By Nigel Wigmore
THE battle raging between carmakers over who will grab the lion’s share of a global market for electric cars (EVs) centres on what type of EV is going to become the most popular.
I say what type because the EV I have felt most comfortable driving so far has been a self-charging hybrid (a non-plug-in hybrid). Now, whether or not this is considered to be a “proper” electric car — a car powered solely by a battery — the self-charging hybrid seems at this point in time to offer the most satisfactory drive. Volvo declared last year that every Volvo it launches from 2019 would have an electric motor.
By doing this Volvo said it marked an “historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine (ICE)”. The Swedish carmaker placed “electrification at the core of its future business”.
One of the most attractive luxury cars around at the moment has to be this week’s drive, the Volvo S90 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid.
This saloon car combines a powerful petrol engine with a battery-powered electric motor. The S90 can travel in zero-emission, electric-only mode; it can be powered by both the electric motor and the petrol engine; or solely by the petrol engine.
To get the best out of the S90, or any plug-in hybrid for that matter, you have to buy into the business of still visiting petrol stations to top up with fuel (as motorists have done since the ICE was invented).
You must also keep the car’s electric motor charged up. The S90 came with two charging cables — one for fast charging and one for standard-rate charging using a traditional three-pin plug.
By this method the owner can recharge the car’s high- voltage battery via a three-
pin plug (you should never use an extension lead or other adaptor) or fast charge at nationwide charging networks.
Having satisfied yourself that both sources of energy for the car are adequately maintained it is time to enjoy the S90 itself.
The S90 saloon and V90 estate are Volvo’s newest large premium models. They join the XC90 sport utility vehicle (SUV) at the top of the range as part of Volvo’s 90 series.
I found the S90’s luxurious ambience very impressive. The S90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design Plus I have been driving is a prestige car at the top of its game. To this end, equipment levels on all fronts were excellent.
Natural materials such as leather upholstery and
hand-finished wood interior inlays are available on Momentum, Inscription and Cross Country versions.
Interior highlights feature a 12.3in active digital driver’s information display with a voice-activated control system; a CleanZone air-quality system, leather-faced upholstery, linear walnut inlays (Inscription and Inscription Pro versions); a Sensus nine-inch touchscreen and a Premium Sound system by Bowers & Wilkins with 19 speakers and 1,400 watts (optional).
One interesting aspect of the S90 I found common to all new Volvos I have driven in the past few years. In a word, it is to do with confidence in the vehicle you are driving.
I have recently driven a performance car that had all the attributes of this kind
of car including its ability to accelerate fast and maintain high speed.
Nevertheless, with this supercar there was a lack of confidence in its physical attributes. Driving in that type of car has everything to do with confidence.
Volvo makes no apologies for deliberately designing its new cars so that the carmaker instills confidence in drivers of their vehicles.
Egbert Bakker was technical leader of vehicle dynamics on both the new S90 and V90. “Everything is aimed at increasing confidence,” says Bakker. “The cars are made to be easy to drive, comfortable and predictable. This is a character specific to Volvo — we go our own way; there’s no need for us to copy anybody.”
This “relaxed confidence” is tangible. For example, the S90 features a double wishbone front axle with coil springs. The benefits of this are increased grip, better stability, comfort and limited body roll.
The S90 comes with Drive Mode settings: Comfort (the default setting) which is for maximum comfort; Eco where power is calibrated for the lowest possible fuel consumption and emissions; Dynamic where the power is calibrated for dynamic driving characteristics; and Individual mode that allows
the driver to tailor each element to his or her liking.
The long, wide cabin provides room for five occupants — rear-seat space is especially generous for the class — while large windows and optional sunroofs give plenty of natural light throughout the interior of the car.
The S90’s boot is huge, providing 500 litres of load space with the rear seats in place, while standard split- folding backrests mean it’s possible to take loads of up to 197.8 cm in length.
All versions of the S90 come with a power- operated boot lid.
The umbrella term for Volvo technology is Sensus. The nine-inch touchscreen control system allows the driver to control most of the car’s information, entertainment, convenience and safety functions from a single interface.
Smartphone Integration, featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, allows access to a phone’s functions — including calls, text messages, music and navigation — directly from the car’s touchscreen, voice control or the buttons on the steering wheel.
The Volvo S90 is an accomplished car and it is a car that would inspire confidence in any motorist to travel anywhere in it in comfort and safety.