Rob and I were heading to Leadfoot Festival in the Coromandel and we needed a car to get us there. We were lucky enough that Volvo had a car for us to review, a Bursting Blue S90 T8 R-Design. From Wellington that is about a 1600km round trip, and what a car to do it in.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Logo

The Range

The S90 has not been around very long, with the original being launched in 2016 but even at that Volvo provides some variety to choose from.There are 2 trim levels and two different engine options.The standard trim is called “Inscription” and starts at $99,900 and this comes with quite an array of features. This is powered by the T6 2.0L Petrol AWD engine and drives an 8 speed automatic all-wheel drive geartronic transmission.

The exterior features include “Thor’s Hammer” Day Running Lights (DRL), 20” 8 Spoke Diamond Cut Alloy wheels, Dual Visible Tail Pipes with Chrome Sleeves, Front Grille in High Gloss Black with Chrome Frame, Metal Tread plates – Front and rear, Retractable Rear View Mirrors.

There are 11 color choices for the Inscription with a variety of different blacks, grey, whites, blues and brown. 

On the inside you have an abundance of features too. These include 12.3” Graphical Instrument Cluster – Driver Display, Child Seat Booster Cushion, Outer Positions, Second Row, Clean Zone with Air Quality System, Comfort Seats in Leather, Electronic Climate Control Four Zone, Four-Way Power Adjustable Front Seat Lumbar Support, Interior High Level Illumination, Keyless Start, Leather Key Remote, Leather Steering Wheel and Gear Shifter, Linear Walnut Decor Inlays, Power Driver Seat with Memory Function for Seat and Side Mirrors, Power Seat, Passenger, Remote Control Buttons in Steering Wheel, Textile Floor Mats, Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Audio Control Buttons in Steering Wheel,Digital Audio Broadcasting, Sensus 9” Portrait Oriented Touch Screen Centre Display, Sensus Connect High Performance audio with USB / Bluetooth, Sensus Navigation, Voice Control.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Wheel

And it would not be a Volvo without an array of safety features. As to be expected it’s a long list including 360 Degree Parking Camera, Adaptive Cruise Control, Advanced Electronic Stability Control incl. Corner Traction Control with Torque Vectoring; Roll Stability Control; and Engine Drag control, Automatic Braking After a Collision, Automatically Dimmed Inner and Exterior Mirrors, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA), City Safety – Front Collision Warning; Autonomous Emergency Braking; Pedestrian, Cyclist & Large Animal Detection with Night Functionality; Autobrake at Intersection, Distance Alert, Drive Mode Settings, Driver Alert System, and the list continues. For a full list of features head over to Volvo’s site

Your other trim level choice is the R-Design, which is $101,900 for the T6 engine or $125,900 for the T8. This also comes with that long list of features from the inscription and a few extra. First and foremost is probably the Polestar Optimisation.

Then on the exterior you get 20″ (T8) or 21” (T6) 5-Double Spoke Matt Black Diamond Cut Alloys, Mirror Caps in Matte Silver, R-Design Dual Integrated Tail Pipes, R-Design Front Grille in Gloss Black, R-Design Front Spoiler, R-Design Silk Metal Window Trim, Gearshift Paddles, Sports Chassis (T6) or Rear Air Suspension and Active Chassis (T8).

The interior you get some more features like Charcoal Headlining, Mechanical Cushion Extension Adjustment, Front Seats, R-Design Aluminium Sports Pedals, R-Design Carbon Fibre Decor Inlays, R-Design Gear Knob in Perforated Nappa Leather (T6) or Orrefors Crystal Gearknob (T8), R-Design Illuminated Tread plates – Front & Rear, R-Design Key Remote in Perforated Nappa Leather, R-Design Sports Seats in Perforated Nappa Leather, R-Design Sports Steering Wheel in Perforated Nappa Leather.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Front Seats

There are only 7 color choices to have with the R-Design. They are Ice white, Crystal White, Electric Silver, Bright Silver, Osmium Grey, Onyx Black and Bursting Blue.

Volvo also offer a wide range of optional extras for your S90 with front massage seats ($2100), Power Adjustable side support front seats ($1400), and a no cost extra of Innovation Metallic Decor being available only on the Inscription.

There is a much longer list of options available for both trim levels including but not limited to Volvo Guard Alarm – ($950), Premium sound by Bowers & Wilkins – ($4900), heated steering Wheel – ($450) and sunroof ($2915).

