WE DIDN’T have long with Volvo’s new range-crowning battleship. But it was long enough for someone to take a key to the rear passenger door and score a foot-long, tangibly malicious groove along it. Thanks for that.
This was in Chelsea, too, where you’d assume a £43,000 saloon (including the full catalogue of add-ons) would be given a warm or at worst indifferent welcome, and where pretty much every other parking space seemed to be occupied by a Lamborghini or a Bentley or a high-end SUV. Yet, clearly, in the mind of one aggrieved urban warrior with a keyring, it was the silver tank from the land of Sven-Goran Eriksson that was just too ostentatious to go undamaged.
Perhaps that merely means the car is doing something right. What now goes by the name of the S90 was formerly the S80, a vast lump of blandness that pulled off the tricky feat of being both enormous and practically invisible. Nobody would have keyed an S80, because that would have meant noticing it, and then, having noticed it, taking violent exception to it. And neither of those things was likely to happen, unless you came across the car backing through your sitting-room window.
In the S80, the blandness soaked through into the interior, where, among myriad other disappointments on a dashboard of quite startling conservatism, the car boasted the world’s dullest start button — a plastic tab that made firing the engine about as emotional as setting a microwave to defrost.
This was a model that seemed to have less than no interest in engaging the emotions, and reminded one that, although Sweden gave the world Abba, it also gave it many thousands of uninhabitable and frequently frozen islands.
“The chic wood trims and the velvety plastics, not to mention the lush stitched leather, all move the S90 several leagues from the startlingly conservative S80”
How far away from all that the S90 seems. You start its engine (a four-cylinder 188bhp diesel, in the case of our scratched test car) with a twist of the pleasingly hefty silver jewellery of its square on/off switch and adapt its settings with a roll of its handsome rotary drive selector.
Both these design breakthroughs are imports from the highly lauded XC90 SUV, which is leading the charge for more covetable Volvos in the 21st century.
Here, in the company’s flag-bearing executive chariot, is the iPad-style infotainment centre — more than averagely susceptible to smudgy fingerprints, it’s true, but still a talking point and still the class-leader when it comes to in-car screenage.
Then there are the chic, unpolished wood trims and the velvety plastics, not to mention the lush stitched leather, all moving the S90 several leagues from the S80 and into a realm of calmly understated swank.
Lawks, though, is there another car on the road right now that is as grown-up as this one? If you’re not over 55 when you get into an S90, you certainly will be after travelling 250 yards. And after 500 yards you will also be highly successful in business, greying alluringly at the temples and completely Swedish.
Its two most obvious rivals would be the Jaguar XF and the BMW 5-series. But both those pander more overtly to traditional driving pleasures than the S90. There’s nothing in the steering here to cause the arms to quicken or the knuckles to whiten, and nothing under the bonnet or in the eight-speed automatic gearbox to suggest the car would have benefited from launch control.
Rather, like a Lexus GS, it trades all that stuff for an unruffled poise, gliding through corners rather than tucking into them and, under acceleration, pointing itself gracefully at the horizon rather than dropping its nose and streaking away. It’s a wonderfully luxurious and sedate container for you, your family and perhaps your business partners, who ought not to find the limo-standard legroom in the back too demeaning.
Anyway, you wouldn’t want engine noise interfering with the sound from the magnificent, optional Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi, with its golf-ball tweeter sitting proudly on the dash. Was the sound system built to fit the car or the car built around the sound system?
Either way, you quickly realise you are driving motoring’s supreme mobile listening booth. And if you’re old enough to remember listening booths, you’re old enough to drive an S90.