Highlights of 2017: ReVolvolution, Part Two

A fresh design language, new vehicle platform and downsized turbo engines; we’ve been here before. Those with any memory of Britney Spears bursting onto the pop scene at the turn of the millennium may have also experienced some form of ‘ReVolvolution’ as the Scandinavian carmaker sought to break away from its square and ‘boxy’ past once and for all.

Where were you when ReVolvolution happened? (A Volvo print ad from the turn of the new millennium)

The then new S80 got tongues wagging with its curvy lines, the XC90 surged to the top of its class with seven-seats while the S60 sedan was talked up to be a 3-Series beater. Global sales doubled in a short span of time and things were genuinely looking up. And then parent Ford started to run aground, taking the wind out of Volvo’s sails which eventually led to a state of decline, not unlike Miss Spears’ career. Geely provided a lifeline and the rest became what it is today.

Handsome good looks extend beyond the novelty of the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ DRL.
Volvo still has the touch

Like the second-generation XC90, the S90 saloon and V90 wagon (tested in T6 R-Design specifications here) are beautifully made and immaculately presented, with forward-thinking substance under their attractive outer skin. These and the forthcoming XC60 and XC40 have gotten critics doing cartwheels as Volvo’s resurgence gathers pace. In many ways, it’s ReVolvolution Reloaded.

Some may disagree with how the S90 saloon’s rump turned out, but I personally find both the three-box and wagon shapes to be equally appealing. Good designs begin with the right proportions and those found on the S90 and V90 are expansive and properly fleshed out. They exude confidence and style, yet remain easily identifiable as Volvos. You have to say they pretty much nailed it.

You can almost tell from this photo that Volvo seats are comfy, and they are.

It’s more of the same inside. Aside from being genuinely comfortable to spend long hours in, the interplay between surfaces and materials are particularly clever and visually pleasing, with a distinct air of premium-ness permeating the cabin. Perhaps the quality isn’t quite as deep or uniformed as that of an Audi, but the Swedish flair on show certainly has the Germans beat.

The S90/V90 interior looks and feel every bit a premium product.

The tablet-like Sensus touch-sensitive infotainment system does cut physical switches to a minimal for a clean and tidy centre fascia, but the execution exposes some naivety on Volvo’s part. The simple task of adjusting fan speed and air-con temperature has now become more cumbersome and near impossible to execute without taking eyes off the road, which is ironically quite un-Volvo. Note to interior design person: it’s okay to keep some physical switches and dials because the fingers of homo sapiens just aren’t shaped like a stylus.

Virtual controls are great for feature-packed modern cars, but not for adjusting the AC when rolling.

Can Volvo do sporty?

History will show that Volvo was one of the earliest adopters of soft turbos and downsized engines, so it’s no surprise that the new-gen Drive E powerplants do pack a punch whether you’re having the 254hp/350Nm T5 (single turbo), 320hp/400Nm T6 (turbo cum supercharger tested here) or the 407hp/640Nm T8 (turbo and battery powered electric motor) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The T6 motor is smooth-revving and offers near lag-free response, even if it does get raucous when extended.

Measured against the past, which may or may not be indicative given that Volvo had done little to bolster its sporty credentials since the heydays of the 850R, you could say that significant progress has been made in the driving pleasure domain. In T6 R-Design guise (think of it as BMW’s M-Sport equivalent), the all-wheel drive S90/V90 offer driving characteristics that are well within the ballpark of the German triumvirate – mixing strong straight-line pace with tight body control in corners, they even stop reassuringly though it’s hard to not feel the heft of these large Volvos (the V90 wagon nudges 1.9-tonne) in dynamic manoeuvres. It must also be noted that the ride quality on the uprated suspension (15mm lower with stiffer dampers) and 19-inch wheels are on the crustier side of firm. Otherwise, this is credible stab at being sporty by Volvo.

The V90 shows that overhangs are not a problem when proportions are correct.
Save the backslaps for later, maybe?

There’s no doubt Volvo has done a stellar job with their new offerings, and they are primed to reap rewards from the investments in electrification and autonomous tech. But it’s also too easy to get ahead of ourselves and start talking about upsetting the German applecart – a huge ask for a brand occupying space that’s a rung below the accepted ‘luxury’ establishment. If there’s one lesson to learn from the original ReVolvolution, it’ll have to be that it never quite finished the job of redefining Volvo. Maybe it’ll turn out that Volvo doesn’t need to beat the Germans to be considered successful, maybe that task is to be taken on by the newly conceived Polestar division. And maybe, just maybe, being Volvo will be good enough this time round.

Dreaming of the 850R? Maybe.

Volvo S90 & V90 T6 R-Design AWD
: RM453,888 (S90), RM458,888 (V90),  Engine: 2.0-litre supercharged & turbocharged four-cylinder, AWD  Output: 320hp/400Nm Transmission: 8-sp automatic Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.9s (S90), 6.1 (V90); top speed 250km/h (limited) Wheels/tyres: 255/40 R19 Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 5-year/120,000km w/ 5-year Volvo On Call support