Earlier this year I spent a week behind the wheel of the Volvo S90, the first Volvo I’ve been in since the family 340, a 1991-badge hatchback that was better known for its safety than performance. An immediate contender in the executive market, the S90 is a fabulous car – powerful yet sleek on the outside, very comfortable on the inside, filled with gadgets and quite fun to drive.
The V90 (and its Cross Country version) is essentially an S90 with a squared rear end, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. It’s not quite as good looking, in my opinion, though both share sleek lines, a forward stance and that aggressive Volvo prow – there’s no mistaking it for anything else on the road. Having said that, the V90 Cross Country is one of the most stylish estates on the market today, in a segment perhaps more known for practicality than looks. Straddling the line between estate and SUV, it’s been raised 60mm compared to the ordinary V90 (offering a more composed ride), but doesn’t look any bit awkward on the road.
Inside, the V90 is almost identical to its saloon brother – the same level of premium comfort both front and back, combining wood, leather and polished aluminium. There’s an aura of design and craftsmanship that you wouldn’t get in, say, a Dacia. Perhaps the only difference is that some of the seat controls are manual (it’s a hard life), though perhaps you might expect fully electric given a starting price tag of €55,495. The dash is upmarket and uncluttered with most of the controls located in the central touchscreen, the seats are fabulously comfortable, with head and legroom present in buckets. The boot isn’t quite as big as I would have thought, at least while the rear seats remain unfolded, with the angled boot door eating into the available space.
It also comes with quite a few toys like an automatic boot lid, heated front seats and a private locking mechanism which secures the boot and glovebox when it’s in for a service, though it likely wouldn’t take long to figure out the issue. The only thing missing from this setup was a reversing camera, which I thought might come as standard, instead an optional extra at €575.
It’s all very well looking and feeling the part, but does it drive as well as it looks? Simple answer – yes.
Despite being an estate, the V90 doesn’t feel all that slow compared to the S90, bar a little more of a pause when you put the foot down. My test car was powered by the same turbocharged D5 engine producing 236bhp, a compact, flexible and swift diesel block that will charge from 0-100km/h in roughly 7.5 seconds. Despite its bulk and automatic transmission, the V90 was a little more fuel efficient than I thought, averaging 7.8L/100km (36mpg) – 700km on a full tank.
Thanks to the increased ride height and soft tyres it’s noticeably comfortable on the roads, soaking up the pockmarked tarmac on one particularly bad stretch of Kildare’s road network without the slightest complaint. The technology, despite present in large numbers, isn’t overwhelming – working away in the background when you need it. Just be careful when you’re using the speed limiter function to ensure you’re not breaking any road laws. Though operation is smooth as a rule, once or twice the car thought I was in an adjacent speed zone and automatically applied the brakes, a bit of a hair-raising situation as I traversed the Newlands Cross flyover.
The Cross County version of the V90 also adds the Haldex four-wheel drive system (found in certain Audis and Skodas), thus providing plenty of grip, alongside skid plates and hill descent, a mix between a soft and proper off-roader. It’s wonderfully planted on wet and icy roads, and is quite capable of handling tough off-road terrain, but if you wander into a particularly rough field you’re unlikely to leave without the help of a tractor.
Many of the V90’s features are unsurprising given Volvo’s reputation as a manufacturer that prides itself on safety, so much so that it has set a target of zero road deaths or serious injuries in new Volvos by 2020. The City Safety system keeps a digital eye on your surroundings, watching out for errant pedestrians or animals, while radar works to alert you to and prevent nasty rear end accidents, and Run-Off Road Mitigation finds its way down from the XC90 to keep you on the straight and narrow and out of any nearby ditches.
But the most interesting feature is Volvo’s take on semi-autonomous driving, Pilot Assist. Basically a combination of adaptive cruise control and steering assistance, you simply engage and sit back as the car drives itself without any human input, though you are prompted and encouraged to keep your hands firmly on the wheel. It’s a fabulous, intuitive if slightly nerve-inducing system that’s among the best available on the market, though it’s more of a driver’s aid than a replacement, particularly useful on boring stretches of motorway where drivers tend to lose concentration. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the S90 scored five stars and an adult occupation protection score of 95 per cent in the NCAP Safety test.
The V90 Cross Country isn’t perfect – boot space is lower than rivals from Audi and Mercedes, and despite its size it’s still really just a four-seater, while it’s also a little difficult to park thanks to the positioning of the B pillar. On the other hand, it’s keenly priced against the likes of the Audi A6 allroad (from €64,500) or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain (starting at €59,220) with the same premium feel, one of the best options should you want all the comfort, luxury and tech toys from an executive car wrapped up in a more rugged, country-friendly package.
VOLVO V90 cross country AWD
Engine: D5 PowerPulse
0-100km/h: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 225km/h
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
Annual tax: €270
Price: €65,891 (range starts at €55,495)