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10 Reasons Why the Volvo S90 is Better than the S80

10 Reasons Why the Volvo S90 is Better than the S80

By Ethan West, December 28, 2015

Volvo’s S80 midsize luxury sedan was last redesigned for the 2007 model year. To put that into perspective, the current iteration of the S80 has been on the market since before the advent of Apple’s iPhone and before the inauguration of America’s 44th president—Barack Obama.

When it first launched, the redesigned 2007 S80 got off to a solid start, ranking third in its segment in the J.D. Power 2007 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS). However, the redesigned model never managed to capture a significant number of buyers with its progressive design, indulgent performance, or advanced innovation. As a result, the Volvo S80 went from selling just over 12,000 units in 2007 to a projected total of about 2,000 in calendar 2015.

Now, Volvo wants a fresh start with its midsize luxury sedan and has done away with the S80 nameplate in favor of new S90 branding. In celebration of the model name’s 10-point gain, here are 10 things that should make the new 2017 Volvo S90 a more advanced, progressive, and appealing car, compared with the outgoing S80:

1. Powertrains
The S90 will feature a choice between three powertrains. The base engine is a turbocharged 5-cylinder that has been a mainstay within Volvo’s lineup for years. Also available is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that utilizes both turbocharging and supercharging. The supercharger creates instant, low-end torque and the turbocharger increases volumetric efficiency of the engine throughout its power band. A similar version of this engine that only employs a turbocharger was introduced to Volvo’s lineup for the 2015 model year and helped substantially improve the brand’s score in the Engine and Fuel Economy categories of the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM The third powertrain choice available in the new S90 is Volvo’s Twin Engine plug-in hybrid system, which pairs the 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors. This same setup is used in the Volvo XC90 SUV and creates 400 horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. of torque in this model.

2. Interior
Volvo interiors have long been lauded as having an air of unique Swedish design and luxury. To wit, Volvo scores better than the premium brand average in the Seats category of the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study. It’s hard to quantify exactly what is so good about Volvo’s seats, but buyers of the Swedish marque are in the know. Quality of workmanship (materials, fit, and finish) and interior comfort are the second- and third-most cited reasons Volvo buyers chose their vehicle, as reported in the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Avoider Study.SM Since the S90 is a new model, one can expect that Volvo’s interior and seats will be better than ever, with more features and even higher-quality materials and finish.

3. Semi-Autonomous Features
The new S90 will feature a more progressive version of Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system. Pilot Assist is essentially an evolution of the combined functions of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. The newest iteration of Volvo’s semi-autonomous system will keep the S90 in its lane at a set speed without having to follow another vehicle. The S90 can set its own pace and stay in its own lane, according to Volvo. All the driver has to do is keep an eye on the road and soak in all that Swedish new-car smell.

4. Sensus
Sensus is Volvo’s central system that controls vehicle functions like audio, communications, entertainment, navigation, HVAC, and vehicle settings. The latest version of Sensus that will be found in the S90 uses a setup that is not entirely dissimilar from a household tablet. The Sensus system uses one large, portrait-oriented touch screen with swipe-based and pinch-and-zoom functions, in addition to a physical button below the screen that acts as a home button.

The newest version of Sensus aims to ease audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation problems that consumers have been experiencing in every brand of vehicle over the last few years. In fact, this is the most prominent problem area in all vehicles industry-wide, as seen in the 2015 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS). If Volvo’s new Sensus system works well in the hands of owners, it could significantly improve the user experience of these vehicles.

5. Large Animal Detection
Volvo cars have always been perceived as safe—that’s their calling card. In fact, in the 2015 U.S. Avoider Study, more than 80% of Volvo buyers cite safety as one of the reasons they chose their car. The new S90 takes safety a bit further. The car’s radar camera, which is used for such other vehicle features as adaptive cruise control, can detect large animals crossing the road in front of the car. In the event of a moose or similarly large animal crossing the road in front of the S90, the car will warn the driver, and if the driver does not react, the car will even apply the brakes on its own. On most cars, a feature of this caliber might be buried in some high-dollar option package. But this is Volvo, the brand built upon its safety reputation. Large animal detection comes standard.

6. Orrefors Gearshift
Most modern cars have a gear shifter made of metal and plastic, wrapped in leather. Some cars even have a shifter that is a round dial, or maybe even just a few buttons. The Volvo S90 has a shifter made of crystal. Swedish hand-blown glass company Orrefors outfits what will likely be the top trim level of the S90 with quite possibly the most elegant way to transition from park to drive.

7. Styling
The current S80’s styling has always been one of the largest points of drag between it and its midsize luxury competitors. Its styling has always been clean and simple, but perhaps far too simple for its segment, where most offerings sell on the higher side of $50,000.

The S90 is Volvo’s first passenger car implementation of their new design language, and its styling appears to be much more in line with its price and competitors. Many stylistic elements look familiar from the new XC90 SUV, like the grille and headlights, and this is a good thing. The S90 combines an upright front and rear fascia with a coupe-like roof line to create an air of boxy-suaveness. Several other accents add more visual interest to the design, such as the sharp LED light tubes in the headlights and taillights.

8. Electric Range
The S90 shares the same chassis and powertrain family as the new XC90. The XC90, with its Twin Engine powertrain, provides 20 miles of all-electric range when fully charged, according to Volvo. The S90 will have the same powertrain but will weigh less. That means the S90 will likely have at least 20 miles worth of all-electric range. That electric range provides very nearly free driving for those who have a short commute to work or who run errands within the neighborhood.

9. Price
Pricing has not been announced for the new S90. However, the car’s price can be estimated by looking at its stablemate, the XC90, since the two share many systems. When the new XC90 was introduced for 2016, its base price increased about 12%, compared with the outgoing model. The current Volvo S80 starts at $43,450. Add 12% and that places the new S90 right around the mid-$48,000 range.

This estimate puts the starting price of the Volvo S90 below that of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Not only that, but the S90 also looks to be more than a “12% better” car than the S80. By that logic, the price of the S90 makes for a better value than ever before.

10. Uniqueness
In the luxury car market, there’s something to be said for uniqueness. Buyers in the Midsize Premium Car segment are not shopping for a run-of-the-mill Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, and since those buyers are going the extra mile and spending the extra money, it’s reasonable to think that buyers are spending that extra money to stand out. In the 2015 IQS, more than 80% of owners of luxury vehicles agree that they want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd.

Although the new S90 is quite likely to top the outgoing S80’s meager 2,000 units sold for the year, it is unlikely to match the sales numbers of segment leaders. BMW will finish out 2015 having sold more than 40,000 5 Series cars, and Mercedes-Benz will end the year having sold around 35,000 E-Class vehicles. While a model that sells 2,000 units a year may seem like an oddity and one that sells 40,000 units a year may seem somewhat common, the S90 should sell somewhere between the two and provide an air of uniqueness to its segment.

To further Volvo’s differentiation, S90s equipped with the Twin Engine plug-in hybrid system are the only plug-in hybrid vehicles in the Midsize Premium Car segment.

Additional Research:

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