The limits of Product Design are not only constrained to what you see and touch, but also take into account on how you interact with the product, how it can affect you emotionally, physically, mentally, and the retail price of the product. Of course, the nicest things people would ever want to own will set you back quite a lot. Smartphones are a good example of this where people are willing to fork out as much for a new Apple iPhone, Huawei or Samsung, rather than on an Honor.
The same goes with cars; everyone aspires to drive a car that carries a badge that exudes class, privilege while wearing a timeless style with the ingredients of a cult car. Premium brands certainly can deliver this to discerning customers who could spare quite a bit, and of course, brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are the ones to go for. Volvo has recently resurfaced back into the limelight by producing premium luxury vehicles that can be truly appreciated by discerning individuals.
That said this is a car for sophisticated and intelligent individuals who have gotten their priorities right. The Volvo S90 T8 Inscription is the second highest model trim before the Inscription Plus, and although the Malaysian market doesn’t come with the extended wheelbase version, the default S90 T8 is still one of the best looking premium saloons sold and certainly look and does the part.
Design wise, it doesn’t stray far away from the Concept Coupe shown in 2013, which had pretty much blew the minds of many automotive design aficionados – not as impactful as the Concept Shooting Brake though. The overall design is pretty much like a stretched out version of the concept – which is now the Polestar 1 halo model – with clean, strong character lines and a silhouette that is reminiscent to the past models like the 144, 240, 244, 740 and 940 series saloons which were well known to be as strong as a concrete wall. My family used to own a 1980 244 GL, which the newer S90 does have the family resemblance, albeit much sharper.
The signature “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lamps named after the Scandinavian god of light making it part of Volvo’s current identity. The “Thor’s Hammer” consists of precision optics that are illuminated by a LED light emitter does double duty as turn signal blinkers. Looking at it from a far dead ahead, this design feature visually widens the car and makes it recognisable.
In the dark, the headlights provide good wide peripheral illumination, which lights up even on the most extreme sides of the road. The other great thing about these lights is when the high beam is turned on; it is like having a spotlight aimed right in front of the car. And the reach of this system is enormous as you get a thick saturated light that drenches light far up the road ahead. I’ve driven a lot of cars with top-notch lighting systems and the ones on the S90 are definite at top three mostly from these reasons.
At the rear, the theme of classic Volvo continues, where the Volvo badge located on the rear deck lid is very much a hark back at the classic P1800 shooting brake of The Saint fame. The rear lights are a combination of LED and bulbs where the latter is used for the signal repeater.
The overall look of the S90’s rear is very much reminiscent to the 144’s rectangular rear end with vertical rear combination lamps. Some may find it uncomfortable to look at initially, but it will eventually grow on you, a lot like McLaren’s limited run Senna supercar, which is very much an acquired taste.
Looking at its profile, the S90 T8 does look the part and you’ll won’t even could tell that if it’s a front engine and front wheel driven car. It has the premium luxury saloon looks inspired from classic cars from a bygone era and with good effect.
Jonathan Disley, Vice President of Design, Volvo Cars China said during his presentation in Malaysia last year said, “One of the biggest things we really need to get correct right from the very beginning was this “Dash-to-Axle”, the distance from the very beginning of the A-pillar right through the centre of the front wheel.”
“This is where you cannot change (its length) due to the firewall and the engine. But to need to get into the luxury car market, you need a long dash-to-axle,” This design element conveys prestige and luxury like the classic Rolls-Royce coupes of the 1930’s where this measurement was necessary to accommodate huge engines.
BMW has their signature Hofmeister kink and now Volvo has what called as the ‘Final Cut’, now used as the brand’s signature side window graphic. Like on the Concept Coupe, the ‘Final Cut’ is a kink found at the base of the production S90 and XC90’s C-pillar. It is now a design feature featured on all current and future Volvo’s models making it a recognisable design trait.
If you feel that the exterior design is breathtakingly beautiful, wait until you take a peek inside. With its current line of models, Volvo has been making interiors that could make rivals green-eyed with envy, proving that designing an interior with meticulous attention to detail does play a huge role on influencing buyers. And as of recent, the interior of both cars had received high praises from renowned international motoring journalists and critics – including us. The dashboard in the S90 boasts a top row and an undercut that is inspired by snow hanging over a cliff. What to expect is that the interior is made from some of the finest materials and finishes. The S90’s dashboard features a layered two-toned stitching to get a three-dimensional feeling.
In the S90, the interior features a natural linear walnut trim that are ‘Fish boned’ to create a seamless consistency of the wood grains which meet all the way down the car and kept visually central. This treatment can also be found in exclusive brands such as Rolls Royce and Bentley. They are handcrafted to match in terms of angle and texture in order to ensure these wood trims are evenly aligned.
