There’s a quiet brilliance that permeates every aspect of the 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription. While its name is long, its place in the automotive biosphere is clear: this is Volvo’s top-of-the-line luxury sedan, albeit the plug-in hybrid version.
But no matter which S90 you choose, you’ll find Scandinavia’s ultimate luxury sedan to be a refreshing change of pace from those peddled by its German, Asian and American competitors.
For 2021, the Volvo S90 receives a mid-cycle freshening. So it’s little surprise it wears an updated wardrobe, particularly a new front fascia and updated grille. Walk around the car and you’ll discover an updated rear fascia and trunk lid along with new taillights that flash to you as you approach the car.
The wardrobe makeover continues inside with the addition of new upholstery, trim and colors throughout the car. As before, the Volvo S90 is offered as the T6 powered by a gasoline engine, and as the tonier Recharge T8 with a gas-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain. An 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard. The T6 is available in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trim levels, with the T8 offered with R-Design and Inscription trim.
Like many modern four-door sedans, the S90’s profile lends it a coupe-like appearance, although the long hood lends the look of a rear-wheel-drive sedan, even though it was born with front-wheel drive in 2017.
Its design language, while undoubtedly European, is distinct from its German competitors. Like many great Volvos throughout the decades, its design language speaks softly, but doesn’t totally cloak its underlying muscular form. And let’s face it, the grille and the “Thor’s hammer” headlights are unmistakably Volvo. It’s masterfully sophisticated and mature, without the angry, noisy automotive design that increasingly passes for chic style.
If simplicity is the ultimate luxury, the world’s automakers have much to learn from the S90, trimmed in Volvo’s typically spare, elegant fashion that feels innately Scandinavian. It’s posh without being overindulgent. Details like matte-finished wood trim and a single spear of metal on the instrument panel warm up an interior that might otherwise feel sparse.
The cabin is roomy front and rear, with some of the most comfortable seats you’ll ever experience. There’s a posh ambiance emanating from the cabin that makes it immensely satisfying. Far less satisfying is the trunk, which is far too small for a luxury car.
All S90s use 4-cylinder engines. The base S90, the T6 Inscription, is powered by a turbocharged and supercharged 316-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. The test vehicle, a T8 Recharge, uses the same engine mated to an electric motor mounted on the rear axle that provides an additional 87 horsepower to the rear wheels.
A 34-kW starter/generator seamlessly facilitates the transition between gas and electric power, providing an extra 111 point-feet of torque. An 11.6 kWh battery pack is mounted in the center tunnel of the vehicle. As before, the S90 is built using Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture that also underpins Volvo’s XC90 sport-utility vehicle.
Safety and Technology
As you’d expect, Volvo equips the S90 with a ton of safety gear, including “Pilot Assist,” which provides Level II autonomous driving at speeds up to 81 mph, and Volvo’s City Safety, which not only prevents the driver from hitting a pedestrian, it avoids accidents involving moose — no small thing in cold, remote climes.
Other safety goodies include blind-spot alert with steering assist, cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, driver-alert control, run-off road mitigation, lane-departure warning and assist, automated emergency braking with forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. This has led the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to designate it a “Top Safety Pick+.” NHTSA has not rated the vehicle.
A 12.3-inch vertically oriented infotainment touchscreen, dubbed Sensus Connect by Volvo, is logically designed and very easy to use. You wouldn’t expect a flashy interface design, a problem too common on infotainment screens, and you don’t get it. Instead, its look is guided by the same spare eloquence that guides the look throughout the car, making the system very easy to use, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. And wait till you hear the epic 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Yum.
The S90 provides the confident handling and nicely weighted steering you’d expect from a continental cruiser. If you’re opting for an S90, be sure to equip it with the optional air suspension, which endows the S90 with the ideal balance between comfort and handling.
Compliant over America’s often crumbling roadways, the suspension prevents excessive rebounding over bumps while controlling body lean in corners. It gives the large sedan a fairly nimble feel while delivering exceptional comfort. And the electric motor adds enough power to keep it all interesting. It’s a sublime performer.
If the 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge doesn’t always garner the enthusiasm of German sedans it should. It’s a unique flavor, one that doesn’t shout, but delivers without ostentation or noise. It’s a sedan that doesn’t surrender comfort for performance. So while you might thing the S in S90 stands for sedan — and it just might — think of it as an abbreviation for superb.