Competition in the modern world of automobiles is as fierce as it's ever been, and the game is changing faster than it ever has, so carmakers are constantly striving to not just build great cars that drive well and look captivating but also ones that have everything else going for them including futuristic tech, boardroom-like comfort and premium materials, not to mention ever-growing expectations for efficiency and more stringent standards for safety. These are all tall orders, and our choice for Car of the Year nails them all, and then some. The Volvo S90 is brand new, introduced as a 2017 model in 2016. It's Geely-owned Volvo's first all-new sedan, redesigned from the ground up, and what a revelation it is.
Note: We base our choice of Car of the Year on real-world cars, not exotics or cars that are way out of reach. The pool of cars we choose from are only selected from cars we've actually driven and reviewed, so we have first-hand experience with them. Our staff discusses the 10 best cars we've reviewed over the past twelve months and narrows them down to three, and then an overall winner. Cars are evaluated based on style, comfort, driving experience, safety, technology, efficiency, materials quality, build quality, amenities, brand significance, and segment impact.
THE VOLVO S90: European Luxury Redefined
Exterior Styling: Not German, Not Japanese, but Distinctly Swedish
The S90 ($46,950 base MSRP) is that good. From an aesthetic perspective, the S90 looks like no other car on the road, but it doesn't have to push the styling envelope to make a statement, like say the Nissan Maxima by taking stupid risks that polarize. And in the mid-size luxury segment, the challenge to design a car that fits the notion of a posh automobile with a touch of sportiness and, at the same time, doesn't copy anything else is a high bar, indeed. The S90 manages to do those very things in spades.
Volvo's Thor's Hammer headlights are slick and functional, while also providing the car with a wide appearance in the fascia when it's combined with the scalloped Volvo grille.
The Cabin: When a Car Interior Becomes a Roving Art Gallery
Just when you thought the exterior was sufficient to capture your heart, it's really the interior that makes you want to carry on the affair. Volvo's interiors from the S80 and S60 were pretty good, but the S90 is future tech, real functionality and automotive artfulness wrapped in one. Everything you touch and look at, from the beautiful matte wood to the perforated leather and the knurled aluminum and Orrefors crystal are collectively and individually far more than you expect and everything you'd want.
The Sensus Connect infotainment system is the best one we've used all year. Though the learning curve is steep, once the driver is familiarized, he is encouraged to interact with the system, which is echelons above other UIs that only provide frustration. The presence of physical audio knobs means Volvo understands how important they still are, while its move to make the user experience "next-level" is brilliant. The fact that it can sense your hand's presence and also look positively beautiful in the process equates to far-exceeding the status quo both for Volvos and for European luxury vehicles. To sit in the S90 is a truly satisfying experience.
The Driving Experience: Radical Thinking Leads to Utter Satisfaction
Make no mistake. Volvo is out to compete with BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus, but they're also marching to the beat of a different drum. To give their flagship sedan a turbocharged four-cylinder engine seems ridiculous, but the 250 hp in the base S90 Momentum launches the car to 60 mph in a respectable 6.5 seconds, while the T6 turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder will take the Inscription model to 60 in 5.7 seconds. The power is seamless with no noticeable lag, and the acceleration and highway speeds are fantastic. The car feels planted and takes bumps with the right amount of absorption and feel, making the S90 a superb car to drive.
We love the idea behind it. No thirsty V6 or V8 mill, only potent efficiency. The S90 T5 will do 23/34 city/highway, and the T6 will hit 22/31, all the while providing a thrilling driving experience that's also supremely comfortable. Occupants are cosseted but not numbed, stimulated by not agitated, awash in luxury but without the pretense of other brands.
To sum things up, the Volvo S90 is more than just a great car that deserves the highest accolades. It does so many things well, but it also takes the once struggling, too traditional brand to a very new place. The S90 proves that Volvo can make a flagship sedan that's truly amazing to look at, to drive and to use, and it does it in its own unique flavor, which is a monumental task in this automotive age.
If we had $60K to spend on a car we could use every day and be proud to own, it would be the S90. Of course, we can't wait for the Polestar performance version, but for now, the S90 will occupy a place in our hearts like no other new car we've driven this year. It's a car that's more than the sum of its parts, and our guess is that it will only get better in future generations. Watch out, everyone else. Volvo has arrived in a very big way.
The Runners Up
IPERFORMANCE: Efficiency Without Compromising Performance
BMW apparently cares about way more than just creating "The Ultimate Driving Machine". They are tapping into efficiency just like every other carmaker out there. But they're not stopping with the exotic i8 sports car and the electric i3 hatchback. They're taking a unique approach with their new 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid that encapsulates the best of two worlds: the sporting experience without compromise and brilliant daily efficiency. Drive the 330e, and you'll realize that it's 100% BMW in the way it accelerates, handles and stops, but then you set the complex hybrid powertrain in sync with the navigation system, and you realize that it's a wonder of modern technology, choosing how best to operate the car with maximum efficiency, thereby giving your daily commute economy, masterful
Find Local Discounts on the BMW 3-Series
KIA CADENZA: More of Everything For Less
The Kia Cadenza may be a surprise for this list, but it shouldn’t be. The last car was good, but this one is great. If you’re taken aback by this choice, you probably aren’t aware of just how spectacular Kia’s automobiles have become. Recently its vehicles have grown surprisingly luxurious. The K900 ranks at the top of the opulence scale for the brand. However, come down a step to the Cadenza, and you’ll find a stunning and well-appointed vehicle that can rival premium-brand cars for comfort and performance at a fraction of the price. Consider that along with Kia’s noteworthy warranty program and the brand’s recent quality and reliability rankings, and suddenly it’s quite clear why this car ranks higher than most others out there. - Wade Thiel