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Insight – the 90 cars transforming Volvo

S90 and V90 models join XC90 to form range-topping trio.

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Volvo sees the imminent arrival on UK roads of its S90 and V90 models as the culmination of a transformation of the Swedish brand.

First UK customers for the S90 saloon will take delivery of their cars in the next few weeks, and the V90 will arrive before the end of 2016, forming a range-topping trio for Volvo alongside the already-launched and well-received XC90 SUV.

According to Stefan Sällqvist, senior product manager at the brand’s Gothenburg design team, the arrival of these cars is a clear illustration of the transformation of Volvo that began when Ford sold the company to Geely in 2010.

“We were able to start with a clean piece of paper, to redefine the brand around a new title, ‘designed around you’,” Sällqvist says.

This new direction has followed four principles – the creation of modular architectures on which to build the cars, smaller-capacity Drive-E powertrains, incorporating autonomous driving and preparing for electric power.


Platform engineering

Volvo’s Scaleable Product Architecture (SPA) platform underpins all the 90 models and will also be used in the next series of 60 cars. It will also soon be joined by the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform on which Volvo’s next series of smaller cars will be created.

Sällqvist describes the SPA as “very flexible” with the only fixed measurement being between the dash and the front axle, this ensuring the cars maintain Volvo’s design proportions.

SPA has been designed from the start for electric propulsion, with no battery intrusion into passenger or luggage space. A T8 ‘Twin-Engine’ plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 is already on sale and S90 and V90 versions will follow.

In terms of their chassis the new models are designed under the principle of offering comfortable progress, but with predictable handling and steering responses when needed.

“We are not going after the German brands in terms of driving dynamics,” Sällqvist says. “We want people in our cars to travel in ‘relaxed confidence’.

“We have the hardware right, which is essential to the development of something really good.”

Volvo’s bold decision to only use engines with a maximum of four cylinders has been proven by the success of the Drive-E programme, offering a combination of power with efficiency.

The S90 and V90 will be offered with either a 190hp D4 diesel or a 235hp D5 unit, the latter matched to an all-wheel-drive transmission. There are also Drive-E petrol engines but these are not coming to the UK, while three-cylinder Drive-E units are also under development.


Playing safe

Today Volvo is probably best known for its safety advances, particularly in the area of Active Safety and autonomous driving. “Volvo is safety – safety is in our DNA,” says Sällqvist.

The most obvious evidence of such development in the S90 and V90 models is the Pilot Assist feature. An advance of the Active Cruise Control, it now adds small steering movements to keep the car in the centre of a motorway lane while on the move, as well as allowing stop-start progress in a queue without input from the driver.

Sällqvist insists, however that Pilot Assist does not create a self-driving car – an area in which Volvo is heavily involved – and the driver is expected to keep their hands on the steering wheel while the system is active.


Despite all of the technology gains, Sällqvist insists that the most important aspect of the 90 programme has been design – an area in which Volvo has not been renowned in the past.

“We wanted to reach out to the soul of the customer, not just attract those who are pragmatic in their purchase,” Sällqvist says.

As a result the cars have not only been designed to offer distinctive exterior styling, epitomised in details such as the ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlamp signature, but also to have light, airy cabins, Sällqvist insisting that light is very important to Scandinavians due to the long dark winters that are a part of living in the north of the globe. He also claims that the seats, a new and slimmer design introduced with the XC90, are the best in the industry.

S90 prices start at £32,555 while the V90, expected to take between 65% and 75% of the two models’ total volume, costs £2,000 more.

Currently two trim levels are available, Momentum and Inscription. A third, R-Design, will launch in 2017 offering a more sporty image including a 15mm lower ride height, stiffer springs and more damper control.


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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.