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It speeds, sips, and cuddles, but Volvo S90 Recharge also muddles

When introduced in 2017, the Volvo S90 seemed like a great leap but still exuding essential Volvo-ness. How does the freshened 2021 Recharge version stack up?

The 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge gets a refresh for the model year. The sedan still handles smoothly, and the hybrid adds some punch.
The 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge gets a refresh for the model year. The sedan still handles smoothly, and the hybrid adds some punch.Read moreVolvo

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription: A delightful mesh of speedy, sippy, and smooth?

Price: $70,640 as tested. Special wheels, $800; special paint, $645; more noted below.

Marketer’s pitch: “Expect more.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked that it was “luxurious and attractive inside and out, good fuel economy from both power trains, spacious rear seat,” but not that the “driving was not as refined as other luxury sedans, infotainment system can be unintuitive.”

Reality: It speeds; it sips. But it also shudders.

What’s new: Introduced in 2017, the large sedan from Volvo receives a minor exterior face-lift for the 2021 model year.

Up to speed: The 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets super- and turbocharged, just like in the V90, the wagon version of this large sedan, and with the electric motor, a total 400 horsepower is available. This whips the S90 to 60 mph in a nutty 4.5 seconds, according to C&D.

But the Volvo needed — or at least the test vehicle needed — a smoother delivery. I tried the sedan in all kinds of modes, and every time, there was a dramatic hesitation before the vehicle would get rolling. It made pulling into traffic a little frightening, which is not a good way to feel, especially when you (or your creditor) is $70,000 lighter.

Shifty: The 8-speed automatic transmission did its job well — that is, provided it’s not the culprit behind the hesitation. I suspect it was the computer that controlled the hybrid system, but what do I know? Well, just that I didn’t have this problem in the V90 I’d tested earlier, which had the super and the turbo but not the hybrid.

The gear selector comes in the usual Volvo crystal. But with the hybrid power train, there’s no shiftability, either through the joystick or paddles.

» READ MORE: Volvo S90: New breed holds on to classic Volvo-ness (from 2017)

On the road: The S90 handles highways and country roads with ease. It’s not a fun sport machine, just a large sedan that nicely insulates occupants from the harsh reality that is Pennsylvania’s road system.

One neat feature: If you like to blast across country-lane peaks and dips, the seat belts tighten forcefully if the vehicle feels as if it might be doing a bit of a skip off the road surface. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat was not a fan, but occasionally I like to annoy her, and this is just one more way. Your marriage’s mileage may vary.

Otherwise, it’s kind of a humdrum way to go, actually. Four-C Adaptive Air Suspension added $1,200, so you might try without it.

Driver’s Seat: The front seats are delightful, nicely bolstered and supportive, but still comfortable and easy to ride in. I wish I’d had a long trip planned because I’m sure the S90 would have made it all the better. But if you’re still a little sore, Lounge Package ($1,300) also adds massage to the seats, plus ventilated rear seats with armrest.

Everything up front is standard high-end Volvo, with beautiful gauges, wood deco inlay, and spiffy controls.

Friends and stuff: Rear seat passengers are not forgotten, though. They also get comfortable accommodations, along with tons of legroom. Maybe that’ll make you forget that there’s not much headroom, but they couldn’t pull one over on Sturgis Kid 4.0. He’s 6-2, in case I hadn’t mentioned it before, and he was not pleased. The similarly sized V90 was not spacious up high, but it doesn’t drop off quite so sharply as the sedan rear window does.

The headroom is fine for mere 5-10 mortals like Mr. Driver’s Seat.

Center seat passengers will suffer a huge console and large hump, though, so push your unsuspecting in-law into that spot.

Climate Package ($750) warms up the rear seats and also heats the wipers and steering wheel.

Trunk space is a fairly standard 15.7 cubic feet.

» READ MORE: 2021 Volvo V90: So close to perfect, but it’s a competitive world

Play some tunes: Volvo continues offering its pretty vertical touchscreen, and the screens are easy to access and control, as screens go. Swipe left to see automotive functions, and swipe right to fuss with the details of the infotainment center. Swipe down to get into media settings and whatnot.

Buttons allow for jumping forward and back, and a dial controls volume. Sound from the Bowers & Wilkins system ($3,200) is delightful, about an A-. I couldn’t get the exact sound I expect from my favorite tunes, although the chords were clear.

Keeping warm and cool: This all happens through the touchscreen. It has a nice graphical representation of the functions, but Volvos still lack a “sync” button, so adjusting temperature means one side at a time.

Fuel economy: The big sedan sipped fuel, comparatively speaking. I averaged just over 28 mpg in a foot-stomping week of testing. Feed the S90 the best.

Where it’s built: Daqing, China.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the S90 reliability to be a 1 out of 5, showing trouble with engine components, body integrity, and brakes, among other issues. The vehicle had the same rating for 2018 and a 3 for 2017, but no data for other years.

In the end: There’s much to love about the S90, but Consumer Reports and personal experience say there’s some work to be done.