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Rear

First Impressions

Let’s start off with a round of applause for the Volvo design team. Not only have they been bringing out new and amazingly designed cars as of late but with the S90 R-Design, they have smashed it out of the park. I cannot find a bad angle to look at this car.

It’s got class, presence, elegance and most importantly an awesome colour. I was a bit worried when I first looked up this car on Volvo’s website to see what colours were available as I found white, black and 4 shades of grey in between, and then Bursting Blue. In my opinion the only colour it should come in.

This road trip should be fun.

The Inside

As with most Volvos these days when you sit in them you are transported to a place of luxury with clear Scandinavian design. But that is not all that is here. The usual wood trim interior has been replaced with carbon fibre, showing a bit more of its pedigree and a small nod to what is under the bonnet.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Front Seats

The first thing your eyes are drawn to however is the 9” touch screen in the centre of the dashboard, and then from there you start to notice how uncluttered the dash is. Volvo have removed most of the buttons and spent their time designing a really easy to use and intuitive user interface for their touch screen. All you have around the centre console with regard to buttons is a the play/pause that has the volume dial surrounding it, skip forward, skip back, hazards controls and the buttons for front and rear demisters. Then you move down to the centre console and again it is very minimalist; all you have is the gear lever, engine stop/start control, drive mode selector and the handbrake switch.

One disappointment I did find was when you lifted the armrest you would expect to find a big storage compartment, but no, you have a small tray that is only about 3-4 cm deep, two usb ports and the 12v power supply socket.

The reason for this lack of space is due to the fact that under the centre console is where the battery system for the electric engine is housed. There are a few reasons for it being here. One, you don’t lose any luggage space to it. Two, it keeps the centre of gravity low on the car, which is great for handling, and boy did it help – but more on that later. Three, it is one of the most protected parts of the car, most likely if you are in an accident you will be hit either on the front, rear or sides of the car and the battery is at the furthest point it can be from all of those sides, reducing the chance of a leaking battery. Yes it is a bit vulnerable if you happen to land it direct on a rock but if you’re doing that you probably have bigger things to be worried about, like did you get the perfect shot for your Dukes of Hazzard movie.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Drivers Seat

Back to the driver’s seat, which by the way are also really nice. They are R-Design sports seats in Perforated Nappa leather and Nubuck textile, these seats are heavily adjustable including a part that extends to give support to drivers with longer legs. Once you have adjusted your seats you can save your setting to memory but due to the fact that the steering wheel cannot be adjusted by a motor, it cannot move or be saved to memory, so you had to adjust it manually for each driver.

Moving up to the steering wheel you have a few more buttons for the usual radio, phone and menu controls. Your eye is then brought through the steering wheel to the 12” driver cluster display. These are becoming somewhat common on luxury cars now and it is interesting to see the different direction that car manufacturers take.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Digital Dash

I for one liked Volvo’s setup, keeping the display fairly simple so that it is not too distracting when driving, but it also has all the information that you need to be easily able to read it at a glance while you’re driving. You have a speed gauge and a economy gauge that tells you if you’re in electric mode or petrol, and shows the changes to your fuel economy. If you change to sport mode this will change to a rev counter. In the middle of the two gauges you can have either a map, car information, or trip information.

Up above this you have your HUD displayed on the windscreen which is even more restricted to the information that you need; speed cruise control setting, the speed of the area you’re in and any map directions if you have a destination set.

I also found that the HUD did not seem to save its height settings along with the memory seats to the height the driver had set it, which I thought was odd. But what I thought was even more strange was that I could not adjust the height of the HUD unless the car was moving. I tried several different ways to try and adjust it before I started moving but could not get it to change, once I was rolling even slowly it was able to be adjusted. Maybe I was doing something wrong but this did seem odd to me, surely something you should set before start driving.

