By Mike Torpey on 2020-09-13 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
Volvo S90 T5
THEY sparkled in the sunlight, dripped with expensive extras and sat systematically parked in a prime position.
Something in the region of £200,000 worth of sought-after German engineering, yet nobody gave them a second glance. To all intents and purposes they could have been three old bangers.
It certainly says a lot about discreet distinction and understated elegance when the Volvo S90 saloon - more classy cocktail bar than Wild West water hole - gleans all the admiring glances.
And so it should. Stylish and low-slung, the S90 takes its inspiration from modern Scandinavian culture, in other words it's clean, minimalist and classy.
From the moment you slide into the luxurious cabin with its soft leather seats and natural materials and the car becomes a sanctuary of relaxation.
At the centre of the Volvo's interior simplicity is a nine-inch, vertical Sensus touchscreen - simple to use once you get used to it - which eliminates the need for the plethora of buttons that clutter many rival models.
It controls most of the car's info and entertainment and because of its extended smartphone shape it's familiar to most people for everyday usage - operated by pinch and zoom or swiped, even if you're wearing driving gloves.
A smart voice control set-up can differentiate between regional accents and is also claimed to understand more than 300 instructions or popular phrases, and Sensus can also be used to turn the car into a WiFi hotspot via a built-in modem.
A feature recently introduced and rather timely in light of the coronavirus pandemic is an advanced air cleaner with something called a PM 2.5 particle filter.
Initially developed for the Chinese market - Volvo is Chinese-owned - and since rolled globally, it allows drivers to monitor air quality via the centre screen and, if desired, can apparently clean the cabin's air of almost all tiny particles in minutes.
Space is first class both front and back, though there is a wide transmission tunnel that slightly hampers a centre rear passenger, and you can cram plenty of bags or luggage into the long, shallow boot.
While S90 engine range is principally made up of 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines, Volvo has also significantly expanded the number of its 48-volt mild hybrid powertrain options, making these engines available on every one of its cars.
Our model, in sporty R-Design Plus trim, featured the T5 petrol unit with front-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission and capable of producing a hefty 250bhp of punch, though Volvo's initiative of limiting all its cars to a 112mph maximum speed, rather than the S90's previous top end of 140mph, is now in place.
It is aimed at closing the gap to zero serious injuries and fatalities and is part of a move that sees every Volvo car now come with a Care Key, which allows drivers to set extra limits on the vehicle's top speed, for example before lending the car to younger or inexperienced drivers.
The car also had a lower stance plus stand-out touches like a black mesh front grille, sports chassis that lowers the ride height matt silver door mirrors plus silver and black alloy wheels.
You fire up the engine by twisting an on-off switch and the Volvo purrs away, offering a smooth, engaging and relaxing drive both on suburban roads and the motorway.
Flicking a rolling rocker switch accesses the drive modes of Eco for efficient driving, Comfort for everyday use and Dynamic for high performance - the difference between Comfort and Dynamic being instantly noticeable.
Stick to Eco and you should be looking at a realistic average 33-plus miles per gallon, which may not be fantastic but then that's the trade-off for a car that's not only exceptional to drive - it really stands out from the crowd.
Volvo S90 T5 R-Design Plus
Mechanical: 250bhp, 1,969cc 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox
Max Speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Combined MPG: 33.2-33.7
Insurance Group: n/a
C02 emissions: 154g/km
Bik rating: 37%
Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles
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