Want a vehicle that’s a bit more understated than a gaudy, high-riding luxury SUV, but still capable of handling a bit of the rough stuff? Volvo has the car for you.
Volvo is no stranger to the SUV market – it offers a range of vehicles in the segment, which it is in the process of updating – but it also hasn’t given up on more niche offerings. Not only did it release an all-new version of its V90 estate last year, it has now launched this version of the V90 locally, which is an even more niche offering. It is called the V90 Cross Country, and as its name suggests, it is a somewhat more off-road-ready iteration of the standard estate. It takes the standard crossover formula (SUV looks and a high ride height, but no 4×4), and inverts it, so you get a low-slung station wagon that does boast an AWD system. Visually, the Cross Country looks quite similar to the standard V90. The most noticeable difference is some black cladding that protects the bottom of the Cross Country’s body. Even this most striking addition, though, is fairly subtle and doesn’t call much attention to itself. But that was the point. With the Cross Country, Volvo seemed to care more about capability than fashionable crossover looks.
“It’s not just a ‘plastic job’. With our new Cross Country you can go where a normal sedan or wagon cannot go. Capability in challenging road, track and field conditions is the essence. So, it all starts with the chassis,” said Thomas Ingenlath, senior vice president for design at Volvo, when the vehicle was first unveiled.
So, is this really a 4×4?
Indeed, most of what has been done to improve the V90 off-road is not immediately obvious. Ground clearance has increased by a substantial 60mm for a total of 210mm, and wheel-arch extensions were designed to accommodate larger wheels. The tyre diameter has grown by up to 42mm (depending on how you spec the vehicle), but it must be said that you’ll still be dealing with pretty low-profile rubber, regardless of how you spec the Cross Country, since 19-inch rims are your smallest choice. That said, the vehicle apparently features a completely new tyre with a softer, more rounded profile, which adds better grip and a softer, more comfortable ride, thanks to its ability to absorb uneven surfaces. The Cross Country also has a BorgWarner AWD system. Under normal, dry conditions, practically all of the power is distributed to the front wheels.
The system constantly calculates the need for torque on the rear wheels and can instantly redistribute up to 50% of the engine’s torque rearwards. When at a standstill, full all-wheel drive is always engaged to prepare for maximum traction during acceleration off the line. Four main Drive Modes are available in the new V90 Cross Country: Comfort, Eco, Dynamic and Off-road. Selectable via the diamond-cut Drive Mode selector on the centre console, the driver can adjust the engine and gearbox characteristics, as well as the car’s responsiveness, as they wish. Off-road mode includes the activation of hill descent control and different throttle and gearbox mapping, for extra control. When fitted with the optional air suspension (R17 500) the Drive Mode selector adjusts the ride characteristics of the car. The air suspension is only fitted to the rear, so it’s mainly aimed it levelling the vehicle. This is great, however, if you’ll be towing a horsebox or boat every weekend.
How does it go?
The V90 Cross Country D5 is powered by a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel that develops 173kW of power and 480Nm of torque. This isn’t an insane amount of oomph, but it is more than enough to make the Cross Country feel eager and lively. The D5 is a refined oilburner that suits the character of the V90. The vehicle wasn’t created with speed-hungry ruffians in mind. The V90 is a classy vehicle that’s all about elegant and efficient travel, and this makes the D5 a great choice of powerplant. Mated to an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, the engine has the performance on tap to get the job done, but never tips into rude and rowdy territory. The D5 in the Cross Country also boasts Volvo’s new PowerPulse technology. Aimed at reducing turbo lag, the system works by drawing air from the air filter via a compressor to a pressurised two-litre air tank.
When a driver wishes to accelerate quickly during launch and during low-speed driving, the air is fed by a valve into the exhaust manifold to feed the turbo. This has the effect of delivering a quick and responsive pulse of power. The air in the tank is topped-up automatically, making sure that PowerPulse is always ready to deliver a new boost. While it’s just about impossible to eliminate lag completely, the PowerPulse system does a good job of reducing it to a minimum. Between PowerPulse and that excellent eight-speed auto Geartronic ‘box, the Cross Country doesn’t struggle to respond when you put your foot down. Delivery is predictable and just about immediate. Whether setting off or looking to overtake slower traffic, piloting the V90 is never frustrating.
