There’s no doubt that the latest products from Volvo Cars are class-leading in nearly every objective evaluation. The most comfortable seats are no longer made by Mercedes-Benz but Volvo. The best powertrains are no longer made by BMW but Volvo. The best interiors are no longer from Audi but Volvo. Never mind about safety, because that honour has never left Volvo since 1927.
Whether consumers are progressive enough to adjust their perception of the hierarchy of luxury car brands is another matter altogether.
Still, consumers still overwhelmingly prefer the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series, and understandably so. With a wider dealer network and many more years of consistently engaging with local buyers (Volvo fell into a lull in the ‘90s), most affluent Malaysians limit their choices to either the Swabian or the Bavarian marque.
With Audi and Lexus carrying only higher priced fully imported models, Volvo is the only credible alternative to the German duopoly, but is ‘alternative’ even the right word to describe today’s Volvo? In our books, it’s the benchmark and here’s why:
A platform like none other
Volvo’s current flagship sedan, the S90 T8 ticks all the right boxes. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for comfort or driving pleasure. With 407 hp and 640 Nm on tap, the S90 T8’s stately demeanour hides an unexpected ability to keep up with a far nimbler Volkswagen Golf GTI in the sprint from 0-100 km/h, never mind the E-Class or the 5 Series. It’s also the only sedan in its class to come with all-wheel drive as standard, for greater assurance in all weather conditions.
At the same time, it also sips fuel like a Toyota Prius while cocooning its occupants with cabin materials that rival the best from Germany’s Big Three.
Part of the reason behind this is because Volvo is the only car maker to use a dedicated platform – the Scalable Platform Architecture or SPA – that’s been designed from the ground up to accommodate electric drive. The result of this uncompromising approach is a plug-in hybrid that rides and drives better than any of its rivals.
Rather than following its peers in placing the heavy hybrid battery behind in the boot or under the rear seats, which complicates the outcome of a severe rear-end collision, as well as significantly altering the vehicle’s weight balance, Volvo believes that by placing the battery length-wise in the middle of the vehicle, the S90 is the safest vehicle in its class, with the added bonus of superior handling and comfort.
With the heaviest component after the engine firmly installed in the middle, right at its centre of gravity, the S90 responds sharply and isn’t easily unsettled by poor road conditions. It also means that the S90 has a bigger boot than any of its peers. Of course, the downside also means that storage space in the centre console is less. A small price to pay for greater safety.
If clothes make a man, cabin materials make a car
The Nappa leather in the S90’s seats are naturally tanned. As the leather has not been artificially treated, it breathes better, giving the seats natural ventilation and more importantly, a more comfortable journey in our hot climate, where thick leather seats often give occupants a sweaty back.
It doesn’t stop there. Every Volvo seat is designed with the accumulated knowledge of orthopedic surgeons from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. That’s the reason why Volvo seats are the most comfortable in the business.
Not only that, they are also the safest. The frames of Volvo seats are designed to absorb impact in the event of a severe accident, especially in scenarios where the car’s bottom smashes into something hard, which could severely injure the occupant’s back. It’s an innovation that’s only found in a Volvo.
The natural Walnut wood deco dashboard is crafted like a Bentley, never mind a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz. The pattern on the wood inlays are perfectly lined to create a symmetrical pattern between the left- and right-side of the cabin.
Where others use plastic knobs and switches, Volvo’s controls feature fine diamond-cut finishing; again this is something unique to Volvo.
Volvo is also the only manufacturer on this side of the Rolls-Royce divide to use crystal material inside its cabin. The gear knob of all T8 variant Volvos feature an illuminated crystal glass top. Made by Sweden’s Orrefors, the crystal glass is handmade by traditional Swedish craftsmen.
A mini Gothenburg Concert Hall in your car
Then there is the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system fitted on the Inscription Plus variant. It’s undoubtedly the best sound system on this side of a million Ringgit. The quality of the sound reproduction is shockingly surreal, to the point that DJs of radio shows can sound like they are sitting right in front of you at the dashboard.
There’s also a Gothenburg Concert Hall mode that has been independently verified by many finicky ears to be almost indistinguishable from a listening to a live performance at the famed Swedish concert hall.
A technological tour de force
Beyond class-leading luxury appointments, the S90 T8 is also a technological tour de force, with a level of sophistication is actually closer to that of a BMW 7 Series rather than a 5 Series.
The S90 T8’s Intellisafe range of advanced driving assistance for example, include Pilot Assist with Steering Support which allows for semi-autonomous driving at speeds of up to 130 km/h. It’s an assist-only function, and the keyword here is ‘assist,’ that aims to deliver a more relaxed long distance drive.
The driver is still required to maintain minimal control on the steering wheel (it’s an intentionally conservative setup to avoid gaffes like recent fatal accidents involving Tesla’s Auto Pilot functions in the US) but the reduced effort to maintain directional control on the car significantly reduces fatigue.
Its autonomous emergency braking function, or City Safety, is also the most sophisticated in its class. It looks out for not just adult pedestrians, but also children and large animals, as well as an added capability for intersections – mitigating potentially fatal T-bone collisions for example. It even applies corrective steering if the driver isn’t responding fast enough. Most alternatives offered by Volvo’s German rivals are only capable of detecting vehicles directly ahead and adult pedestrians stepping into the path of the vehicle, with no capability to apply corrective steering.
After breaking out of nearly two decades of stagnation under Ford’s stifling environment, Volvo is now jumping into the ring, boxing gloves in hand, confident enough to shove off the bigger Germans to claim its rightful spot in the luxury car market. Their latest models have won us over, the question now is how much more convincing does the masses need to consider a premium sedan from Sweden.
The S90 T8 Inscription sells for RM348,045 while the range-topping T8 Inscription Plus sells for RM366,913. Prices quoted are excluding insurance, without GST and SST.
Read also our full review of the S90 T8 here.