Volvo’s new S90 saloon offers a refreshing alternative to executive car buyers. Among the S90’s most important competitors is the venerable BMW 5 Series and, while it may be due for replacement in the near future, it’s a massive seller for the brand and arguably the class benchmark for driving pleasure. We compare the two to help you pick the one for you.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – styling
Volvo has worked hard to create a strong identity with the styling of its latest vehicles. The new S90 has a long and graceful body, with flowing curves intended to offer something different from competitors’ increasingly aggressive styling. Up front is a wide grille and the distinctive ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED headlight graphics that also feature on the XC90 SUV. The rear of the Volvo is a little less distinctive, but features bold lights and a somewhat coupe-like roofline.
The 5 Series has been around since 2011 and, compared to its predecessor, is a much more conservatively styled vehicle. Arguably it’s aged better than that car, but it could be mistaken from some angles for the smaller 3 Series. On the whole, the BMW looks subtle and premium but, in an age where buyers are increasingly choosing more individual vehicles, it looks somewhat anonymous.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – interior
Inside is a similar story, with the Volvo offering a uniquely styled cabin that’s unlike any of its competitors. Undoubtedly the most eye-catching feature is the large infotainment screen that offers a user experience more akin to an iPad-style tablet than more traditional systems. Complementing it is a fully digital instrument panel and plenty of light wood and unusual materials to combat the usual black plastic used in many cars.
Again, the 5 Series is typical BMW inside and could easily be mistaken for any one of the brand’s vehicles. Despite its age, the 5 Series uses the latest version of the firm’s excellent iDrive infotainment system but, on the whole, it’s just not a particularly exciting place to sit. While it might be a bit dull, material quality is excellent.
In terms of space, there’s little to separate the two, with the Volvo offering 500 litres of boot space, and the BMW squeezing 520 litres into the 5 Series. Four six foot adults should be able to fit into either car too, with a good amount of space for all, though anyone sitting in the middle seat may find it uncomfortable thanks to the raised transmission tunnels. For outright comfort, however, the S90 features some seriously comfortable seats – a hallmark of the Swedish brand.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – driving
Volvo has focussed on offering a comfortable ride and predictable, if not fun, handling for the S90. Of course, the firm’s focus on safety means there are lots of driver aids to prevent you from hurting yourself, or indeed anyone else. Early reports suggest it’s incredibly refined too, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox should make for a relaxing experience.
Those after the best driver’s car in this class traditionally head to the BMW showroom, and little has changed – even with the current car nearing the end of its life. Despite its executive billing, the 5 Series offers truly entertaining handling and unflappable body control but, be aware, ride quality on cars with M-Sport suspension and large alloy wheels can leave a little to be desired. Similarly, the optional active steering is a bit artificial, and it’s a shame the recommended adaptive dampeners are quite expensive.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – engines
The Volvo S90 has only recently been released so more engines might join the ranks in the future, but all cars currently come with a unit no larger than 2.0-litres. In the UK, the diesel engines should be the top-sellers and, at launch, there’s a choice of D4 and D5 versions – both are 2.0-litres in displacement, offering 187hp and 232hp respectively. The D4 is expected to be the best-seller, but the D5 is the one to go for if you’d like four-wheel drive.
In terms of petrol engines, Volvo intends to produce three, again based around the same 2.0-litre engine, and named T5, T6 and T8. All are turbocharged, but the latter two are also supercharged, and the T8 adds plug-in hybrid capability. This gives power figures of 251hp for the T5, 316hp for the T6, and 402hp for the range-topping T8. However, it remains to be seen if anything but the T8 is sold in diesel-loving Europe, especially in the UK.
The BMW’s engine range is more diverse. Diesel buyers can choose from either four-cylinder or six-cylinder engines – the smaller engines are the 518d, 520d and 525d, producing 150hp, 190hp and 218hp respectively. The six-cylinder lineup features either the 258hp 530d or 313hp 535d. All are powerful and efficient but the four-cylinder units can be a little grumbly at town speeds.
There’s a surprising variety of petrol engined 5 Series too, with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder 520i and 528i producing 184hp and 245hp respectively. Those after more power can opt for the 3.0-litre six-cylinder 305hp 535i or the range-topping 550i with a 449hp turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine. For those who have the money, there’s also the bonkers M5 flagship, a car that produces 560hp and can get from 0-62mph in just 4.3 seconds.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – value for money
The new S90 costs from £32,555 – roughly in line with most rivals, although offering increased power and specification when compared like-for-like. When it arrives, the most expensive versions of the T8 hybrid are probably going to cost around £55,000 – again comparable to most rivals, in this case the 550i – a car with more power, but significantly worse fuel economy.
Prices for the 5 Series vary quite significantly, depending on engine choice and trim level. The cheapest version is the 518d SE with a manual gearbox – upgrading to the excellent eight-speed automatic is an extra £1,500, but we think its’s well worth it. Choosing either Luxury or M-Sport trim brings a lot more equipment, but these are an additional £2,700 more than SE vehicles and have larger alloy wheels.
It’s another £1,500 to go from 518d to the popular 520d, and then an eye-watering £4,805 more to choose the 525d. Then, the extra £2,800 for the excellent 530d doesn’t seem like much of a jump, but the 535d will set you back another £4,800 – making the cheapest version £49,090. In terms of petrol engines, the 520i costs from £33,380, the 528i is a surprise bargain at £36,945 for the entry-level automatic, while the 535i and 550i cost from £44,840 and £57,765 respectively, though those cars are only available in top trim levels.
Volvo claims the D4 will return up to 58.9mpg in mixed driving – we’d expect the D5 to return slightly less and the T5 and T6 even more so, but the T8 should be able to better 150mpg thanks to its plug-in hybrid system. BMW’s diesels are more efficient than Volvo’s, and the most efficient 520d can return an impressive 68.9mpg. Even the 535d can return 53.3mpg, but the petrol engines are less green – the 550i can only manage 32.8mpg.
Volvo S90 vs BMW 5 Series – verdict
Choosing between these two vehicles is purely a matter of personal preference. The BMW 5 Series may have been around for quite some time, but it remains a traditional executive saloon, with its entertaining handling, acres of space, powerful engines and that prestige badge. Its sheer breadth of talent makes it hard not to recommend the 5 Series but the fact it’s somewhat commonplace on the road and feels like ‘just another BMW’ inside might put off buyers after a more individual vehicle.
The Volvo S90 offers a slightly different take on the executive car, with its much more modern interior and innovative drivetrains giving it some unique selling points not just against the 5 Series, but other rivals as well. Its focus on comfort is commendable in a sector where many rivals are pushing towards sportier handling and its gorgeous interior could be enough to sway buyers away from the more traditional choices.