Getting into the back, even I (6’4”) can sit behind the driver seat when it is in my driving position so there is heaps of room for people in the back. There is a third seat belt in the middle but with how the battery is placed in the centre console you would have to have a foot either side of this centre console as the floor raises up a fair bit.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Rear Seats

When you come around to the back of the car to check out the boot and try the hands free boot opening feature. If you have your hands full with bags you can place your foot under the bumper between the V and L of Volvo and on removing your foot it will open. It is important to note that it is the removal of your foot from this position straight out that triggers the boot to open, so you don’t look silly waving your foot around under the bumper like a crazy person. The boot is vast, 500 litres vast; if there was a bag at the back even at my height I was almost lying down to reach all the way in the back. We had no problem packing all of our clothes and necessities and camera gear for the whole weekend.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Steering wheel

The Drive

Enough looking at it and touching all the buttons, let’s see what it’s like to drive. We had a good test for this as Rob and I were going to the Leadfoot Festival in the Coromandel. This would give us the ability to stretch the Volvo’s legs and see what it is like on a road trip, a 1600km road trip that is, so let’s get going.

I think the engineering team deserve a round of applause too for what they have put together here; A 5-metre long car that can do 0-100kph in 4.7 seconds. Big deal you say, loads of cars do that. Well do loads of cars of this size only have a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine? And weigh over 2 tons?

I will give you that they have added a 65 kW electric motor to the rear wheels to give a bit more oomph. I will get back to this later though. So combine that electric engine with the petrol engine and this car is putting out 300kW of power; did I mention that the engine is turbocharged and supercharged putting out 235kW? But they weren’t done with it yet, oh no. They then gave it over to Polestar (Volvo’s tuning and performance department) who, as an optional extra, can squeeze a little bit more out of that 2.0l for you. Thankfully though in New Zealand if you pick an R-Design you get the Polestar tune as standard, bringing you to a grand total of 311kW and 680Nm of torque.

Once packed we were off for our 7-8 hour journey North, with very few stops planned as we had a deadline of 4pm to meet so we could get our tickets to get into Leadfoot the next day. I took the first stint and fairly quickly knew this was going to be a comfy ride. It would soak up all the bumps that you get on our nation’s highways with ease, the rear air suspension playing its part here as we just floated along on a cloud.

Once out of the main built-up areas as you leave Wellington I decided it was time to test out the piloted assisted driving mode. This is not full autopilot that allows you to take your hands off the wheel, but you get a sense of what it might be like. Its first part is the adaptive cruise control, you set a speed and it will keep that speed or a safe following distance behind a car in front. The assisted part is that it will keep the car steady and in between the white lines. Not in a way that you can forget about driving, it is an assistance remember. But it does allow you to be a bit more relaxed and not as focused on those small adjustments and it actually allows you to look further down the road for oncoming lights or incidents that require you to take action. Instead of concentrating on keeping the car in its lane you can react to these things sooner, hopefully avoiding causing another incident.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Economy Graphs

After a driver swap, Rob also tried out the piloted assist driving mode but was not a big fan of it, he felt like he was fighting it more than working with it. The main thing he noticed was that he would have the car a little more to the left side of the lane where as the car wanted to be dead centre. So I guess it can come down to driving style a bit.

One thing we had almost forgotten about on the drive up was the electric engine in this car. Not a very good pair of reviewers forgetting to review a fairly substantial part of this car: its ability to be charged up.

The T8 is twin-engined, you have your petrol engine powering the front wheels and a 65kw electric engine that drives the rear wheels. This is how you get your all wheel drive. From a single charge, which takes about 4 hours on a standard socket at home, you can travel about 40km on just the electric motors

Having driven all day and somewhat forgot it was there is a testament to the implementation of this electric engine. We did not notice it at all but it was saving us fuel by turning the engine off when it could. Which was done silently, and giving us the ability for all-wheel-drive.

Its biggest fuel savings are not going to be on long road trips, but on shorter trips – After all it only has a 40km range on battery. So if you take into account a short daily commute to work or running down to the shops or dropping the kids to school, you would be able to do most of these tasks without using any fuel. With that in mind and knowing our campsite was not very far from the festival we charged the car overnight. This proved to be a little tricky as the charging cord was only for a standard household socket and the cord was 4 meters long, we had to park it right beside a window so we could run the cord into the cabin to charge. Other power connections and lengths can be ordered from Volvo.

Leaving the next morning we had a full tank of electricity and put it in “Pure” mode, its electric-only mode. It was great to be able to silently leave the campsite early in the morning without disturbing other people. We almost felt like we had to whisper inside the car as it was so quiet. In the eco gauge cluster you can see where the point was that car would decide you need more power and would call on the petrol engine so you are able to manage your speed to make sure it stayed in Pure mode. We could make it up a large steep hill and to the festival without kicking over to the petrol engine, and that included getting up to 100kph. We were eco-warriors saving fuel to get to a motorsport event with race cars using lots of it… We were off-setting them… definitely.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Infotainment System

Our weekend of fun was over and we managed to spend the majority of time in electric mode. Packing up our things we were not feeling any dread towards the long drive home. We knew how comfortable it had been coming up, so heading home should be simple.

