Volvo S90 D5 R-Design (2017) review

Volvo S90 D5 R-Design: the CAR review

I fly back into Stansted late and trudge back to the car park feeling like I’ve been folded into the overhead locker the whole way. It’s dark and cold and the little pools of orange sodium light make the whole scene feel empty and dreary.

It says a lot about the new Volvo S90 that I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I open the car door and collapse inside. This is the kind of luxury car you feel grateful for, every time you climb in – it’s a cocoon, a little bit of hygge and välmåga and other Swedish words meaning ‘thank god I’m home’, all wrapped up in leather and rolling on massive alloys.

Volvo S90 R-Design review

Of course, all of this can be said of the standard S90, launched at the Detroit auto show last year and winning friends ever since. CAR has already driven the D4 Momentum base model, describing it as ‘comfortable, great-looking four-door executive saloon’ and the mid-range D5 Powerpulse AWD (ridiculous name) which we said is ‘definitely worthy of consideration’.

Face of the new Volvo S90 R-Design

But one of the key appeals of the S90 is its different approach to the executive saloon– instead of being all in-your-face with Nürburgring times like the Germans, the S90 is happy to be a 5-metre-long luxo-barge that majors on comfort and tech. Which means the new S90 R-Design could be a little bit of a contradiction.

So… is the sportier R-Design a contradiction?

In fact it’s not, because while the R-Design is at the sportier end of the S90 range, it’s not exactly a BMW M competitor, and the modifications are all tastefully well-judged. The car comes with the same four-cylinder turbodiesel options (ours is the 232bhp version with all-wheel drive) and while the suspension has been tweaked, this is no track car. No sir.

Volvo S90 D5 engine

It has tauter suspension and a lowered ride height, and Volvo says it has ‘retuned’ the steering, but the size and weight of this car means you’re never really tempted to fling it at corners. It has three driving modes, and on the Dynamic setting you can definitely feel the difference in its responses, but while the steering stiffens it doesn’t communicate more.

It has a pleasing precision and you can aim it at a country back-road apex if you’re in the mood, but to be honest I experimented for about 10 minutes then stuck it back into Comfort.

In which case, why choose the Volvo S90 R-Design?

Well, it’s undoubtedly the best-looking car in the range. I mean, I think we all still prefer the styling of the V90 estate over the saloon, right? But the R-Design looks great.

On the exterior it has a gloss black R-Design grille and modified bumpers, and it’s riding low on 18-inch alloys (with a 19-inch option). At the rear you get integrated tailpipes. Inside, the interior is still dominated by that big centre touchscreen but the R-Design has a sombre black mood rather than the light and airy Swedish wood finish in the other models.

Volvo S90 R-Design: a great alternative to the Germans

You get shapely sports seats in leather, a perforated leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles and a black headlining.

Prices, specs

Basic price for the S90 D5 R-Design is £41,955 on the road, though our car had a price tag of £55,525 – that’s the thing about this premium sector, it’s easy to option the life out it.

The extra £12k is in extras like air suspension, a Bowers & Wilkins sound system, an upgrade to Nappa leather, a few bits of carbon trim plus lots of gadgets – keyless entry, head-up display, power seats, bendy headlights.


Overall, our verdict on the Volvo S90 hasn’t changed: dynamically it’s not as good the German competition, but as a long-distance cruiser it’s a welcome alternative. The R-Design is certainly the one to choose, though if your budget will stretch to it. Not because it turns the car into a proper sports saloon, it’s just those little styling and interior tweaks add a little bit of aggressive framstöt to all that comfy hygge.

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