The chrome element that runs across the dashboard visually acts as a “carrier” of everything inside it fixed to a metal carrier much like Apple’s iPhone 5. To do this, they have made a metal “spine” that runs all the way down and visually carrying all of the design elements of the dashboard. Moreover, to make this effect happen, engineers had to work with minuscule tolerances like on smartphones, which the dashboard has to be constructed much like a separate product.
And, that’s not all; The air blades featured in the S90, which Jonathan personally own its patent are pretty exceptional as these air vents are made of high strength metal that is strong enough to take its length. They knob in the middle regulates the amount of air into the cabin, which does have a tactile and precise feel to them.
And for owners who opt for the range topping T8 Inscription or Inscription Plus, both top-of-the-line trim levels will get specially hand made Orrefors crystal glass knob which is a special feature only to be found in the range topping Volvo models. The Swedish company’s main business is manufacturing high-quality crystal glassware ranging of crystal stemware, barware, vases, and sculptures and lighting products in crystal.
Most of the switchgears do have this premium tactile feel, and it is the small details in the S90 that makes all of the difference. For instance, the signal indicator and wiper stalks provides tactile resistance and precision, where pushing the signal stalk all the way down and resetting doesn’t cause an accidental engagement which may confuse other road users around you.
Audio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are large, hard to miss and sensitive to the touch which you may accidentally switch to the next music track or disengage the Pilot Assist, especially when driving with your hands on the three and nine o’clock position. It is not a big issue, only requiring small adjustments in driving style. The other small issue is that being a glossy surface easily leaves fingerprints, so have a microfibre towel ready on the side.
There are plenty of soft-touch areas like on the dashboard, centre armrest and door panels all put together with tight expensive-smartphone like tolerances. Best of all the animal skin used in the S90 are sourced from the north of Scotland, the same very suppliers Hermès, the French high fashion luxury goods company employs.
The unique leather comes from cows that live 1000m above sea level where they have far lesser insect bites than those living at lower elevations, hence the plush, soft and smooth texture. Also, there’s a small Swedish flag, akin to Levi’s jeans tab located at the inner side of the seats, a nod to Volvo’s country of origin.
The 14-way-power-adjustable seats in the Inscription test vehicle were all-day comfortable and doesn’t easily stick to skin like most conventional leathers. The front seats also come with lumbar, thorax and thigh supports, which can be adjusted via the Multi-function control. The front seats can sit anyone of any sizes comfortably and thanks to its plush leather seats, driving on long distances feels more like lounging with plenty of head and legroom.
Likewise, the rear passengers can bask freely at the rear. There’s ample amount of head and legroom even in the standard body, but marginally smaller than in the E-Class and the 5-Series. Much like the front seats, the rear seats are nice to sit in and offer plenty of comfort, especially on extended hauls on the highway.
You may not find air-con vents in the middle, but conveniently placed on the B-pillar directly in front of the person who is sitting behind. Not only this allows easy adjustments, but instantaneous delivery of cool air during hot days. That said, the Inscription S90 only comes with dual-climate zone.
A gold standard in all passenger cars today, the rear seats of the S90 come with guided ISOFIX anchor points when the need to carry young toddlers around. Here’s also where a feature that is unique to Volvo lies; the rear seats features a built-in retractable booster seats for children over three years of age weighing between 15 and 36kg and above 95cm tall.
When it comes to boot space, the S90 stands at 500-litres with the rear seats up, which is pretty good for a hybrid and no smaller than the regular S90 models, thanks to its centrally mounted battery and the compact integral link rear suspension layout.
It is a luxurious as it gets, and just as techy to meet the needs of the modern motorist. The one thing that sticks out from its minimalist interior and where most of the vehicle functions are accessible is Volvo’s 9” Sensus colour touch screen, which looks almost uncanny to a smart electronic tablet. It is no surprise that when it comes to design, new creative solutions are often inspired from everyday items or activities that we usually take for granted.
The Sensus interface is clean and organised where accessing vehicle functions is as easy and swiping left or right. The latency is low and responsive which helps the driver to spend a lot less time fiddling around in confusion while driving, and the Sensus screen is located in such a way that the road is still within the driver’s field of view. It will take time for new drivers to learn where the apps or functions are located, but once acquainted it is actually pretty easy to use.
The audio, volume and other crucial functions are located below the Sensus screen and it is as intuitive as it gets. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, bluetooth hands free system with audio streaming, internet connectivity via WiFi, car WiFi hotspot via phone and auxiliary audio input, USB and iPod.
