IF you are going to lay down the gauntlet to the premium car marques when vying for sales then your contender has to have some unique selling points and the latest Volvo saloon certainly has plenty.
Volvo believes its S90 is the company's best challenger yet to the German dominance in the executive sector and the only way to test such a bold statement was to take the car on a lengthy road trip - after all cars in this segment will be expected to eat up the motorway miles with ease.
So with that in mind I set off from my home in Wales and headed due west to Fishguard. From there it was three and a half hours on a ferry to Ireland and with the captain forecasting gale force winds and heavy swells I was hoping my £42,000-plus S90 with just 615 miles on the clock was coping okay on a lower deck.
The car was the S90 D5 PowerPulse AWD in range-topping Inscription trim. It carried a £42,455 price-tag that increased to £49,880 with options fitted and, thankfully, when we arrived safely at Rosslare harbour the car was unscathed and the road trip was ready to begin in earnest.
We had a planned route that would take us directly across Southern Ireland to Galway and then all the way down the west and southern coastline which is otherwise known as the Wild Atlantic Way.
It was a journey that would see the mileage trip top the 1,480-mile mark and it gave me the opportunity to test out the sporty saloon in all sorts of driving conditions.
The S90 was powered by a 2.0-litre 235bhp diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It could reach from 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds, topped out at 145mph and could deliver combined fuel economy of 58.9mpg with carbon emissions of 127g/km.
The S90 is super roomy and the boot easily swallowed up enough coats, walking boots, bags, wet weather gear and clothes to suit all seasons, along with laptops, chargers, maps, books and a list that goes on and on. The official capacity is 500 litres by the way.
Up front there is plenty of room to stretch out and the extra storage facilities include a glovebox, practically-sized door pockets, convenient nets, cup holders, a deep central bin and a couple of handy trays.
All the on-board technology is nice and easy to use and switching the readouts from miles to kilometres per hour was a simple operation. There was a slight issue in that the sat nav seemed to take a couple of days to find our location accuratley and the tyre pressure monitor sent out a couple of warnings, but both of these blips could easily be pinned down to almost four hours enduring storm conditions in the Irish Sea.
However, all the other systems were operating perfectly and once the sat nav lady had caught us up, the planned routes were easily mapped out for us.
Comfort levels within the S90 are superb and with seat heaters and a steering wheel heater, the car is warmed up very quickly when necessary. The leather upholstery looks and feels very premium and there are elegant design touches throughout the car that give it an upmarket appearance.
And there's a plethora of on-board technology to be explored. There is a nine-inch portrait touchscreen, Sensus navigation with full European mapping, city safety which includes pedestrian, cyclist and animal detection along with front collision warning with fully automatic emergency braking plus the S90 also features Volvo's Pilot Assist and adaptive cruise control system.
This semi-autonomous driving technology assists with the steering up to 80mph taking control of the acceleration and braking to keep the car within the lane markings.
Although the Pilot Assist is fantastic for motorway driving, much of my route incorporated twisting clifftop roads, sweeping country lanes and even a couple of mountain passes and its those roads where the joy of driving is truly experienced.
We were blessed with fabulous weather throughout most of the trip and although the all-wheel-drive was reassuring when crossing a below-zero Conor pass, almost all the route showed off the S90's agility and comfort as it cruised along with absolute ease.
The all-round visibility is excellent and at no time did I feel tired of driving the car - even after a long journey of up to five hours behind the wheel. The road-holding was confident and assured with very precise steering and the cabin remained beautifully insulated against any outside noise. That said; the Irish roads are in a far superior condition to the ones throughout England and Wales.
To compete against the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi in the executive segment a car needs to have all the right attributes and after two weeks behind the wheel, I can honestly say the S90 is a very worthy rival.