I am driving the newest Volvo S90 saloon on a motorway.
Neil Lyndon lets the Volvo S90 R-Design Saloon drive itself autonomously, for a moment.
My hands are on my thighs, drumming to the rhythm of the music on the knock-out Bowers and Wilkins audio system. My eyes are idly drifting around the views of the countryside, occasionally flicking back to the road to check the traffic ahead and see whether I am still in the right lane. My mind is on the prospect of my lunch.
When, therefore, I say “I am driving the S90”, the words are accurate only in the remotest sense. In truth, the S90 is driving itself and will let me know when it thinks I ought to take a hand.
That happens, in fact, annoyingly often. The Pilot Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control technology only takes care of the steering up to 80 mph and adjusts the accelerator and brake inputs to keep the car within lane markings and at the cruising speed that has been chosen. If a car is merging into your lane from the left or if you need to move right to overtake slower moving traffic, the system just throws up its hands and dumps all the responsibility for the choice and the execution of the move into your lap.
Well, I mean, come on: is this the new world or not? If I’m going to buy a car with semi-autonomous driving technology,
I want to be able to concentrate on the crossword while it takes care of the overtaking. I don’t want to have to keep putting my hands back on the wheel and calculating the gap between me and the pantechnicon in front.
Amazing how quickly we become blasé about miracles. Only 10 minutes after being awestruck by the autonomous system’s sensitivity to the contours of the road and its ability to retain a constant position in the lane, I was getting irked by the system’s insistence on taking that position too near to the inside edge of the lane for my liking. Within minutes of taking my hands off the wheel and letting the car steer itself, I was exasperated at its refusal to pull out and overtake a lorry and its insistence, instead, on slowing down to match the lorry’s pace.
Well, while it lasted, it was a terrific 10 minutes of unalloyed enchantment in a terrific car.
Built on the same platform as the XC90 (which was one of my cars of last year). The new S90 large saloon and V90 estate share many of that SUV’s characteristics. The trademark radiator grille, its all-wheel-drive system, its steel-and-aluminium monocoque construction, its suspension set-up and air springs and the D4 and D5 engines. A T8 twin-engine petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is in the pipeline.
They also share the XC90’s superb quality of finish and spectacularly brilliant interior arrangement which set a new standard for the industry. Volvo’s Sensus Connect system (an additional £3000 on our test car), with its 9” touch screen with pinch and zoom and swipe functionality and voice-control, is just the best thing going at present in connectivity and entertainment technology. The vast tablet in the middle of the fascia is most like an Apple iPad and allows access to a multiplicity of cloud-based goodies like Spotify. On its internet radio, I could listen to my favourite country-and-western station from the American mid-West and feel like I had never left home.
When I got in my S90 D5 and luxuriated in the nappa soft leather of the upholstery, I asked if this large saloon was intended to rival the Jaguar XJ. “No, replied a Volvo man, looking puzzled. “It’s in the same class as the XF.”
Not in my mind, it isn’t. Much as I like the XF, its qualities seem run-of-the-mill compared with the S90 which definitely takes a place high on the list of most desirable cars of this year.
At £53380 all-in, you’d expect something special. In the S90, you get that something special with knobs on.
Car reviewed: Volvo S90 2.0 Powerpulse AWD R-Design Auto Saloon – On the road £41955, price as tested £53380 0-62mph 7.0 secs Top speed 149mph limited Fuel Economy combined 58.9mpg CO2 emissions 127g/km Engine 1969cc 4-cylinder diesel Max Power 235hp@4000rpm Torque 480Nm@1750rpm Transmission 8-speed auto with manual mode
Build Quality and finish
Uniquely brilliant interior
This car is something special
Autonomous system can only get better
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