Now, it is time to address the elephant in the S90’s interior, which most people who opt for the Inscription and Inscription Plus models would desperately want. Both top trims comes with the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system powered by a class D 12-channel amplifier that churns out 1400W. And it is not as straight forward as slapping all 19 speakers into a car and call it the day. Each speaker has been positioned for optimum acoustics and tuned by experts to get the best performance from these speakers.
According to WhatHiFi.com, the drive units in the S90’s standard system are limited to the front and rear doors, plus the rear parcel shelf. The rear doors only have one driver in them, whereas the B&W system (pictured above) covers all bases, with an aluminium tweeter, Kevlar midrange driver and bass unit in all doors, (and a separate, carbon-fibre subwoofer in the rear).
There’s also B&W’s party piece, the tweeter-on-top, which protrudes proudly from the middle of the dashboard – which is located dead centre of the cabin. The aluminium dome fires high frequencies out towards the listener: it’s positioned this way to reduce reflections from the windscreen and, together with the other tweeters in the system, it uses a special arrangement of diffusers behind to soak up reflected sounds and reduce vibrations.
B&W had set-up three custom-designed processing modes into the equation, accessed via the Sound Experience icon on the Volvo’s Sensus touchscreen. Each mode claims to offer a different style of presentation for the listener.
Studio mode alters the sound so it can be focused on either the driver, everyone in the car, or just those in the rear. Individual Stage allows you to manipulate two elements of the system’s acoustics: Intensity and Envelopment. The former relates to the perceived closeness and depth of the sound field. It’s a case of do you want the sound coming at you from the leading edge of the dashboard, or from the rear.
The final mode doubles as a nod to Gothenburg, the home of Volvo. Named Concert Hall, the setting is supposed to recreate the acoustics from the famous Gothenburg Concert Hall. In reality, it’s a nice touch and a neat piece of marketing, but it may appeal to some and may not be as convincing. Genres such as rock, pop, hip-hop or R&B don’t really suit it, and even classical tracks struggle to sound naturally.
But if you aren’t fussy, the sound quality in the inscription test car is amazing. It is as if like putting on really expensive headphones plugged into home cinema amplifier; you can’t get sound reproduction this faithful and immersive in any other car.
Powerful yet efficient small capacity engines in large luxo barges are a thing these days and the S90 is part of that group. Hiding under the hood is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged and supercharged engine making 320hp 5,700rpm and 400Nm at 2,200rpm. The Twin Engine badge indicates that the S90 T8 comes with not one, but two electric motors.
Volvo’s Twin Engine definition is essentially a combination of an internal combustion engine and electric power. Volvo’s hybrid setup consists of a forced fed petrol engine, an electric motor located at the rear axle, a high voltage battery positioned in the tunnel console and a Crankshaft mounted Integrated Starter Generator (C-ISG).
The Crank-Integrated Starter Generator works quietly in the between the compact 8-speed automatic transmission to charge up the battery; it also acts as a starter for the combustion engine, and supports the engine with additional electric boost. This motor makes 34kW, providing boost of up to 150Nm of torque and provides cold starts crank torque to 180Nm and 240Nm. This motor takes up 18kg. At full chat, the S90 T8 combined output is rated at 407hp and 640 Nm.
Granted, with that much power, the S90 T8 is one fast saloon, but it is also very frugal. As tested, the S90 T8 achieves 2.2 L/100km combined with the 9.2 kWh Lithium-Ion battery fully charged in Pure drive mode and in ‘B’ or ‘Brake’ drive mode for maximum braking energy recovery. Storing energy from the electrical grid, regenerative braking and from the C-ISG, the 270-400V 96 Li-ion cell battery not only provides drive and electrical boost to the drivetrain, it supplies power to the electric air conditioning for the pre-acclimatisation of the passenger compartment. This battery stores 10.4kWh worth of power and good for 43km of pure electric drive.
The S90 isn’t a difficult car to get around. With the ergonomics being pretty bang-on, no matter how high or low the driver sits, there are no problems in looking out and around. Even navigating through the tight multi-storey parking complex made around cars of the 1980’s is not a problem either thanks to ultrasonic sensors that warn you with audio cues and visual feedback of your immediate surrounding.
If you’re not too confident in your parking skills, or just being plain lazy, the S90 can very much park by its own; the same ultra sonic sensors ‘sniff’ out for available spaces. Once the car finds the right spot, simply follow the simple instructions and you’ll be able to park hands-free and can be overridden at any time. When backing out from a parking spot, Crossing Traffic Warning and Rear Collision Warning does its job competently especially in busy streets.
