Gareth Butterfield spends a week in the Volvo V90 Cross Country
VOLVO has treated its lovely new V90 to the Cross Country treatment. For a while now, the Swedish firm has been jacking up its cars, bolting on some plastic bits and sticking a Cross-Country badge on. And I’ve just been sent the latest version to play with for a week.
The results of this treatment varies a bit. The V40 Cross Country is no mud-plugger, but it looks pretty good. The V60 Cross Country seems to make even less sense, but it seems to sell pretty well and now the range-topping V90 Cross Country is here. But this one means business.
Back when the whole Cross Country thing started, on the V70s, it was the only choice you had if you needed your capacious estate car to be a bit more agricultural. Then along came the XC90 SUV and we all assumed the Cross Country thing would fizzle out. But it turns out Volvo was onto something all along and there’s now a real appetite for jacked-up estate cars.
So this V90 Cross Country is not exactly a trend-setter, but it does descend from one of the first. But has it gone soft in its old age? Or can the daddy of all crossover-estate-thingies still hold its own?
The Cross Country treatment affords the V90 a 65cm leap in its ride height, some plastic protection around the shiny bits and standard all-wheel-drive with some clever off-road trickery hidden away.
All this seems to blend in well with the V90’s elegant exterior and none of the additions spoil the lines. It’s still a lovely design, just a slightly more purposeful one.
I seem to remember concluding the standard V90’s interior is one of the nicest I’ve ever sat in. And the same goes for the Cross Country. It’s all much the same, of course, except for the addition of some rubber mats in my test model.
WE’RE heading down to see the in-laws for a few days and that means 120 miles or so of mainly motorway driving, book-ended a bit of A-road trekking. My wife never packs light, but her suitcase looks lost in the V90’s cavernous boot. So much so that I take pity on it and lob it in the back seats – which are also huge and have plenty of legroom. Shame about the large transmission tunnel in the middle though.
Truth be told, the V90 actually has slightly less space than the Mercedes estates but if you find any of them short on capacity, you really should consider a van. Part of the issue with the V90 is the sleek lines of the back end, which tail off sooner than some others. But it’s a form over function issue in its very mildest sense.
On the way down, I’m struck by how nice the ride is in the Cross Country. The V90 is far from harsh, but there’s a lovely plushness which must be a result of the extra ride height. And I can’t notice a pay-off in terms of roll-tastic road manners, either. It handles really well.
The other thing I love about the V90 is it’s a tech-lover’s wet dream in the cabin. Even the base models come laden with gadgets including semi-autonomous driving, everything operates electronically and even the feature-laden infotainment system, all operated on an iPad-like central touch-screen, is growing on me.
It’s one of the most relaxing drives down to Buckinghamshire I’ve ever had. We arrive feeling as fresh as we were when we set off. What a great car.
IT’S unlikely I’ll get to test out the Volvo’s mud-plugging capabilities this week. Partly because I’m rubbish at off-roading and I usually crash, but mainly because Volvo politely asks us not to. However we are attending a village fete today and the car park is on wet grass which looks like it’s been mowed using an egg whisk. So it’s sort of a test. And I can happily report it copes with uneven grassy fields very well indeed. In fact, the rough bumps in the ground are ironed out wonderfully and we all remark on how comfortable we are.
To be fair this sort of terrain is probably the most hardcore off-roading most Cross Country models will tackle. They’re popular because they’re trendy, not because most people live in the middle of ploughed fields.
BEFORE we head home we have to collect some bits and bobs from a house my in-laws are selling. To access said house we have to navigate a tight access road, then back it into a driveway with very little space to spare. Thankfully the V90 has a brilliant camera system that gives you a virtual top-down view of the car, using lenses dotted around the body. This means reversing into the tight driveway is a doddle, which is good because it’s a big car and the relatively small rear windows offer disappointing visibility.
Speaking of visibility, the wing-mirrors on the V90 are huge. And that’s great until you get to a junction and want to see what’s coming to the right of you. If the angle is slightly wrong, it really gets in the way and creates a big blind spot.
That said, this being a Volvo laden with all the legendary safety technology the firm is famous for, if we did have a crash we’d have doubtless been fine.
Anyway, the items we were collecting from the other house was a rotary washing line my mother still calls a whirly-gig and a big stone bird-bath which weighed about the same as Norwich. The washing line slips in fine, thanks to the ski-hatch and the bird-bath had plenty of space.
As we got it near to the car though, my fingers turning blue under the weight and my back feeling like it would never straighten up again, I realised I should probably have opened the boot first. However, I remembered a neat trick the V90 has up its sleeve; if you wave your foot around beneath the bumper in just the right place, it opens the door. It’s designed for people carrying shopping back to the car, but it turns out it’s extremely useful for two men who refuse to let their bravado slip and admit they really should have put down the heavy bird bath because their legs were about to give way. Thankfully, the V90 has a low loading sill which makes it dead easy to lob the ornament into the boot.
On the way home the wife nods off, which gives me a chance to play with Volvo’s brilliant Pilot Assist feature. It essentially makes the car completely autonomous, but tracking the lines on the road to make its own steering inputs and then using its adaptive cruise control to maintain a distance from the car in front.
The wife hates it. She’s convinced it’s going to go wrong and we’re instantly going to crash into a tree – but I’ve used a lot of these systems and they are remarkable. I think I managed about 60 miles of M1, while she was alseep, letting the computer make its own decisions. To keep it legal, you have to hold the steering wheel, or the car tells you off, but as long as you’ve got both hands on, you’ll feel it quite literally driving itself.
THE wife is at work today so I’ve got the V90 to myself and, on a journey into Derby, I get stuck in traffic and decide to enlist the help of my favourite feature in modern cars – queue assistance. This uses the same trickery as the Pilot Assist, keeping an eye on the lines on the road, to do all the stop-start rubbish for you. It is an absolute joy, being able to sit back and let the car take the strain. Every car should have this.
On the way home again I decide to put it into sport mode and stretch its legs. The excellent D5 engine in my test model is more than powerful enough and, although it’s a wonderfully calming car to drive on motorways, it’s not the floppy mess I was expecting in the twisty bits. In fact, it drives really, really well.
THE V90 Cross Country gets picked up tomorrow and it’s one of the few cars that, by the end of the week, has convinced me I should have one in my life. I really do love it. So I pop onto the Volvo website to use the car configurator tool and weigh up the numbers.
To put it really simply, and it does depend on the variant somewhat, the Cross Country treatment will cost an additional £5,000. The gulf is a bit less on some model and engine combinations, but that’s a good ball-park. So it turns a £35,000 car into a £40,000. Now, I don’t think that’s too much for such a complete package. It’s easy to go a bit wild on the options list, but it is possible to pick one up for £40,000 and I honestly can’t imagine a more versatile all-rounder.
Given the comfort, practicality, ability and sheer loveliness of the thing I honestly think it’s a small price to pay.
Yes, there are some things its rivals can do better, but Volvo has hit a sweet spot with the V90. It was already one of the best cars I’d driven in 2017 and the Cross Country thing just makes it even better.