On Autos: Two big luxury sedans offer surplus of power

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The Volvo S90 comes coated in rich wood and leather trim (Photo by Brady Holt/The Current)

Traditionally, luxury sedans have included big, powerful engines. High cylinder counts guaranteed smooth, effortless power and an elegant soundtrack.

Today, it’s easier than ever to find an almost absurdly powerful luxury sedan. Two recently tested models — the Volvo S90 and Genesis G80 — are each available with more than 400 horsepower. That’s more than three times the power you’d find in a Toyota Corolla.

Today’s big engines aren’t like the large-displacement V8s found in old-school Lincoln, Cadillac or Mercedes-Benz models. While some eight-cylinders are still available, especially in the market’s biggest and most expensive sedans, automakers are more likely to use a turbocharger to add power to a smaller engine.

Notably, the tested 311-horsepower S90 T6 uses a little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which Volvo augments with both turbocharging and supercharging. An S90 T8 model adds an even more modern boost to that equation: electric motors, which drive the total output to 402 horsepower.

It’s easy to want the best when you’re buying a luxury sedan, and powerful yet modern engines seem to fit the bill. And when you go out to the suburbs for a test drive, the open roads can encourage the jaw-dropping performance these cars can offer.

Of course, good luck finding open roads back home in Northwest. Even Corolla drivers will rarely have an opportunity to floor the accelerator.

Fortunately, there’s a lot to love about a good luxury sedan even without maximum acceleration — and the tested sedans pair those same benefits with engines that are less expensive and more fuel-efficient.

The S90 boasts a gorgeous interior featuring elegantly simple design, without unnecessary flourishes; neatly incorporates slick infotainment technology on a tablet-style touch screen; and comes coated in rich wood and leather trim.

The base T5 model starts at $49,905 with a 250-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It’s the same engine that Volvo puts in the more powerful T6 and T8 trims, just without a supercharger or electric motors. This means that while the T5 is not as quick, it’s similarly quiet. And 250 horsepower is still nearly two Corollas worth of power — plenty for peppy urban driving. The EPA estimates that the S90 T5 will get 27 mpg in mixed driving with the standard front-wheel-drive and 26 mpg with the optional all-wheel-drive.

In addition to choosing the smaller engine, consider skipping the optional 20-inch wheels included on the tested S90. They can result in a stiff ride on potholed streets.

The Genesis G80, meanwhile, is a more traditional full-size luxury sedan. Offered with rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, it offers either two V6 engines — one turbocharged, one not — or a V8.

The Genesis G80 has a healthy 311 horsepower from its 3.8-liter V6. (Photo by Brady Holt/The Current)

Even the base model, $42,745, has a healthy 311 horsepower from its 3.8-liter V6. The extra cylinders result in a richer engine note than the 2.0-liter Volvo, but the G80 — part of Hyundai’s luxury Genesis brand — uses more fuel. The thriftiest version gets just 22 mpg in mixed driving, and the all-wheel-drive V8 model falls all the way to 18 mpg.

The base 3.8-liter model already brings ample power and a pleasant engine note, along with generous levels of features for the money. And although gas mileage is mediocre, it accepts regular-grade fuel, and it offers all-around driving composure and rich interior finishes.

The G80 Sport model gets a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 365 horsepower. It seems like a compelling upgrade on paper, managing similar fuel economy ratings despite its additional performance. A tested G80 Sport also demonstrated a similarly smooth ride to the base G80 — an impressive feat, considering that it also picked up some extra handling poise.

But while luxury connoisseurs may have greater respect for the G80 Sport, the base model still seems better suited to city driving. Any extra acceleration and handling abilities in the Sport show up only when the car is pressed close to its limits.

Both the G80 and S90 are large sedans that can compete against midsize rivals like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The G80 is also affordable enough to challenge large sedans from less-premium brands, such as the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon. And the S90’s extra-posh interior makes it compelling to any luxury buyer.

While these two sedans drive nicely for big cars, prospective buyers will need to weigh their extra rear-seat and trunk space against their extra bulk in tight urban conditions.

Volvo stretched the S90 to be another five inches longer this year, in part for owners who will be in the back seat more than the front. If you’re going to be riding in the car and never needing to be the one to park it, that’s a big plus. But if you’re not driving anyway, that’s yet another reason to stick with the smallest engine.