Okay, so it’s not even the end of 2017 yet, and while it may seem presumptuous of me to tip my proverbial hat to a certain carmaker even before the end of the year with a headline like that, let me explain… It’s story-time.
Volvo has not had the best of histories in this country, I mean seriously. There was a time when things really did take a nose-dive for the brand, the history of which I chronicled briefly in this previous feature.
A lot has happened since that article, four weeks ago to be exact, during which, Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM), unleashed this, the all-new Twin-Engine S90 Inscription T8. On paper, it looked like it was set to blow everyone else into the weeds, with 407bhp and 640Nm of torque, its closest rival – ironically launched a few days after – coming nowhere even close in terms of specifications, which I mentioned in this ‘face-off’ feature here.
While that article most definitely didn’t win me any fans from the popular German carmaker’s camp, in my defense, I wasn’t making any of it up, the specs spoke for themselves; I only added a bit of spice to just how much the specs differed. Fast-forward a few weeks after said article, and there I was about to have a go at the aforementioned Volvo S90 T8.
Many have asked why ‘twin-engine’, and it’s a good question. The short answer is no, there aren’t actually two internal-combustion engines (ICE) in this car. There’s an ICE up-front powering the front wheels, and yes, there’s an electric-motor in the back powering the rear wheels. Yes, the S90 T8 is an ‘on-demand’ all-wheel drive, and it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
The combined output from both the ICE and hybrid electric-motor account for that almost unbelievable amount of horsepower and torque, and folks, let me just say now that it’s absolutely amazing just how quick this car is. I dubbed it the ‘sleeper’ of the year not too long ago, and after driving it, I’m standing by that accolade.
But why two “engines”? Simple really, Volvo calls it be best of both worlds: Power when you need it, Fuel-efficiency when you don’t. In full-electric mode, the S90 T8 is able to travel on battery power alone for up to 50 kilometres, which means if your office is 25km away from home, theoretically you could commute daily without using a single drop of fuel. How cool is that? Theoretically. Here’s a short video from Volvo that explains the S90 T8 drive-train:
Made very important at the media briefing though, was the fact that while the S90 T8 is indeed a PHEV, owners really don’t need to fuss with the plug-in nature of the car. It’s just an added advantage, but it’s not a must to make sure the car is plugged-in every night; it’s recommended of course, but not mandatory. The S90 T8 works exactly, and drives exactly like any normal petrol-only car.
And speaking of drives, maybe I need to take that last line back, because I think it only fair to mention that this Volvo isn’t like any Volvo you may have driven in the past. I’ll let the specifications be told here, in the previous launch article, and concentrate on the drive itself, which saw us take a trip from KL to Ipoh. But first a bit of history on how Volvo has affected you even if you’ve never owned one…
Volvo has always been synonymous with ‘safety’; in fact, from day one, they’ve been propagating the global move toward safer cars, even going so far as to release its patent on the 3-point seat-belt to other carmakers in 1963, as you can see in this 50th anniversary (in 2009) of the invention:
In another bold move, Volvo recently stated that by the year 2020, “No person should be killed or seriously injured in any Volvo”, and is working feverishly toward that goal by equipping its latest cars with ground-breaking active and passive safety features. The S90 T8 is no exception. Check out the crash test video below:
“IntelliSafe” by Volvo, an amalgamation of intelligent + safe, sees the S90 T8 equipped with all kinds of active & passive safety features, the most recent of which is the ‘City Safety’ feature that can now detect pedestrians, cyclists and animals, which works in tandem with its collision-avoidance, as well as front- and rear-collision warning system.
Adaptive cruise control, run-off road mitigation, pilot-assist with semi-autonomous driving, lane-keeping aid, cross-traffic alert and of course BLIS (blind-spot warning) are just some of the things shoe-horned into the S90 T8 to keep its driver and passengers as safe as possible. You can read more about Volvo IntelliSafe here: Volvo IntelliSafe Factsheet.
The thing about all this though, is that you never really feel it working; it does everything in the background, constantly. There’s never a pause or detachment in driving, and even if there is, it’s only because you fuc…messed up. As anyone knows, a slight distraction is all it takes to end up in a fender-bender, and the S90 T8 will warn you audibly and physically if you’re messing up.
There’s an old Volvo saying that goes “bums in seats sell Volvo’s..” and this definitely rings true for the S90 T8. It was probably one of the most enjoyable drives in recent memory, if only because this car is so well put-together. The fact that it’s locally-assembled makes it all the more impressive. Well, Volvo has been assembling cars here since the 60’s so they’ve gotten pretty good at it…
The cool thing is, and again the ‘best of both worlds’ adage comes to mind, because if you want to, cruising along in the S90 T8 is sublime. It just wafts along, and thanks to incredible NVH, it always seems to feel like you’re doing 80kmh, when you’re actually doubling that.
Speaking of speed though, let’s not beat around the bush. With a combined 407bhp, 640Nm of torque and all-wheel-drive mated to an 8-speed Geartronic transmission, the S90 T8 doesn’t exactly hang around. Word to the wise, if you see those “Thor’s Hammer” headlights in your rear-view mirror, you might want to consider moving aside.
There’s no getting around it, the S90 T8 is the absolute definition of a ‘sleeper’, and despite its upmarket and opulent looks, when push comes to shove, this car is blindingly quick. Think of it this way, its electric-motor alone has more power than a modern 1.5-litre n/a car. Add that to a twin-turbo engine that produces 306bhp all by itself, and maybe you get an idea just how powerful this car is.
That said however, the one thing that I didn’t quite like and took time getting used to, were the brakes. Because the S90 T8 uses brake energy-regeneration to power up the battery, hitting the brake pedal is like hitting a board. There is little or no feedback, and modulating brake-pressure, especially in start-stop driving, can be a bit cumbersome.
It was only later that I learned that the brake-pressure modulation can actually be tailored via a user-preference mode, somewhere in the vehicle settings, but by then I’d gotten used to it so I didn’t bother. Do remember this important point of fact if you decide to buy one…
I could go on and on, in fact when it comes to the S90 T8, there’s so much more to talk about that this article would literally be a never-ending story. I could mention the Bowers & Wilkins in-car entertainment found in the S90 T8 Inscription Plus+, an astonishing 19-speaker premium sound system that utilizes a 12-channel 1,400-watt amplifier, with three sound presets; Studio, Stage and Concert Hall.
I could mention that the B&W sound system is literally built into the car, with one of its sub-woofers actually mounted within the rear sub-frame of the S90, so no, you can’t buy this system and fit it into your car later. It’s taken the term ‘built-in’ to a whole new level… but why explain it in words when I can let you hear it for yourself…
Incredible isn’t it?
Well, as I alluded to in my previous article about new S90 T8 when it was launched, the new Volvo cars are most certainly not the cars you remember, not by a long shot. In not so many words, it’s been a 180-degree turn for the brand, not just in terms of their cars, but also for their global image. With prices starting at RM348,000 (until 31st October 2017), the new Volvo S90 T8 is a steal, there I said it.
History may not have favoured the brand, but it has definitely favoured the bold. This is the turning point for Volvo; remember it, ‘cos when the dust has settled, you can say you were there when it happened. So, car brand of 2017? Hell yes. – Chris Wee.
Volvo S90 T8 Twin-Engine Inscription Photo Gallery (Photos by Aaron Lee, courtesy of VCM)