2023 Volvo S90

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Volvo – as everyone knows – is a Swedish brand. What many do not know is that it is owned by the Chinese and that “Swedish” cars like the S90 are also made in China. 

So is it still a “Volvo”? 

What It Is

The S90 is Volvo’s largest and top-of-the-line luxury sedan.

Technically, it is Geely Motors’ largest and top-of-the-line luxury sedan, as Geely – a Chinese car conglomerate – owns Volvo and the S90 is made in Daqing, China. The cars are then shipped by rail to Europe for export to other countries.

Including Sweden.

But what’s more important than who owns Volvo or where the S90 is made is the fact that it is the most affordable large luxury sedan you can buy right now.

Base price for the B6 Plus trim with both a turbocharger and a supercharger is $57,000 – which is only a few thousand dollars more than BMW and Mercedes ask for their mid-sized luxury sedans, the 5-Series and E-Class. And even the most expensive version of the S90 – the $70,500 Recharge T8 Ultimate, which is also a plug-in hybrid – stickers for about $20,000 less than the least expensive versions of BMW and Mercedes’ full-size sedans, the 7-Series and S-Class. 

Both of which are only slightly larger.

The Volvo’s pricing makes it a lot easier to buy the available Lounge Package ($1,500) which adds massaging front seats. And an ultra-premium Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Or an adaptive/adjustable ride height suspension system.

Or all of that.

All trims also come standard with AWD as well as heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, power side shades, adaptive headlights, a panorama roof and a 12.3 inch digital display dash. These amenities often cost extra in rival brands’ mid-sized luxury sedans.

What’s New for 2023

The main change for the new model year is a thinning of the available trims to Plus and Ultimate, replacing the previously available Momentum, Inscription and R-Design trims. Also, the plug-in hybrid Ultimate now comes standard with the previously extra-cost more powerful battery and up to 38 miles of electric-only capability.

What’s Good

An almost-full-sized luxury sedan that costs about the same as most rival brands’ mid-sized luxury sedans.

Plug-in hybrid can go farther on battery power than any rival.

Standard turbo-supercharged powertrain is stronger than most mid-sized rivals’ standard powertrains.

What’s Not So Good

Very small trunk  (13.5 cubic feet) even relative to mid-sized rivals’ trunks.

Standard turbo-supercharged powertrain’s mileage is mediocre (23 city, 32 highway).

Plug-in hybrid powertrain’s price negates the gas-saving advantages.

Under The Hood

The S90 is available with either of two interesting drivetrains.

Italics to reflect the fact that no one else offers a turbocharged and supercharged standard drivetrain. Or a plug-in hybrid drivetrain that can carry you almost 40 miles on battery power alone, giving you most of the real-world advantages of a purely electric car without any of the disadvantages.

First, the turbo-supercharged drivetrain.

These two power boosters – plural – bump up the output of the 2.0 liter four cylinder engine to 295 horsepower and 310 ft.-lbs. of torque. This is substantially more horsepower (and torque) than comes standard in price-equivalent (but smaller) mid-sized luxury-sport sedans such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, both of which also come standard with 2.0 liter four cylinder engines – – but with just a turbocharger and only 248-255 horsepower.

The Genesis G80 sedan costs a less ($50,000 to start) and comes standard with a slightly more powerful (300 horsepower) 2.5 liter engine. But it’s also a smaller (mid-sized) sedan.

The Volvo’s turbo-supercharged engine also comes without something. That being turbo lag – the slight but noticeable delay in between the moment when you floor the accelerator pedal and acceleration. This lag occurs because it takes a moment to build up the exhaust pressure that spins the turbo, which then makes boost – but not until. By adding an electrically driven supercharger to the mix, Volvo eliminates that in-between lag.

It provides immediate boost – and off you go.

However, it’s not as quick as you’d expect – given the power (and torque) it has. Zero to 60 with the turbo-supercharged drivetrain takes about 6.4 seconds, which is significantly slower than the BMW 5 and Mercedes E-Class, both of which make the same run in the high fives. And the reason for that has to do with the Volvo’s weight – 4,296 lbs. at the curb.

A BMW 530i weighs 3,783 lbs. The Benz E-350 just 3,781 lbs. The absence of those extra roughly 500 pounds makes up for not having 295 horsepower. It also enables both of the latter to deliver slightly better gas mileage, too.

The S90 B6 with the 2.0 turbo-supercharger carries an EPA rating of 23 city, 32 highway – which isn’t bad given the power. But it’s not quite as good as the BMW 530i’s 25 city, 33 highway and not appreciably better than the Benz E350’s 23 city, 31 highway.

