Volvo S90 vs Mercedes E-Class

Volvo is aiming for the top of the executive saloon market with its new S90. So can it knock Mercedes' latest E-Class off its perch?

Volvo is a car company with big ambitions. Its stewardship by Ford is now a distant memory, and, so far, the signs are that new Chinese parent company Geely is helping the firm find its mojo as an alternative choice to the establishment.

Proof of Volvo’s return to form is the fact that the first model to appear under new ownership, the XC90, was our 2015 Car of the Year. However, can Volvo maintain its success with the next car to be launched, the S90 saloon?

Best executive cars

It replaces the S80, which was a great-value executive, but as the newcomer uses largely the same technology as the XC90, it should be a more sophisticated and refined model than the car it replaces.

To find out how far Volvo has progressed, we’re throwing it in at the deep end for this first test, by pitching it against our current executive favourite, the Mercedes E-Class. The German saloon is all-new this year, and it saw off Jaguar and Audi rivals in its first test, so it has the all-round ability to give the Volvo a hard time.

The price overlap between the two model ranges is narrow, with the D4-powered Volvo delivering similar pace to the four-cylinder E 220d, and top S90 Inscription spec closely rivalling the AMG Line Mercedes for kit.

Head-to-head

Design

Both the S90 and E-Class aim to set new standards for exterior and interior design. The Volvo’s flowing lines and minimalist cabin create a cool and modern air, although it’s undermined by some poor detailing, such as the clumsy looking wood trim. The Mercedes’ styling isn’t as fresh, but it oozes premium appeal and is packed with hi-tech touches.

Safety

Volvo and Mercedes have been at the cutting edge of safety tech for decades, and these cars are no exception. The S90’s autonomous driving systems set new standards for Volvo in the class, while the Mercedes can automatically dial the emergency services if you’re in an accident.

Emissions

Currently, the cleanest Volvo S90 is the D4 tested here, which emits 116g/km and falls into the 23 per cent Benefit in Kind bracket. The Mercedes’ CO2 output will go as low as 102g/km if you opt for the entry-level SE that rides on the smallest 17-inch alloys. Its BiK is rated at just 20 per cent.

Verdict

First place: Mercedes E-Class

The E-Class’ reign at the top of the executive car tree continues. Yes, it’s expensive to buy and the options aren’t cheap, but the Mercedes’ strengths run deep and it feels a cut above rivals for quality, style and refinement. It’s also good to drive, while the new 2.0-litre diesel delivers all the performance you need. Crucially, low emissions mean business users don’t lose out despite the car’s higher price. 

Second place: Volvo S90

It has to give best to the E-Class here, but the new S90 proves Volvo’s success with the XC90 was no fluke. The newcomer looks good inside and out, is keenly priced and comes loaded with kit. It’s also comfortable, reasonably refined and packed with cutting-edge safety kit. Yet it’s not as polished to drive as the class leaders, while some aspects of the fit and finish could be improved.

Other options in this category...

Jaguar XF 2.0d 163 auto R-Sport

Price: £35,950Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 161bhp

Jaguar XF 2016 - front tracking

The XF came a close second to the E-Class in its first test. This lower-powered diesel with an eight-speed auto box emits 109g/km of CO2, so it scores wellon company car tax, while offering great handling and plenty of luxury touches.

Lexus GS 300h Executive Edition

Price: £33,495Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl, 181bhp

If the bottom line is your biggest concern, no rival comes close to the hybrid Lexus for tax costs. Higher-rate taxpayers will face annual costs £1,000 less than the Volvo’s, thanks to a 17 per cent Benefit in Kind rate. But the Lexus isn’t great to drive.

Facts and figures

 Mercedes E 200d AMG LineVolvo S90 D4 Inscription
On the road price/total as tested£38,430/£50,090£35,555/£46,080
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£16,333/42.5%£17,066/48.0%
Depreciation£22,097£18,489
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,688/£3,377£1,633/£3,266
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,245/£2,074£1,396/£2,327
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost31/£654/C/£3028/TBC/C/£30
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£37pm (3yrs)TBC
   
Length/wheelbase4,923/2,939mm4,963/2,941mm
Height/width1,468/1,852mm1,443/1,895mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,950cc4cyl in-line/1,969cc
Peak power/revs191/3,800 bhp/rpm187/4,250 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs400/1,600 Nm/rpm400/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission9-spd auto/rwd8-spd auto/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel66 litres/run flats55 litres/space saver
Boot capacity 540 litres500 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,680/640/2,100kg1,680/590/1,800kg
Turning circle11.6 metresTBC
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unltd)/4yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers15,500 miles (1yr)/13618,000 miles (1yr)/109
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.12th/21st*13th/22nd*
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./starsN/AN/A
   
0-60/30-70mph7.3/6.7 secs7.8/7.3 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th3.0/4.0 secs3.0/3.9 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th/8th6.0/7.3/9.6 secs/N/A4.9/5.9/7.9/10.5 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph149mph/1,300rpm143mph/1,500rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph49.5/33.0/9.5m45.8/32.5/8.5m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph71/54/64/71dB73/47/63/72dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range48.7/10.8/707 miles43.4/9.6/525 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined65.7/78.5/72.4mpg53.3/72.4/64.2mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined14.5/17.3/15.9mpl11.7/15.9/14.1mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket155/112g/km/22%174/116g/km/23%
   
Airbags/Isofix/park assist/360 cameraNine/yes/yes/£335Seven/yes/£650/£700
Auto braking/air-susp/adaptive cruiseYes/£1,495/£1,695Yes/£950 (rear)/yes
Climate control/leather/climate seatsTwo-zone/£1,595/noTwo-zone/yes/£700
Met paint/LED headlights/keyless go£645/yes/yes£700/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes

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