Volvo is clearly in the middle of some big changes right now, and during my trip to Gothenberg this week I had a lot on my mind. I wanted to know why the 2016 S90 turned out the way it did, how fast Polestar will go, what Volvo thinks of the Germans, and how it will respond to those who miss a few cylinders from their Drive-E powertrains. Plus what’s going on with the Concept Estate, that sexy shooting brake concept, of course.
I really wished for the S90 to look great in the flesh, because although I drove the XC90 and found it to be one of the best seven-seaters a person could ask for, SUVs are not really my cup of tea, and that’s unlikely to change. However, more traditional body styles, including sedans or wagons like the upcoming V90, are more relevant to my interests, and luckily, the S90 didn’t disappoint. Not even from the rear.
After our post went live, we received hundreds of comments so quickly that by the time I got to ask Head of Design Thomas Ingenlath a question, it was clear you wanted to know about what led to that butt the most.
Volvo knew they weren’t real contenders running against German premium brands before, and although they sold lots of S80s in America, they clearly had to face a level a skepticism towards their sedans.
The aim was to make the S90 cool and classy without trying to look even more aggressive than the competition, and with the modular SPA platform setting the dash-to-axle part right but letting the rest of the car’s dimensions change freely, the car could end up having the correct proportions instead of that “jazzed up Mondeo look”, as Ingenlath put it with a smile.
He also calls Volvo’s new Hofmeister kink the Final Cut, and says they wanted to have distinctive design above all as opposed to the copy paste job the Germans seem to be doing. Remember, this comes from a guy who spent twenty-one years of his career at the Volkswagen Group, from Audi through Skoda to VW. Is he feeling liberated, perhaps?
Volvo doesn’t need to satisfy all tastes. What they’re after is just one percent of the market, with the grand plan being to sell 800,000 cars by 2020 instead of the almost 500,000 they manage today. The S90 is expected to attract 20,000 American customers in 2017, at a price range positioned above the outgoing S80’s but below the XC90’s.
Smaller, More High-Tech Engines
The same argument goes for their four- or less cylinder drivetrains. Peter Mertens, Head of Volvo’s R&D says he has lots of respect for everybody who still wants to see six-eight-ten cylinder engines in luxury cars, but Volvo’s smaller turbos are smarter and better, not just in terms of efficiency but also because the SPA and their upcoming compact platform are both designed for the Twin-Engine setup, ready for electrification while providing the best weight distribution with the batteries housed right in the middle of the chassis.
The 2.0 produces 316 horsepower in its current T6 tune, but Mertens says the sky is the limit even without taking the battery power into account. Their “triple charged” engine was rated at 450 last year, and the work continues while they also get rid of turbo lag in diesels and prepare their three-cylinder ready for the streets.
Since that 1.5 three-cylinder will also use electric power, Volvo sees no reason why such a tiny engine should not make it into a car the size of the S90. They expect hybrids to give 10 percent of their sales in 2020, because it’s the sustainable way forward and a reliable technology as well. Volvo says if you need proof, just think about whether they would risk their reputation by using an overstressed unit with a tendency to blow up. Not in this century.
The Go-Fast Versions We All Want
As for Polestars, the bluest Volvos of them all will only go hybrid in the long run.
While the hybrid S90 T8 packs a combined output of 407 horsepower, the current drivetrain is not tuned for performance driving. But it can be, and will be as soon as the Polestar team gets the remote for it.
On the other end of the scale, there will be the long-wheelbase S90 produced in China and exported to America for all those really tall people out there. But either length you fancy, the interior will be equally special. The guy responsible for that goes by the name of Robin Page. He used to work for Bentley and drives a 1967 Jaguar E-Type in his spare time. Not many of those in Gothenburg.
The trick is that there’s not much plastic in the cabin. Nor the cheap trick of chrome frames for that matter. Instead, you’re surrounded by leather, three dimensional wood pieces, precision cut metal and glass. Unsurprisingly, with Volvo’s seats taking care of you back, it’s just a lovely place to spend time in.
As it should be. After all, these features are just the must haves for somebody wanting to attract Audi’s customer base.
Volvo’s number one selling point remains safety, and that’s why the S90 comes standard with semi-autonomous driving that will do it all at up to 80mph as long as you touch the steering wheel in every thirty seconds. Volvo doesn’t want anybody to believe that to have cracked the autonomous nut with Autopilot, but it’s a big step in that direction and will certainly make your daily commute much easier.
Their moose-avoiding City Safety system is standard as well, and by the time their also SPA-based all-electric car hits the stage in 2019, there’s no question they’ll get very close to an all-round solution. The deadline for getting rid of serious accidents is in 2020, and Volvo’s robot cars will hit live traffic for some proper testing just three years before that.
What About The Shooting Brake We All Want?
Back in late 2013, Volvo created three concept cars to give us an idea of the ten new cars they were about to deliver until 2019. A coupé for being stylish, a crossover for getting out there, and a brown shooting brake we still can’t stop gawking at.
Volvo people assured me that they are car people, and as such would love to do something like the Concept Estate. The only problem is that they are currently building two car factories on two continents, giving you a new wagon at Geneva, finishing up their new Cross Country variants, building a compact you can actually afford, working on autonomous drive, very powerful engines and hybrid systems and launching an electric car in three years, plus a few other things that I don’t even know about.
They stay busy.
Photo credit: Volvo
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