Even so, the S90’s turbo-supercharged drivetrain (which also features a 48 volt electric system that enables the engine to be cycled off when its power isn’t needed) is something different – and that’s what makes it interesting.

Even more so the S90’s available plug-in hybrid system, which pairs the 2.0 engine with a 107 kilowatt-hour electric motor and 18.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack to produce a total of 455 horsepower and 523 ft.-lbs. of torque. This version is much quicker – needing only 4.5 seconds to get to 60.

But what makes it even more interesting is how far it can go when its battery pack is fully charged. That being 38 miles – farther than any other plug-in hybrid in the class – and enough to realistically drive to work (and possibly, back) without burning any gas at all.

This may not save you money. But it will save you time.

More on that follows below . . .

Both iterations of the 2.0 engine are paired up with an eight speed automatic and standard all-wheel-drive. This is also of interest in that most of the comparably priced competition in the class, including the BMW 5, Benz E and Genesis G80 are rear-drive as they come.

On The Road

The S90’s weight doesn’t help its performance (or mileage) but it does help give it a very substantial feel. Like a heavy Rolex on your wrist. This was once a hallmark of Volvos – which were made to be heavy, so as to be among the safest-to-be-in vehicles, if you crashed one (or someone else crashed into you).

Of course, nowadays, all cars are “safe” to crash in.

But heaviness still has its place.

An appropriate place, in a big car such as this. You feel as if you got a lot for your money – and you literally did. About 500 pounds more of it. And while it does hurt gas mileage and keeps the car from being as quick as the lighter (and smaller) cars in its price range, it helps you feel as though you are driving something more substantial.

Which you are.

Also something exceptionally comfortable, which is often a function of weight. It is why big cars – and big SUVs and pick-ups – are among the most comfortable rides there are. This Volvo has the additional advantage of superlatively comfortable seats, including the headrests. This is a car you can sleep in and not wake up feeling like you slept in a car.

As detailed above, the standard turbo-supercharged engine responds more quickly than most turbo-only engines. The near-V8 torque provides strong mid-range pull, too. And the 48 volt electrical system and high-torque starter eliminates the otherwise-obnoxious stop-starting cycles by making them unnoticeable unless you’re watching the tachometer. The engine turns off when the car isn’t moving (or when it’s decelerating/coasting) and re-starts automatically and nearly instantaneously when it’s time to get moving; no obvious sounds of a conventional starter motor working to-re-start it. Think of it as ASS without the pain-in-the-ass.

The plug-in hybrid is a kind of Tesla S that makes a lot more sense.

Tesla claims the S has a range of about 400 miles on a full charge. But the wait for a full charge takes hours – at home – and the better portion of an hour at what are styled “fast” chargers. The S90 plug-in hybrid has a range of about 40 miles on a full charge but you don’t have to wait at all when it runs out of range. The gas engine comes on – and you keep going. Recharge when you have the time to wait.

That is the beauty of plug-in hybrids. And the beauty of this one is it has enough range on a full charge to make it to most places most people need to go on their daily drive – which makes it functionally (and “environmentally”) as much an electric car as the Tesla, but without the hassles of owning one.

At The Curb

The S90 is 200.4 inches long, which is considerably longer than price-equivalent mid-sized luxury sedans like the BMW 5 Series (195.8 inches), Mercedes E350 (194.3 inches) and the Tesla S (197.7 inches). It isn’t quite as long as a BMW 7 Series (212.2 inches) or a Mercedes S-Class (208.2 inches) but these are not price-equivalent. The Mercedes S sedan starts at $114,500. The BMW 7 at $93,900.

That’s a lot for not much larger. And – coming from the other direction – the S90 is larger-than-most, for a lot less.

Back seat legroom in the Volvo – 40.4 inches – is substantially more than the 36.5 inches in the back of the BMW5 sedan and the 36.2 inches in the backseat of the Mercedes E350.

The Tesla Model S is even worse in this respect, with just 35.5 inches of backseat legroom.

It’s also only 197.7 inches long, too.

To get more backseat legroom than the Volvo offers, you’ll need to move up to something like a BMW 7 or Benz S – and pay dearly for it.

Unfortunately, there is one important size consideration that’s not in the S90’s favor. Though it is a large sedan, its has a compact-sedan’s trunk; just 13.5 cubic feet. This deficit afflicts others in the class – and the next-highest class, too. The Benz S-Class has an absurd-for-its size 12.9 cubic trunk. Less trunk than a Hyundai Accent (13.7 cubic feet). These small trunks make these big cars impractical for long road trips with more than two people on board. It is a deficit that probably accounts, at least in part, for the surge in popularity of SUVs and crossovers – which have much more cargo space in an often smaller (overall) package.

