The Volvo S90 brings novelty and style to the luxury segment, but can it unseat the long-standing king of luxury – the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, now in E220d trim?
One thing all auto journalists have in common is their love for driving. The first thing that we do when we get a car for a test is hop into the driver’s seat and take it for a spin. But, the luxury car segment demands that we do things differently. These cars are typically chosen by captains of industry who spend their time cracking big, important deals while being chauffeured around in the back seat of their posh rides.
So, to understand the behaviour of this white collared being better, we decided to nestle in their habitat before we got down to doing what we love most. To help us in our study, we got ourselves two of the latest entrants from the mid-sized luxury sedan segment – the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Volvo S90. After performing various tests, we aimed to find out which one of these two is the more appropriate choice for this evolved species.
The backseat test
The Volvo S90 comes fitted with air suspension as standard, which gives it phenomenal ride quality. It glides over potholes superbly, ensuring that the passengers at the back don’t feel the inconsistency of our road surfaces. In comparison, the E220d comes with more traditional coil springs and gas shocks. Over the years, the Stuttgart-based carmaker has shifted from a purely comfort-oriented setup to searching for that elusive balance between ride-and-handling. The E220d definitely feels firmer than the S90, which means that not all the undulations go unnoticed in the cabin. That being said, over larger speed breakers, the S90’s underbelly can scrape – which surprisingly isn’t the case for the Merc, despite the longer wheelbase.
But comfort is more than just ride quality, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the rear seats of the E-Class are the best in the business. They almost wrap around you like a duvet, while the soft headrests cuddle your skull like a down-filled pillow. And if it still isn’t comfortable enough for you, the seats can be reclined up to 34-degrees. Moreover, the passengers at the back even have controls for the electric sun-blinds and the panoramic sunroof. Plus, at 5,063mm, the E-Class is 100mm longer than the S90, while the wheelbase is longer by 138mm. Not that the S90 is short on leg or knee room, but let’s just say that the E-Class spoils you rotten.
If you believe in the ‘clean is classy’ philosophy, then you’ll love the dashboard of the Volvo S90. Everything you could possibly think of can be controlled by the tablet-like 9.0-inch touchscreen that takes the centre-stage. However, it has its own disadvantages – it’s a fingerprint magnet, and, more importantly, requires you to shift your eyes off the road and onto the screen. Thank god for voice commands and lane assist!
The Mercedes, on the other hand, gets a large 12.3-inch high-res display that’s operated using the multi-touch control on the centre console. While the three-pointed star gets all the necessary features, certain luxuries like the powered boot lid, cooled seats, and head-up display are missing. The E-Class does, however, get a larger sunroof and electrically adjustable sun blinds. As far as the layout of the dash is concerned, the Mercedes does feel cluttered when compared with the Volvo. Both cars get a black-and-beige dual-tone dash with wood inserts, but the S90 does have a more airy and minimalist feel – in keeping with its Scandinavian heritage, I suppose.
From behind the wheel
Now, moving on to the part that we love the most. On paper, both these cars have similar specifications. Both cars are powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel motors – and power figures are similar too, with the Mercedes churning out 192bhp while the Volvo makes 190bhp. At 400Nm, the torque rating is exactly the same. Despite identical figures, the Mercedes feels quicker – not just in outright acceleration, but also during kick-down overtaking manoeuvres. But, then, neither of these cars are built for the drag strip so the differences are minimal. That being said, the S90 does feel like it begins running out of steam as you push it harder. In terms of refinement though, the Volvo is almost as smooth as the Mercedes – but the latter is better insulated from road noise. The gearbox on both cars shifts smoothly, but the one on the E-Class is marginally quicker. It helps that the Mercedes comes with paddle shifters.
If you’re looking for a fun-to-drive mid-sized luxury sedan, neither of these fit the bill really – for that you need to choose either the Jaguar XF or wait for the new BMW 5 Series. However, if we were to choose between the two, the E-Class would be our pick mainly due to its more driver-oriented setup. And, yes, the fact that it’s rear-wheel drive does clinch the deal. The S90’s steering wheel is slightly better weighted though.
Rules of attraction
From a styling perspective, the E-Class looks virtually like a shrunken S-Class – which is no bad thing – but if it’s novelty that you’re after you’ll have to look in the direction of the S90. It’s an absolutely beautiful new design – Volvo is doing wonders with its new design language. So, if you want to make a style statement, the Scandinavian is clearly the one to go for.
The preferred choice
Pick either of these cars, and you won’t be disappointed. The S90 has superior ride quality, and feels more high-tech, while the E-Class not only drives better but absolutely pampers the rear-seat passenger. At Rs. 54.50 lakh, the Volvo S90 is the cheaper of the two – but not by much, as the Mercedes-Benz E220d carries a sticker price of Rs. 57.7 lakh (both prices are ex-showroom, Delhi). Add to that the fact that the Mercedes sales and service network is clearly more expansive and you can see why the three-pointed carries such allure. The Volvo comes close to unseating the long-standing king of luxury, but the extended wheelbase of the E-Class is the ace up its sleeve.
- Volvo S90
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 190bhp @ 4,250rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,750rpm
Price: Rs.54.5 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: With a sublime ride and elegant design, the S90 not only pampers you but ensures that you look good too.
Transmission: 9-Speed Automatic / Rear-Wheel Drive
Power: 192bhp @ 3,800rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,600rpm
Price: Rs.57.7 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: To bring in the extended wheelbase in the E-Class is a masterstroke by Mercedes. It remains the king of luxury.