First Drive: Volvo S90 T8 Inscription Plus – The Swede Comeback

When Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM) pulled the covers off the beautiful S90 and V90 in the form of T5 and T6 R-Design 7 months ago, the handsome Nordic’s looks made popular by the XC90 certainly caught the market’s attention. And we could almost hear fans of the brand asking – when is the T8 PHEV coming?


NameVolvo S90 T8 InscriptionVolvo S90 T8 Inscription Plus
Engine1,969cc; four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged
Transmission8-speed automatic
Max Power320 hp @ 5,700 rpm
Max Torque400 Nm @ 2,200 -5,400 rpm
Electric Motor87 hp & 240 Nm
Combine Output407 hp & 640 Nm
0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed4.8 seconds; 250 km/h
Price (OTR without insurance)RM368,888RM388,888
At least TNB doesn’t revise prices every week

Thanks to our unique tax structure that favours locally assembled Energy Efficient Vehicles(EEV), plug-in-hybrids are sold at a lower price compared to their diesel/petrol brethren. The fuel savings may not mean much to the well-heeled buyers but the thought of paying for the car instead of government coffers makes PHEVs an enticing proposition.

People were eager to see how would VCM price the car against the Germans and they certainly did not disappoint. The S90 Inscription and S90 Inscription Plus were priced competitively at RM368,888 and RM388,888 respectively. Yes, the flagship version with the bells and whistles sells for the same as the entry level T5. For RM20,000 more than the Inscription, the Plus comes with air-suspension at the rear axle, and a much touted 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.VCM has not been stingy with the equipment too. Being a Volvo, the S90 T8 comes packed with safety features. Apart from the usual alphabet soup, the more notable safety features include Blind Spot Info System, 2 built-in child booster seats, electric child safety door lock, airbag disable function and City Safety (with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection) – features we hope would never have to be put to use.

The car drives itself up to 140km/h

Of course, it also comes with active cruise control (part of the excellent Pilot Assist system) which offers autonomous driving up to 140km/h. This feature should be par for course in this segment which is missing in the CKD-ed version of its German rivals – but why, even the RM114k Hyundai IONIQ comes equipped with it. The only gripe is that the S90 T8 is not equipped with a sunroof (standard in both the E350e and 530i) although it doesn’t deprive the cabin with any less flamboyance.

At the morning of the media preview, was lucky enough to be handed the key to the Inscription Plus for the drive up to Ipoh. Visually, the best way to differentiate a PHEV from one that isn’t is its charging flap. Like the XC90, it’s placed on the front left fender together with the same diamond cut 19-inch wheels.During the briefing, much emphasis has been placed on the 1400W Bowers & Wilkins stereo system. With 19 strategically-placed tweeters, drivers and subwoofers that are designed into the cabin structure, VCM was gracious enough to provide lossless audio files to pamper our ears. The system has 3 settings – Studio, Individual Stage and Concert Hall.

This sound system is truly impressive, even to the rather untrained ears of yours truly. The sound reproduction is faithful and detailed, percussion was crisp and clear – definitely an option you’d want to spec that beautifully-made cabin with. Speaking of which, the yellow Kevlar speaker cones peeking from the aluminum speaker mesh (a B&W trademark) and the Nautilus tweeter perched atop the dashboard did make the cabin visually more pleasing.

The interior of the test units were clad in plush and soft Nappa leather used in the XC90 T8, only this time it’s in a harder wearing black shade. Piano black panels were used on the center console instead of open-pore ash wood – the cabin is decidedly more business like compared to its SUV counterpart.

Also like the XC90 T8, the S90 T8 packs a 2.0-litre 320 hp twin-charged engine and an 87 hp electric motor, pushing out a combined output of 407 hp and 640 Nm. This makes for a hot-hatch beating century sprint time of 4.8 seconds – way faster than the E350e’s 6.2 seconds and much closer to the fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG C43’s 4.7 seconds!

Almost as fast as an AMG to 100km/h

This AWD sedan has a slightly unorthodox layout. In place of a driveshaft, lays the 10.4kw/h battery that powers the rear wheel – that means 87hp goes to the back, making the S90 T8 essentially a front-wheel biased AWD car.

Twist the starter knob, flick the Orrefors gear lever and the S90 glides stately off the line. When the Drive-E engine kicks in at motorway speeds, it operates with a refined, unobtrusive hum; push it, and the car surges ahead with urgency to the double century mark. Put it in Sport mode and the engine’s growl gracefully slither’s into the cabin.

The sight its German rivals better be getting used to

Wind noise is rather audible but vibration and harshness levels are impressively low. The ride is plush on highways, thanks to the air suspension at the rear axle. The car irons out road undulations rather well but its chassis feels rather inert – I have a feeling it would not beat BMW when it comes to fluidity around corners. In any case, the car is shod with highly-acclaimed Michelin PS4 rubbers.

All that said, the S90 T8 is a car best enjoyed in town. Put it in Eco mode, plant yourself into the armchair-like seats and switch on the Pilot Assist system and the electric motor will propel the big Swede along in a stately manner while steering itself in hectic city traffic. Be mindful though, the Pilot Assist system is not entirely fool proof – it deactivates when it can’t detect lines on the road which is more than often the case in Malaysia.

For most Malaysians above 30 years old, Volvo is a brand that invokes a lot of fond memories. It’s staid, solid lines with equally solid build quality has garnered itself a strong following among doctors, lawyers, estate managers and individuals of other esteemed professions.

However, during the 10 years under Ford’s ownership, Volvo Cars have nothing stellar in its stable, bar for the truly impressive XC90. That changed when Geely Holding Group bought over the brand in 2010 where the Chinese owners allowed Volvo to get on with what they do best – make good, safe cars.

The next-gen S60 should be Thor-rifically good looking

As the first model built under the SPA platform, the second-gen XC90 was as well-received as the first-gen. The ensuing S90 and V90 continue to give their German rivals a good run for their money for the same reasons – distinctive handsome Nordic looks and comprehensive active safety systems. Thor’s hammer has certainly struck loud and clear in the German trio’s territory.

Still want that German SUV?

To sum it up, the S90 T8 Inscription is better spec-ed in most aspects compared to the E350e, its closest German rival in Malaysia while the 4-year warranty package offered by VCM sounds attractive too. The truly outstanding part is its sports car level of speed which is useful for pulling away from Mercedes-Benz owners before they could finish saying, “You buy Volvo ah? No resale value lah”.

Picture Credits: Volvo Car Malaysia

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