When you do a car review, the usual format is to either look at one vehicle or compare two or more similar vehicles from different manufacturers. So why are we looking at two vehicles that are from the same brand but also aren’t similar? Well, in some ways, they are. These two Volvos represent the pinnacle of Volvo’s sedan and SUV segments. So, if you find yourself with a budget of over Rs.20Mil, you can either go for the XC90, an All Wheel Drive, 7 seater SUV or the S90, a Front Wheel Drive 5 seater sedan. While our Sri Lankan biases have conditioned us to always favor the SUV over the sedan, I’d like to step back for a bit and look at these two vehicles as competitors, understanding each of their pros and cons, and which segment of the market each of them best fit into.
We’ll still review each car, so you will get a deeper understanding of both the S90 and the XC90, but more to the point, you may come out of this having changed your mind as to which one is better for you or it may just re-affirm your initial decision.
We took a decently long drive in both vehicles to make sure we got a thorough picture of them. From the Volvo Showroom in Kelaniya acorss to Ja-Ela, where we went around, eventually ending up on the beach. Big thank you for the team at Volvo for giving us the chance to put both vehicles through their paces. If you feel like taking either one of these vehicles out for a test drive after reading this, just give them a call on +94115565810.
Alright, thats enough talking about why and who, lets get to the XC90 and S90.
The XC90 and S90 sit at the top of their respective categories for Volvo, and while Volvo is seeing a slow revival in Sri Lanka, globally these two vehicles are not only in high demand but also show case Volvo’s shift from being purely a “safe” car, but also a sporty one. For the longest time, Volvo was perceiv–ed as the ultra safe family car, while at the same time being a little boring. All this changed several years ago when Volvo decided to revamp itself to make the brand an aspirational one, and they’ve done this pretty successfully, while main–taining its gold standard for safety.
Packed full of technology (as all cars are now), the new, sleeker, more stylish Volvos come with a range of engine options (true for the S90 and XC90 as well), and like most European models, a myriad of trim levels and optional extras. Which means you can customize your experience to your exact tastes, and of course to fit your budget.
I personally think that the market really needs to open its eyes more to this brand, which was unfortunately marred by poor management in the past. However, after IWS Holdings took over the brand in the local market, major investments have been made to bring it along side other major brands in terms of sales and aftersales services. If you look at the United States, Volvo was ranked number 53 in the top 100 most Powerful Brands (2017), 2 spots higher than Ford (which is American). There’s a good reason for that, they make really good vehicles. Sorry, seems like I went off on a bit of a tangent there, lets get back to the two vehicles.
It has been said over and over that Volvo have moved away from their boring, “safe” design concepts and adopted a more sporty outlook on things. You can see that in the S90, with the long sporty lines that run across the hood, and carries through the side of the body. The small, contained grille in the front is complimented by the unique headlight design. While all these elements are definitely not “boring”, my mind goes more towards serenity than sporty. Don’t get me wrong, this is NOT a negative in any way. In a segment that is dominated by German executive saloons, this is a welcome breathe of fresh air. While everyone gets hung up on performance numbers, remember that this segment isn’t really meant for the teenager that’s trying to show off to their friends with failed attempts at doing donuts, but the accomplished individual that doesn’t need to introduce themselves. That sense calm, sophistication oozes from the S90, the wide stance (which is a must in this segment) is complemented but the long wheel base and the sloping roof design (a little Jaguar-esque in my opinion).
Another positive for the S90 is its ground clearance, which is on par with the BMW 7-series, but better than the Mercedes S class and the Audi A8 series. This is a vital stat for Sri Lankan roads (can’t look all suave and sophisti–cated if you car keeps scrapping its undercarriage every time it sees a bump–if it was a person, they’d probably get arrested for that).
Even the rear, which is sees much less design attention that the face, is solid, the C-shape lights compliment the car perfectly.
Now we flip over the XC90, which in a way looks very similar to the S90. That’s because the new S90 actually borrows a lot of its styling elements from the XC90. The square jawed Swedish SUV is definitely good looking. Perhaps one of the better looking options in the high-end luxury European SUV segment. Sitting decently high above the ground, the XC90 looks like it could handle almost anything you might throw at it. Which is good because the market has an odd need in their SUVs, the ability to go off road, even though we all know that most people would never really take it off the paved roads.
The XC90 would be at home parked outside a fancy restaurant just as much as it would parked near the beach, which gives the SUV a versatility that is crucial for it to be a practical contender in the local market. Although a little shorter than the S90, the XC90 still looks plenty spacious, yet not bloated like some other models in this category.
What makes the Volvo XC90 such a good looker, is that they haven’t gone overboard with the chrome or the overly flared wheel arches or just odd looking design elem–ents that are there purely to grab your attention. Much like the S90, the small grille, stylish headlights, and clean front bumper keep true to the Volvo value of sporty but sophisticated.
