The luxury vehicle space isn't getting less competitive -- quite the opposite in fact. Luxury models, particularly non-SUV luxury models, are struggling to maintain sales these days. At Kelley Blue Book we're tracking entry-luxury car sales down 14 percent and midsize luxury cars down 20 percent so far this year. That latter segment, home of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, doesn't seem like the best place to launch an all-new model, but that's exactly where Volvo is going with its 2017 S90 luxury sedan and 2018 V90 luxury wagon. The more powerful S90 T6 arrives at U.S. dealers this month, with the lower-power S90 T5 arriving in September and the V90 wagon landing next year. In this competitive landscape these models will need to offer a highly compelling combination of luxury, safety and advanced technology to shift sales from more established players. Will they?
To answer that quandary it's important to understand where Volvo has been since Ford sold the Swedish automaker to Geely Automobile in 2010. As I mentioned in my recent Volvo XC90 story, after that sale the global motoring press held its collective breath, waiting to see what would become of the iconic automotive brand known for its focus on passenger safety. What did happen, according to Volvo representatives, was a complete re-assessment of what the automaker should be. Volvo executives, with the financial and managerial support of Geely, approached the process like a start-up company, looking at where personal transportation would go over the next 10-20 years. The brand's historic emphasis on safety remained a foundational element, even adding a new corporate mantra to prevent all serious injuries or fatalities in Volvos by 2020. An otherwise clean-sheet approach was taken for new models, as reflected in the unconventional (yet highly effective) design elements first seen on last year's XC90 and now integral to the 2017 S90 sedan and V90 wagon.
We drove both models recently in southern Spain, experiencing Volvo's three guiding principles of designing around the customer, ensuring occupant safety and providing luxury amenities that make its customers feel special. These philosophies manifest in a numbers of ways, starting with a new chassis featuring varying degrees of high-strength steel throughout the structure. The chassis rides on a double wishbone front suspension and transverse composite leaf spring rear suspension. A rear air suspension can be added as a standalone option, while all S90s and V90s feature an electric power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system. At between 3,800 and 4,000 pounds, depending on T5 for T6 trim in front- or all-wheel-drive configuration, the S90 and V90 are lighter than many of their competitors, especially in all-wheel-drive form.
Credit the cars' weight advantage to perhaps its most unconventional component -- four cylinder drivetrains in either turbo (T5) or turbo and supercharged (T6) form. While smaller engines utilizing some form of forced induction are rapidly replacing naturally-aspirated V6 and V8 engines, Volvo offering nothing but four-cylinder engines in this luxury segment makes them quite unique. It would be easy to assume these engine's don't deliver a true luxury driving experience, but that assumption would be wrong. At 250 horsepower for the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine in the T5, and 316 horsepower for the turbo- and supercharged version of this engine in the T6, the S90/V90 offers competitive thrust delivered across a wide, flat powerband. Maximum torque is either 258 pound-feet in the T5 or 295 lb-ft in the T6. Now throw in the responsive 8-speed automatic transmission, along with the Volvo's weight advantage, and you've got a luxury sedan capable of hitting 60 mph in around 6 seconds. A hybrid version of the S90, the T8, will also come to market next year. It should offer around 400 horsepower given it's the same drivetrain as the XC90 T8.
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