If you were a kid from the '90s like me, chances are, you would've spent many an idle hour watching HBO. For one, text messaging was still mostly for working types. Two, the internet was mostly for research and online chat groups (oh, those poor souls devoid of social lives), and well, vegging out in front of the tube was as fun then as it is now.
There was a flick always re-played back then called Face Off. It was an action movie starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, the former being the protagonist and the latter the villain, and as the plot unfolds, they swap faces, and character rolls along with it. In one scene, Travolta's character after the facial transplant (who now was really Cage's persona), talks to his daughter and says "Papa's got a brand new bag." Now, if you've been wondering whatever happened to the Swedish car brand Volvo, chances are, it would also tell you the same thing. This is the all new Volvo S90, which suffice to say, is the carmaker's flagship saloon offering. Well, it seems Volvo has a brand new bag as well.
More than a facelift
So what's new you may ask? Everything, to be frank. With parent company Geely infusing billions of dollars into the brand, Volvo has been busy recreating its models. Starting with its new technology called the Scalable Platform Architecture or SPA, models like the XC90, V90, and this S90 benefit by having more modern build quality and enhanced safety parameters.
All vehicles using the SPA will only be fitted with a four-cylinder engine, either petrol or diesel, but there are also hybrid variants available abroad. The model we have here is the D4, and is powered by a two-liter turbo-diesel with 190 horsepower. It's married to an eight-speed automatic, and though can be had with all-wheel drive, local S90s for now are front-wheel drive only.
With its predecessor, the S80, growing long in the tooth, the all-new S90 enters the executive mid-size market looking pretty fly, and can now hold its own beside the Bimmers and Benzes. Prominent features like the "Thor's hammer" headlights, the large "iron mark" themed grille, and the sleek body lines are just some of the facets that draw your attention to the car. The rear treatment may be a hit for some, a miss for others, but you have to commend Volvo for being more adventurous in styling this vehicle.
Aboard the S90, it's clear that the Swedes do cars a bit differently. For starters, you notice the ignition switch mounted in the center binnacle between the two seats, instead of near the steering column. Right below the starter switch, you will find a roller knob finished in what Volvo describes as "knurled diamond." This alters the driving settings for normal, sporty, and economical motoring. There is even a Swedish flag stitched on the seats just to re-mind you of this vehicle's origin. Then, on the center console, you will find what looks like an iPad elegantly glued into the interface. They call this the Sensus infotainment system, and is impressive as it is daunting. Kudos to Volvo for devising such an elegant solution for today's modern vehicle interface.
However, due to the many functions embedded in the system, it may take your eyes away from the road during actual operation, which can compromise road safety. Speaking of safety though, this is after all a Volvo, and safety features abound in this luxury sedan. Things like BLIS (blind spot and cross traffic alert), SIPS (side impact protection system), city safety (automatic braking), run-off road mitigation and lane keeping aid (keep the correct driving path) all come standard in the S90.
With the demo unit finished in glossy black, the S90 had a "Mafiosi" feel to it. Nothing like a big, black, expensive-looking limousine to announce that boss-vibe. Drive the Volvo a few blocks though, and its behavior belies its size. What you expect to have limo-like reflexes actually has a more dynamic character to it. Though modest in specification, the four-cylinder diesel gets the S90 up to speed alertly. Steering feel is on the light side, a bit more Audi-esque than BMW, I would say. Ride quality is about a few ticks to the side of comfort, although not pillowy soft as say, a Lexus would be.
But to liken the Volvo simply to its German or Japanese counterparts would be too reductive. In my time with the S90, what truly surfaced was how Volvo crafted a car with its own unique character. One of Zen-like calm, which is always comforting whether stuck in traffic or plugged on cruise control in the highway. But quietly confident in strutting its stuff on the premium front, serving up its own brand of Swedish charm. Now whether you like Volvo's brand new bag is simply a matter of taste. III
Photographs by Vince Arcilla (AMP-Autobuyers Philippines)
This story first appeared in the June 2018 Metro Society.