How’s the cabin?
Despite its excellent drivetrain, the best feature of the Cross Country is its cabin. Like the other vehicles in Volvo’s 90 range, the Cross Country’s interior offers the perfect mix of luxury and simplicity. It has every feature you could ask for, but doesn’t feel messy or overstuffed. The layout is elegant and minimalist, with most of the features controlled through a central iPad-like touchscreen that is intuitive. Indeed, the Volvo’s controls are so easy to understand and use, that it encouraged us to test features that we’d normally just ignore in a Teutonic vehicle. Pairing Bluetooth devices, setting a destination on the navigation system and accessing info through the trip computer can all be done in seconds. Even Volvo’s Pilot Assist system – which provides semi-autonomous driving by managing acceleration, braking and steering – is simple and reliable enough to be more than a gimmick. While it forces you to keep your hands on the steering wheel, Pilot Assist can do most of the work, especially when travelling on the open road. Lastly, it is worth mentioning the space on offer. The cabin of the V90 is massive. Four adults can easily travel in the Volvo, with plenty of space left over for luggage.
Can it go off-road?
As mentioned at the start of the article, the Cross Country has been modified to deal with tougher terrain. It’s higher, its suspension is a bit softer and its tyres are more off-road-oriented. That said, you’re still dealing with a vehicle that is more V90 than XC90. The smallest rims you can opt for are 19-inch ones, and our test car was fitted with 20-inch rims shod with 245/45 R20 rubber. The suspension also largely remains that of a road car. You don’t get the sort of wheel travel you’d have in an SUV. This all means that the Cross Country doesn’t feel terribly at home on bad gravel. On smooth dirt, it performs fantastically, but once you hit dongas, corrugations and rocks, it feels as if the Volvo has exited its comfort zone. Those low-profile tyres also had us worried about punctures, since the Cross Country is fitted with a space-saver spare. South African conditions are harsh. In Europe, where off-road generally means mud, snow and wet grass, the Cross Country undoubtedly boasts a wider breadth of capability. In Africa, where you quickly encounter dongas and sharp rocks when venturing off tar, the Volvo is not as capable. However, it is more capable than any sedan or station wagon, and can go toe to toe with many modern crossovers. This is not a vehicle aimed at those looking for an overlander or pukka off-roader. Instead, it is aimed at those looking for a practical road-oriented vehicle that can deal with a bit of gravel when it needs to.
The Cross Country does its best work on tar, offering a comfortable yet composed ride, but it has enough off-road ability to satisfy those who lead an active lifestyle. Indeed, we couldn’t help feeling that the Cross Country might just be the perfect vehicle for adventure junkies. It is spacious, can deal with the sort of gravel you encounter on the way to a mountain-bike trail, and is low enough to mount a pair of mountain bikes on the roof; something that’s hard to do on a high SUV. The vehicle is begging to have a set of Thule rails and bike racks fitted to its roof. The Volvo V90 Cross Country is expensive. The price as tested was R1 035 925, but at that price you get a luxury experience that can rival just about anything out there. As an alternative to your typical luxury SUV, the Cross Country is enticing.
Volvo V90 Cross Country D5 AWD Inscription Geartronic
Engine D5 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel
Displacement 1 969cc
Power 173kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 480Nm @ 1 750r/min
Transmission Eight-speed Geartronic Automatic
Top speed (claimed) 230km/h
0–100km/h 7.5 seconds
Consumption (claimed) 5.3 litres/100km
Consumption (tested) 7.5 litres/100km
Fuel tank capacity 60 litres
Luggage capacity 913–1 526 litres
Tyres 245/45 R20 (space-saver spare)
Price (standard) R869 900
Price (as tested) R1 035 925