The rear isn’t quite as handsome as the S90’s, but the XC90 isn’t by any means ugly. The long break lights and dual exhaust are a somewhat common sight with European SUVs, though Volvo have refrained from over styling the rear bumper which keeps things simple and elegant.
Just by looking at the pictures, its a little difficult to figure out which one is the sedan and which ones is the SUV. That’s because the S90 and XC90 use near identical interior styling. The interior is where both the vehicles outshine majority of their European counterparts.
Volvo’s ergonomic design and simplistic layout really brings out the luxury of the luxury segment. Unlike many top tier sedans and SUVs, the dashboard and center console don’t look like they where borrowed from one of NASA’s space shuttles, instead, integrating everything into a set of simple controls and a portrait style touch panel system. While everyone else (except Tesla), have been sticking to the landscape layout for their infortainment systems, Volvo literally flipped (or rotated it), and I personally love it. Yes, its going to take a little bit of time to wrap your head around it. When you are driving, the system can feel a little fiddly with the large number of options and somewhat small on screen icons. Besides that small issue (which is more about getting used to the system than an actual fault), the touch screen is very responsive, the graphics are stylish and the layout is pretty intuitive, with all the swipe and pinch to zoom functionality that we’ve become accustomed to in our phones.
I know I haven’t said whether I’m talking about the XC90 or the S90 yet, well that’s because I’m kind of talking about both. But now its about time to look at some differences. FYI, the S90 pictures are on this page and the XC90 ones on the next (that photo on the bottom corner probably would have tipped you off).
Volvo make amazing seats. They are comfortable and supportive, and reduce fatigue during longer trips, but personally, I’d rather sit in the S90 than the XC90. Not to take anything away from the XC90, it is amongst most comfortable seats in an SUV that I’ve sat in, but the S90 just feels better. This may just be due to seating position, while the taller SUV does provide a better driving perspective, it isn’t as nice for everyone else.
The brilliance of a sedan is that its comfort is maximized for all 5 occupants, not just the two people in the front.
Both vehicles provide you with plenty of head and legroom for both the front and second row. Since the XC90 is a 7 seater, you get a third row, and while its not tiny, I don’t think 2 full sized adults would enjoy themselves that much for anything longer than a short journey.
So, do you count that as a win for the XC90? I guess it really depends, seats wise, the XC90 beats the S90 because its got 2 more seats, but the S90 is still more comfortable to me. And this stayed true even when we were on the move. Sure, we didn’t take any dirt roads, but then again, how often do you?
What you get on the inside of both vehicles really depends on the trim level you go for. Like most European manufacturers, the difference between the entry level and top tier is vast in terms of what you get in your vehicle. So its hard to compare the two that we drove since they were different trims, but looking through the “menu”, you get pretty much everything in both models.
Looking at cargo space, the S90 is obviously going to do badly compared to the XC90. Surpris–ingly though, it also doesn’t do that well when you compare it to other competitors either. You get about 396L of boot space, and while you can fold the rear seats down, its a 5-door sedan, so the shape of the space becomes a limiter. Its on par with the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-class, but quite a bit less than a BMW 5 series. The XC90 on the other hand is more practical. With the third row up, you have 436L, and fold those down to get 1184L, If you are moving something massive, then down go the 2nd row, and suddenly you are looking at a substantial 2427L of cargo space.
So the XC90 is more practical, but the S90 is more comfortable. I’d take the S90, I don’t really need that much cargo space all the time, but I do want to be comfortable.
So its pretty much neck and neck. The only thing both cars lost points on is fuel economy, but that can’t be helped. I have to bench mark it across the market, and with hybrids being so prevalent, its tough for a pure petrol to compete in that space. Both vehicles get full marks on trim and safety. The interior of the S90 and XC90 is a welcome change of pace to the increasin–gly popular fighter jet cockpits you get now a days, and of course the craftsmanship is on par with the Germans.
I don’t think I need to explain the safety one. Even with all the repositioning of the brand, its still a Volvo, so safety features are abundant (and mostly standard for all trim levels).
Where the S90 won it for me was in the drive. Yes, it can’t go where the XC90 can, but the lack of a proper off road system in the vehicle means that even with all that ground clearance and all wheel drive power, you still need to be careful on where you take it. The S90 doesn’t promise anything it can’t deliver 110%, its a luxury sedan, its quick and comfortable. I’m not saying that everyone should by the S90 instead of the XC90, not at all. I just wanted to show that instead of letting a preconceived notion make your decision for you, you should stop to think as to what you really want from your vehicle. If you have a family and/or tend to travel a lot, the XC90 is hard to beat. Likewise, if you enjoy the drive, and don’t need as much luggage space (or 2 extra seats), then take a look at the S90.
So when you do decide on whether you want an SUV or a sedan, and you have the budget, Volvo should be on your list, because they are both really good vehicles. As with any European vehicle, the price can vary greatly depending on the spec and trim level that you get, but I do suggest the T8 hybrid engine, because it makes more sense.
The best thing is, even if these two are slightly over your budget, they both have younger siblings that are amazing too., the XC60 and the S60.