes.

The cabin, when compared to all other cars in its segment and price point, is hugely minimalistic and devoid of clutter. Where some get enamoured by the audaciously blinged-out dash of the W213 E-Class, there’s an unobtrusive charm to the way modern Volvo cabins are designed. All controls are built into a singular instrument – the 9-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen display.

Everything from air-con, interior and exterior lighting, multimedia, GPS navigation, 360-degree camera and even the complete owner’s manual can be accessed through the screen. The instrument binnacle is also fully digitised with three preset themes that change the look of the metres. The part perforated leather-wrapped wheel is nicely contoured to fit the hands and gets embellished with an R-Design badge at the bottom. Only the buttons on the wheel feel tacky and cheap – elsewhere it’s all top-tier stuff.

Those carbon fibre trims are actual carbon fibre – all of it, not fake textured plastic as most would expect. The R-Design sports seats are different from the standard ones altogether, from construction to purposeful padding for the thighs and mid to lower back. It’s wrapped in perforated fine Nappa and Nubuck (which is Alcantara-like hide) as opposed to the regular leather from the T5. As far as sports seats go, this is one of the more comfortable and supportive types out there.

Among the two, the V90 is the only one that gets integrated child booster seats and is much more practical with 913 litres of boot space versus the sedan’s 500 litre volume. It also gets a full-sized powered panoramic sunroof, dwarfing the S90’s regular sized sunroof. All those niceties for just RM5,000 over the sedan? Now how ‘bout that?

As for safety, Volvo made their own Vision 2020 promise that nobody, no driver nor passenger will perish in a Volvo car. That’s ambitiously bold coming from the inventors of the seat belt, but it sets a mighty precedence for others to follow. As expected, the S and V90 T6 are generously equipped with safety features, such as having sensors and cameras to detect animals, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. When detected, the car will automatically slow down or come to a complete stop.

My favourite feature has to be Pilot Assist, now operable up to 130 km/h. It’s basically a self-driving system for intercity and intracity commutes, which navigates through corners so long as road markings remain legible. It still requires driver intervention, though it helps to know that six airbags come as standard across the board. Don’t complain, I’m sure six is enough, especially in a Volvo.

As it stands, Volvo seems to have gotten all things right this time around, dealing aces in areas they’ve been so sorely handicapped in years past. It has looks that rivet the eyes with enough pace and performance to stir anyone but the most avid driving enthusiast. I can’t think of a car more beseeching in its attempt to seduce, yet unwavering in upholding the Iron Mark ethos.

Welcome to the new age of Volvo Cars. Tell me, when was the last time you so aspired to own one?


Volvo S90 T6 R-Design

Volvo V90 T6 R-Design


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