But – again – there’s something interesting about this large car’s small trunk. It has a big pass-through that expands the usable cargo-carrying capacity significantly. However, to use it you do have to sacrifice passenger-carrying space. Still, it’s a definite help to able to carry more than just what will fit in the trunk.

The Rest

The main selling point here is size – and value. You get a bigger/roomier car for the money and you get more for your money, too.

Every S90 comes standard with four-zone climate control, a panorama glass roof, surround-view camera system, power folding rear seats and seat heaters for those in back, plus a heated steering wheel. None of these are “subscription based,” either. Buy the car and you own these features as long as you own the car.

And because it’s so affordable – even so equipped – it makes opting for the equipment that’s not standard equipment much more financially feasible. Even if you buy the top-of-the-line Recharge/plug-in hybrid you’re still about $20,000 below the base prices of only slightly-larger luxury sedans like the Benz S-Class and BMW 5.

And for just $1,500 extra, you can get the Ultimate with massaging front seats. A 19 speaker, 1,460 watt Bowers& Wilkins ultra-premium audio system is available, too. It’s not inexpensive – $3,500 for that one – but it’s more affordable, because the S90 is.

The Bottom Line

The saying says that size doesn’t matter.

But price – and value – surely do.

. . .

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Lotus used to be a good company too….making small light sports cars….now they are chinese owned….soon you will only get 4000 lb + EV’s….lol

  2. Eric,

    Is it me, or do luxury car makers downplay the universal, 2.0L engines nowadays? I went on Volvo’s website to check out the S90, and I had to DIG to find this info! It seems to me that, prior to the universal 2.0L engine, carmakers, particularly those of luxury cars, bragged about the engines, e.g. Lexus with the 4.0L V8 in their flagship, LS400. Am I imagining things, or am I recollecting things accurately?

    • Except for Dodge and RAM websites (soon to end with Hemi I am sure), engine size seems buried in all car sites now, not just luxury ones. V6 and V8 are getting rare even in “luxury” brands. So generic, so why bother with paying for a luxury make when you get the same little engine.

      I drive a Ford Focus and i pulled up behind a Lincoln at a stop light the other day. On the truck of the Lincoln was a 2.0 badge. That person probably paid three-four times as much as i did for the same 2.0 engine as my Focus…..

    • Absolutely Mark. Same has happened to me, countless times. And when I find it, it’s always a 4-cyl. Smart marketing depts know that a lot don’t like it and hide it on purpose.
      Same with a lot of things nowadays. ieee, on an adv bikes we desire tubeless spoke wheels but they are expensive so when a manuf has a spoke wheel option, if they are tubeless it says it loud and proud, but if they are tubed, no mention, so it makes you wonder, but usually it means they are tubed.

  3. ‘No one else offers a turbocharged and supercharged standard drivetrain. The S90’s available plug-in hybrid system … produce[s] a total of 455 horsepower and 523 ft.-lbs. of torque. And the 48 volt electrical system and high-torque starter eliminates the otherwise-obnoxious stop-starting cycles by making them unnoticeable.’ — eric

    A couple of decades ago, my Japanese colleagues claimed that China’s technology could never catch up with Japan’s.

    Clearly, it has. We’ll have to see about quality and longevity, though.

    Destroying advanced tech like this with a gov-imposed EeeVee monoculture would be a travesty … and a tragedy for mankind.

    Our local Ned Ludd chapter is working on a tiny device, affixable in seconds to an EeeVee battery, that can superheat and explode it in a trice.

    We are Luddites. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

    • Jim H.: Our local Ned Ludd chapter is working on a tiny device, affixable in seconds to an EeeVee battery, that can superheat and explode it in a trice.

      No device is required because auto immolate comes standard with all EVs. Future models may include a thermobaric setting, also known as the coming for 2026 “kill switch”.

  4. Is it designed in China too? Just wondering because it looks like a nice attractive vehicle. Makes me wonder why Soviet cars were 2 stroke stinkers made of Bakelite when they could have just as easily copied US and European designs.

    DJI is a Chinese drone maker. They make arguably the best drones on the market (although they are on the DOD blacklist, so out of favor in the US these days). A few years ago they bought Hasselblad, the Swedish high end camera company and began rebranding the cameras on their mid and high end drones as Hasselblad optics. Are the Swedes that hard up for cash that they need to sell out to the Chinese?

  5. Chinese built hybrid turbosupercharged; how could it not be reliable? At least the design aesthetic is still at least Scandinavian.

  6. I was interested in this car I believe because it was RWD based, rare today. Until I found out it was a 4cyl, twin boosted. Luckily the 300S was avail RWD w/V8.

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