The nordic conquest continues. Despite its un-Thor-like posture as one of the world's smaller automakers, Swedish brand Volvo is looking to make a run at Germany's three kings — Mercedes, BMW, and Audi — with a revamped fleet that pairs muscular Scandinavian design with an aggressive suite of tech and safety. The first vehicle of the relaunch — courtesy of 11 billion dollars of Chinese investment — came with the haughty XC90 three-row SUV. But you can't be a true luxury player without a big, seductive sedan.
Enter the S90, Volvo's bid to lure you away from the E-Class, 5 Series, or A6 of your dreams. If prior Volvo designs didn't reel you in, maybe this one will: From the concave scalloped grill to the long, sloping hood and low roofline, it has a sense of brawny but laid-back poise. Finally it's hard to imagine most of its drivers wearing corduroy blazers with elbow patches. (Even better-looking: the V90, a wagon variant due next year.) The interior shows a similar focus; the uncluttered cabin centers around a nine-inch-tall portrait-oriented touchscreen, held in place by a band of aluminum and flanked by wide expanses of open-pore walnut. It's as if the designers were paging through the coffee-table tome Cabin Porn while sketching it.
The all-wheel drive S90 handles with none of the vague float of its Volvo sedan forebears; when you toss it through country-lane sweepers, it nearly nails the deftness and clarity of its pricier German competition. (A comparably equipped Audi A6 costs nearly four grand more.) And the S90 does it while relying on a smaller, harder-working engine: Its four-cylinder, two-liter T6 powerplant uses a supercharger to provide a low-end boost before a turbocharger takes over at higher RPMs. The result is the kind of torque and horsepower you get from thirstier, naturally aspirated engines with six cylinders or more.
That said, if you're a sucker for gorgeous engine noise, you might find the S90 T6's whirring a bit synthetic. This is easily offset by blasting the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system, using the seamless integration of Spotify (an automaker first) to stream tunes over the car's 3G LTE connection while showing playlists on its mammoth display. Also smart: Despite the bombardment of slick tech, there's still a physical volume dial — quicker, safer, and more accurate than pawing the screen. (Cadillac, take note.)
Speaking of safety, the suits in Sweden know that leveraging the brand's traditional strength is vital for winning new luxury-car buyers. So they've pressed forward with Vision 2020 — a plan to prevent all deaths and serious injuries in Volvo cars by the year 2020 through the use of new tech and semipiloted and automated safety systems. To that end, the S90 is the first car on the road to come standard with semiautonomous driving features. On congested freeways with clear lane lines, the S90's piloted driving system delegates some of the driving to the car. The result: Heavy traffic isn't a tear-your-hair-out experience. In fact, it gives you more time to consider that playlist. [316 HP, 0–60 in 5.7 sec, $56,25; volvo.com]