A truck hitting a bridge on SH1 just north of Wellington had caused the road to be closed and would be closed for several hours. Luckily we heard about this when in Taupo for lunch so decided to take a hard left and head for Napier. This added almost 100km to our trip but we were not worried, we were driving in comfort.

It turned out to be a great decision as the road through the hills to Napier from Taupo was amazing, really twisting and winding its way up and down the hills and we did not hold back. We put it into “performance” mode and went for it. The car stuck like glue to the road, the batteries keeping the center of gravity really low and the combination of petrol and electric giving us the performance we needed and wanted. When you select this mode the suspension does get a little stiffer but not a lot, remember it is a luxury sedan not a track weapon. We checked the fuel usage when home and it said 7.0L/100 km, which for a car of this size and performance is still very good, and considering we were not exactly light on the pedal in some places. However if you take into account that the advertised usage is 2.0 L/100km then it is as good.

It was an uncanny feeling, if I had not seen the car I had gotten into I would not have believed it was 5-metres long. It handled almost like a hatchback. With the air suspension in the back giving a cloud-like ride you could feel it shift its weight from side to side as you went through corners. By no means did we feel we were going to lose the back end or anything cause it just stuck, but there was a bit of roll in the body of the car.

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Charging

The Competition

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h Price Highest to Lowest
Jaguar XJ Premium Luxury Sedan 3.0L 6-cylinder twin-turbo diesel 221kW 5.7 6.2s $155,000
Lexus GS 450H F-Sport 3.5L V6 petrol engine and electric engine 254kW 6.3 5.9 $148,900
Mercedes-Benz E 350 E 1.9L, 4-cylinder turbo and electric motor 215kW 2.4 5.9 $143,500
BMW 530e iPerformance 1.9L 4-cylinder + electro synchronous
185kW 2.0 6.2 $136,400
Volvo S90 T8 R-Design Polestar Plug-in hybrid with 2.0L 4 cylinder petrol supercharged/turbocharged and electric motor 311kW 2.0 4.7 $134,350
Audi A6 2.0 TFSI quattro 175kW 7 6.5 $109,900

2018 Volvo S90 R Design Engine Bay

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Smooth/Comfortable
  • Heaps of leg room
  • Cavernous boot
  • Looks
  • Power when you need it
  • Amazing sound system
  • Storage and leg room lost to the battery
  • Steering wheel not electrically adjustable and therefore not remembered for the driver
  • Could not get HUD to move while stopped.


What do we think


I have a whole new respect for Volvos. They have really shrugged off the old stereotype of the safe and cautious person in glasses and knitted sweater, that may even be a dentist. They are now a thing of beauty with both the road presence of a more sophisticated European car, and the engine and handling to back it. Add to that an excellent sound system and you are far from what I used to think of a typical Volvo driver, and they have done it without undermining their core Volvo safety standards.

A brilliant piece of automotive design and engineering.

Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

Vehicle Type Executive Sedan
Starting Price $125,900
Tested Price $134,350

R-Design Sports Seats in Perforated Nappa Leather – $1,500

Tailored Dashboard and Door Tops – $1,700

Power Glass Sunroof – $2,915

Rear Door Sun Blinds – $450

Tinted Rear Windows – $935

Alarm with Interior Motion Sensor and Private Locking – $950

Engine T8 Twin engine (2.0L 4-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine and 65 kW electric motor)
Transmission 8-speed Geartronic
0 – 100 kph, seconds 4.7
Spare Wheel None
Kerb Weight, Kg 2,004
Length x Width x Height, mm 5082 x 2019 x 1450
Cargo Capacity, litres 382
Fuel Tank, litres 50
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined –  2.0L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  7.5L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing 2100 Kg (braked)
Turning circle 11.8m

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Stars
Warranty 3 years unlimited mileage and AA Roadside Assist


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Alan Stevenson-Galvin (Skii)
Racing games is where my love for cars started. Always wanting to play more and more realistic games until I was allowed to get behind the wheel. Combine this with my love for technology and that has made me who I am today. I love to see my two passions combining and see what technologies are being used in the latest cars.


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