Volvo is a manufacturer on a mission: to be seen as a genuine luxury brand and a rival for the likes of Mercedes-Benz.
The Volvo S90 midsize sedan is a new, more luxurious offering--let's compare it to the model that sets the standard for luxury midsize sedans, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
This latest E-Class has gone down a similar styling route to the C-Class and the S-Class, embracing the long-nose, short-deck sweep that is so identifiable with those models. The choice is a fantastic one for the E-Class, and this model is one of the best looking in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. This design screams style, quality, and desirability, and when that's bundled together with the three-pointed star, it makes a pretty irresistible package. We have to congratulate Volvo for not taking the easy road by copying its German rivals' styling in order to try and elevate its brand to a similar level. Instead, the Swedish automaker has decided to go its own way, and the S90 is a huge improvement over its predecessor. It's a handsome, attractive design in its own right, but it has a long way to go to be more desirable than the E-Class.
The range of E-Class engines offers four, six, and eight cylinder options, so you can pretty much have whatever E-Class you want. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder is no slouch with its 241 horsepower and nine-speed automatic transmission, but things just get even better from there. Beyond the standard E-Class options are the performance-focused AMG® models, which really do push all the performance buttons for a car in this class. Volvo also decided recently to offer nothing bigger than four-cylinder engines in all its models. Whether you like that idea or not, that's what you get if you want a Volvo right now. The four-cylinder in the S90 is a very good engine that offers as much as 316 horsepower in T6 all-wheel drive models, but the Volvo obviously can't compete with the wealth of engine options available in the Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes buyers probably assume good levels of safety throughout the range, but the E-Class goes way beyond good. With some of the most advanced safety options available anywhere in the industry, the E-Class scores as close to perfect in this area as it's possible to get. Volvo has almost been a byword for automotive safety for decades now, and the S90 isn't putting that reputation in any jeopardy. The S90 includes a number of safety systems that are world-firsts, such as large animal detection. We expect the Volvo to match the Mercedes in safety ratings but, since Volvo doesn't have confirmed safety rating, we have to give this one to the Mercedes.
Even though the new E-Class is bigger than its predecessor, its fuel economy ratings are now even better. A rear-drive E 300 with its four-cylinder engine is rated by the EPA at 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. The inline-four Drive-E engines in the Volvo S90 are impressive for fuel economy, but even these will be put in the shade when the T8 plug-in hybrid breaks cover later in the model year. For the moment, the four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive is rated at 23 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg combined.
Volvo has done an outstanding job in replacing the aging S80 with this excellent new S90 model, but it's still a Volvo and not a Mercedes-Benz. The fact that the Volvo can't match the E-Class isn't about names or badges--it's about performance, interior, and value for the price among many other things. Your best bet in the luxury midsize sedan market is to opt for the proven 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.