On Malaysian roads, the S90 provides a plush ride with minimal road and wind noise at speeds under 160km/h, which you’ll get there without even noticing. Its not a sports saloon and doesn’t try to be one. The S90 gets double wishbones at the front and a unique integral link suspension design at the rear. The integral link is suspension uses a composite lightweight leaf spring, which effectively makes the rear subframe much more compact and doesn’t take too much boot space and it also acts as an anti-roll bar, which saves unsprung weight.
However, it doesn’t drive like a classic Ford Mustang, but the S90’ ride is poise with a sophisticated sense of isolation from the road beneath. Potholes and crevices still can be felt with the large 19-inch wheels, yet each vibration is generally made to be remarkably distant, long-wave consistency in which the saloon keeps its occupants cocooned at any speeds. The steering is light and direct, making navigation around junctions and U-turns without much effort from the driver.
Let’s not forget that the S90 T8 Inscription comes with adaptive cruise control and Pilot Assist with braking function that follows the car ahead below at the set speed which makes crawling though slow moving heavy traffic with one thing less to worry about. Lane Keep Assist keeps tugs the wheel back into the lane when it detects the car about to veer off the lane.
Speaking of Pilot Assist, the S90’s Pilot Assist II essentially provides driver semi-autonomous driving which the car can practically drive it self, just that it still needs the driver in situations when the car is going through a sharp corner or driving on roads without or faded markings. Also, the car would prompt the driver to place their hands on the steering wheel periodically to prevent drivers becoming complacent.
The brakes feel has been much improved offering good levels of modulation which allows drivers a wide degree of adjustability when slowing down, and very helpful if you need to slow down smoothly. This is especially useful when it comes to braking regeneration from the electric motors, which are pretty strong. Surprisingly, even after three days of back-to-back driving, left the wheels were spotless without any evidence of brake dust. This not only helps to drive more smoothly, but also saves you heaps of time from cleaning the wheels.
The Volvo S90 T8 Inscription has plenty to offer here as well. Weighing at two tonnes, – a featherweight in today’s standard – the S90 is able to reach naught to centennial in 6.2 seconds and tops out at its electronically limited 250km/h top speed as tested, and getting there is almost effortless with plenty of lateral stability.
The eight forward ratios in the Aisin gearbox are well spaced out to complement the turbocharged engine’s low and broad torque band. Some may think that a 2.0-litre engine may sound tiny, but the amount of motive force feels a lot like a big capacity six-cylinder engine. To get up to that speed, engaging Power allows a more sensitive throttle and the 8-speed transmission holds in gear for much longer, and a much more aggressive support from the rear axle electric motor.
The S90’s capabilities manifested on the tight and winding road, but without the need of tinkering with any settings. The S90 has a stringent body control essential for carrying higher speeds through the multiple gradient changes and corners. Thanks to the integral link rear suspension’s compact design, the large Volvo saloon is agile with little body roll.
The steering feels direct with some amounts of feedback from the front tyres without feeling overly weighted and artificial. What’s great is that the S90 feels far less front driven but rather more like a well-balanced four-wheel drive car and is benignly balanced. It may not be a sports saloon, but it can be without being overly shouty and harsh. Understeer and oversteer is never an issue and it is a really, really easy car to drive!
Stepping into the executive luxury market is a bold move from the Chinese-owned company standing up against more traditional and established brands has been the long-lived bastions in this segment. Volvo had pulled it off successfully and had gain high praises from world-renowned automotive journalists and critics alike. Volvo has definitely made what possibly could be the new yardstick for rival mid-size luxury saloons to exceed.
The S90 T8 definitely has the timeless looks and interior to match the quality and the attention to detail, which had been thoughtfully considered to meet the needs of its target market. It is well-put together and highly efficient thanks to its Plug-In Hybrid drivetrain. Plenty has been already been said and it is just the matter to taking some its rivals and the S90 T8 out for a test drive for you to reach to your own conclusions. And with a retail price of RM368,888, the S90 T8 Inscription is definitely a worth while car to drive around daily, without compromising on comfort, drivability, efficiency and performance.
+ High build quality
+ Simple yet sophisticated design
+ Very practical
+ Driving comfort
+ Usable performance
+ Frugal fuel economy
+ Easy and unintimidating driving experience
Volvo S90 T8 Inscription
Price Msia: RM348,045.16 (W/O insurance and 0% GST)
Engine: 1,969cc Turbocharged and supercharged Four-Cylinder w/ 2 electric motors
Fuel Economy: 2.2 l/100km (Tested)
Transmission: 8-Speed Steptronic Automatic