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June 5, 2018 > Volvo S90 plug-in hybrid: Responsible luxury

Volvo S90 plug-in hybrid: Responsible luxury

By Steve Schaefer

Volvo?s S90 flagship sedan offers spacious luxury, with the bonus of a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. It?s a Scandinavian design alternative to German, Japanese, and American full-size upscale sedans. For nearly two decades, Volvos have transcended their utilitarian, no-nonsense past with beautiful, sleek designs. The S90 continues that tradition?it was named Automobile magazine?s 2017 Design of the Year.

The calm, classy face sets the tone for what lies beyond and within. It begins with a matte-silver waterfall grille, filled with concave vertical bars. At the front corners, LED headlights contain ?Thor?s Hammer? daytime running lights. The lower front corners wear the vents that have become an industry mainstay. Softly contoured sides are energized by some tasteful lower body creases. The tail is more angular, with chunky taillamps that create a set of illuminated parentheses. For identification, ?V O L V O? is spelled out across the tail, while the Ironmark symbol lives in its traditional spot up front on an oblique bar in the center of the grille.

Volvo?s interiors are clean and very posh. You can order the Momentum model, but the Inscription package ($4,500) really ups the game. The handsome massing, artfully rendered textures, and genuine wood on the dash, console, and doors evoke the sturdy Volvos of yore while offering a blend of edges and soft curves to please the eye. Seats, upgraded to ventilated Nappa soft leather in the Inscription, are comfortable and supportive. Power-operated sun curtains on the rear windows and backlight protect and delight rear passengers. Rear legroom is limo level generous.

The S90 offers one of today?s best user interfaces. The 9-inch central display has a home screen that?s divided into four stacked horizontal panels. These provide access to audio, climate, and other information at a glance. Tap one and it opens to a full display. The bars can change depending on what you?ve most recently viewed. For deeper settings, simply swipe the iPad-like surface to the left to expose a set of useful icons. With this much choice, however, it?s best to make your complex settings while parked to avoid driving distractedly.

The 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system is superb with its Class D amplifier. It?s also beautiful to look at, with silvery grilles and a cute little dash-mounted tweeter. The preset SiriusXM channel list displays the selections currently being played, so you can consult the menu before choosing. I can?t recall having that option with any other brand.

The S90 Hybrid blends a 313-horsepower super- and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and battery to deliver a potent 400 horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission, driving all four wheels. Because the engine is small and the electric motor pitches in, EPA fuel economy numbers are improved, and when cruising, the sound level is blissfully low.

The car?s 10.4 kWh battery provides a 21-mile range, which was about enough for me to get to work, where I charged up for the trip home. My daily trips were economical, but with other, longer rides factored in, I averaged 25.8 mpg, which is impressive for a 4,578-pound luxury sedan, but I was hoping to match the EPA 29 Combined mpg gas-only number, or the 71 MPGe figure for electricity plus gas. I did see much higher numbers for individual commute trips.

The S90 hybrid earns EPA green ratings of 7 for Smog and a 10 for Greenhouse Gas. This latter number is based on 161 grams of CO2 per mile, less than half of what an average sedan emits. The non-hybrid car gets a 25-mpg combined figure and consumes 13.2 barrels of gasoline per year. The hybrid goes through just 6.2 barrels, so there is a significant difference, even if the mpg improvement seems incremental for the hybrid.

Built in Daqing, China, the S90 contains 16 percent Swedish bits, including engine parts. The Geartronic automatic transmission for this world car comes from Japan.

Prices reflect the S90?s luxury status. My test car?s base price was $63,650, but by the time you add in the Inscription package, Convenience Package ($2,550), Luxury Package ($3,450), Crystal White Metallic paint ($595), head-up display ($900), 20-inch Inscription wheels ($800) and more, it came to a whopping $82,140. You can pick up the non-hybrid model starting at $55,035.

Hybrid versions of cars give customers a chance to sample an EV from the safety of a standard car with a long range and easy refilling. As the EV infrastructure develops and batteries become more efficient and less expensive, Volvo can transition the S90 to an all-electric vehicle. Luxury full-size EVs are around the corner, but meanwhile, the S90 hybrid satisfies at least part of that need today.

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