When the S90 was launched last year it finally opened the door for Volvo to steal executive saloon drivers from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. However, it was missing the sporty option many customers look for in popular M Sport, AMG line and S Line derivatives.
Volvo has responded with the R Design. This trim already accounts for around half of all its fleet sales on other models and the manufacturer expects it to make up more than a third of S90 sales. To keep running costs at a minimum the engine is unchanged. It’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel with a choice of 190PS D4 or 230PS D5 outputs.
We opted to test the D4. With CO2 emissions of 116g/km and a P11D value of £35,400 it is the most popular choice with fleets. Company car tax will cost around £295 per month for a 40% taxpayer.
Performance is plentiful and I would question whether the extra power of the D5 is really needed. With more than two tonnes to haul, the D4 still hits 60mph in less than eight seconds and delivers plenty of torque in the mid-range.
All S90s get a nine-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and connected services. LED headlights, heated seats and Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist also come as standard.
R Design models stand out thanks to redesigned bumpers which give a more aggressive appearance. There are also 18-inch alloy wheels, half-leather sports seats and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Inside, a black headliner and perforated leather trim give a much more Germanic feel than the light, wood-clad, cabins of regular Volvos.
To improve the S90’s driving experience, Volvo has lowered the suspension by 15mm with new springs and new dampers, giving a firmer ride and better body control. It’s still not a match for the 5 Series when it comes to outright driver appeal – but strikes a fair balance between comfort and handling, which should suit most fleet drivers.
There are three driving modes: Eco Drive, Comfort and Dynamic. Without the optional adaptive dampers, the modes only affect the steering and powertrain response. Nonetheless, in the efficiency setting we were able to achieve 61mpg on a motorway run, with mixed driving returning 52mpg.
Despite having larger dimensions than all its key rivals, the S90 is exceptionally easy to live with and once you join a motorway or A road, the Pilot Assist system can be engaged. It’s not a hands-off solution but is useful to reduce fatigue on long trips. In traffic it can bring the car to a complete stop then set off again without driver input.
Against rivals, the S90 falls short on CO2 emissions but makes up for it with a lower list price, making it the cheapest for company car tax by around £150 per year. With a few options added, the S90 R Design is, realistically, a £40,000 car but with excellent rear legroom, great intuitive technology and top marks for safety, it merits serious consideration.