The four-door flagship shows distinctive Volvo quality and style.

The problem with flagship models is that car makers invest all their efforts into vehicles very few people get to drive.

The problem for Volvo will be convincing people to drive the S90 when the same money will put you behind the wheel of something with a more credible prestige badge, from Audi's A6 to the Lexus GS.

Volvo Cars Australia boss Kevin McCann concedes that making inroads will be tough and forecasts 15-20 sales a month for the large luxury sedan, in a segment that has averaged about 320 sales a month this year.

McCann is much more ambitious about the wagon versions that arrive next year. "We've always done well in wagons and the V90 will give us a chance to push that segment and reclaim some of the SUV buyers," he says.

There's plenty of character inside the car, from the attention to detail in the speaker finish to the leather-wrapped dash and seats.

The S90 still shows what Volvo can do in terms of design and technology, with a distinctive Scandinavian outlook on what constitutes luxury.

That translates into clean textures and a sense of spaciousness inside. The S90's tablet-styled touchscreen has enabled Volvo to ditch most of the physical switchgear and the cabin benefits from the uncluttered look.

The latest driver aids are installed across the range, though some won't appreciate having to pay $3000 for Apple CarPlay connectivity as part of a tech pack bundle. Android Auto is "coming".

The 500 litre boot is long and deep and looks capable of swallowing a swag of suitcases. There's also four-way airconditioning and fitting vents into the pillars is an option.

On the road

Turn the start button between the seats and the 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine whirrs into life with a purposeful note. That sound becomes more agitated as the revs rise without ever being coarse, even if there's not much auditory character.

The engine copes well with the weight of the big sedan though acceleration is steady rather than scintillating.

There's plenty of character inside the car, from the attention to detail in the speaker finish (ask the dealer) to the leather-wrapped dash and seats.

Surprisingly for a car of this ilk, the steering wheel adjustment is a manual, rather than motorised, operation. A first-world problem, I know, but first impressions count and adjusting the tiller should be one of the first things drivers do in a new car.

Once under way, Carsguide tests and then turns off the Pilot Assist function that is designed to help the car follow the road. When it works it works well, keeping the car on a constant radius around the bends and adapting speed to the vehicle in front.

When it doesn't work it wants to hug the left side of the lane and in some cases puts the tyres on a rumble strip before I intervene.

The suspension works well on the test route but I suspect some of our more pockmarked back roads may interrupt the otherwise serene cabin ambience. No faulting the brakes though, with good initial bite and savage retardation if the pedal is pressed to the floor.

The diesel sounds like an oilburner on start but is hard to pick once under way.

There was only one occasion where it and the eight-speed auto failed to synch, resulting in a moment's lag.