Leave it to the Swedes to make a crossover wagon sexy. The Volvo V90 Cross Country makes a compelling case against the Audi A6 Allroad and Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain, which are themselves no slouches.
If, within the bounds of our homogenised luxury car market, there’s a type of vehicle with which Volvo remains synonymous, it’s the luxurious and practical wagon.
We refer to the entry price for the single-variant V90 Cross Country range, which is $99,900 plus on-road costs, $8000 more than the larger XC90 D5 Momentum.
But this positioning fits better when you consider that the V90 Cross Country’s natural rivals are the even more expensive Audi A6 Allroad ($112,855) and the just-launched Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain ($109,900).
All sit between conventional Euro luxury estates and more imposing SUVs, and are designed for non-conventional thinkers with cash and a rebellious streak antithetical to crowd-following.
Only one version of the V90 Cross Country is sold here for the moment, fitted with a front-transverse D5 twin-turbocharged diesel engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox and on-demand all-wheel drive.
The engine is a 2.0-litre unit from Volvo’s Drive-E family that makes a very respectable 173kW of power at 4000rpm and 480Nm of torque between 1750 and 2250rpm.
Torque is sent to all four wheels when required via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Volvo claims a brisk 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds and the ability to yield combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.7L/100km, though we averaged in the high 6s.
The engine is great, with the typical diesel characteristic of strength through the mid-range that brings torque on in a surge. It’s not as peaky as the graphs may suggest, and while it’s rattly from the outside, the firewall insulation suppresses noise that would otherwise travel into the cabin.
The transmission is also very well calibrated for the car's purpose: smooth and refined rather than crisp and snappy.
The SPA architecture has a double-wishbone suspension setup at the front and an integral axle at the rear, though for $3760 you can fit rear air suspension with electronic damper control and selectable drive modes to better match the Audi and Mercedes.
We'd have thought this setup may be better as standard... Yet despite 19-inch alloy wheels on low-profile tyres, the V90 Cross Country on steel springs generally rides over most hits in a comfortable way, only being thrown out of whack by the sharpest of hits and squarest of edges.
As a long-haul cruiser it’s very fine indeed, and this includes loping over gravel trails. It’s not as good at isolating wind noise or tyre roar from the cabin as the E-Class All-Terrain, but almost nothing is.
This relaxed demeanour pervades the driving experience.
The electric power-assisted steering is light and unlike old Volvos, the platform allows a decent turning circle. The body control under more aggressive driving against higher lateral forces proved commendably good too.
Interesting is the V90 Cross Country’s ground clearance of 210mm, since there are many ‘proper’ SUVs that ride lower. This is 57mm higher than the regular V90.
Not only does this help with approaching, clearing and departing obstacles (the wading depth is 300mm, the approach angle is 18.9 degrees, the break-over angle is 17.7 degrees and the departure angle is 20.7 degrees – all at kerb weight) but it also gives you a slightly more commanding road view.
The AWD system shuffles torque to the rear wheels when sensors detect slip at the front, has a hill-descent control, and is suitable for light trails or – more likely – weekend snow runs.
Off-roaders might want to note that there’s only a space-saving temporary spare wheel and jack, rather than a full-sized spare.
The ride height also pairs with the regular V90’s low-slung body and the matte black sills, wheel arches and bumpers to create one very fine-looking crossover — especially with those Thor’s Hammer LED headlights and the bold grille.
This sexy Swedish design carries over the the familiar minimalist interior, which is impeccably built, uses lovely leather, wood, steel and carpet finishes, and offers flawless ergonomics and seats that are firm, shapely and supportive. All signature Volvo stuff.
The standard portrait-oriented central touchscreen is very prone to fingerprint smudging that becomes painfully clear under direct sunlight, but is simple to navigate thanks to its desktop icon format with swiping ability.
Here we advise you to look at our deep-dive into the Volvo S90’s infotainment system, which is identical to the one used here, written by our tech boffin Mike Stevens.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tethering, satellite navigation with road sign information (occasionally wrong), a 12.3-inch driver’s instrument display that can show maps/audio/trip information, park assist and a power-operated tailgate.
There are also electric front leather seats, with the driver’s pew adding a programmable memory function, while the rear seats which easily accommodate a pair of adults get Volvo’s characteristic integrated booster cushions, plus their own temperature controls, vents and ample storage.
Not only are the rear seats spacious and fitted with through-loading, they also fold quite flat to expand the cargo area length to almost two metres., with a maximum loading capacity of 1953 litres.
Volvo being Volvo you also get active safety equipment such as autonomous braking that recognises pedestrians, bicycles and large animals, plus adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and a Pilot Assist partial autonomous driving system.
While most seem to work flawlessly and have been extensively tested at Volvo’s safety centre, the lane watch system that is supposed to ‘read’ white lines on highways and steer you within the lane isn’t foolproof. Just be mindful, this Pilot system fittingly enough feels like a pilot.
Some of you may have noticed some features missing, and indeed Volvo offers a lot of equipment on an extra-cost basis. We suspect smaller-volume luxury brands (Jaguar is another example) need to make higher margins to make up for smaller throughput.
Options include an upgraded Bowers and Wilkins sound system ($4500), Apple CarPlay/Android Auto ($300), DAB+ digital radio ($300), a head-up display (HUD, $1900), 360-degree camera ($1750), grocery bag holder ($200), heated front seats ($650), and the panoramic sunroof fitted to our test car ($3000).
Clearly some or most of these items should be standard on a $100k vehicle, and we only mentioned a handful from the extensive list.
To its credit Volvo has packaged together three options packs. The $3000 Technology Pack adds the HUD, 360-degree camera, DAB+ and the smartphone mirroring. The $2000 Lifestyle Pack adds heated seats, sunroof and window tinting. And the $6000 Premium Pack adds air suspension with drive modes, the B&W audio upgrade and sun curtains.
It would all too easy to add $10,000 to your V90 Cross Country’s price, and we’re not sure this is the game that Volvo ought to be playing.
From an ownership perspective, Volvo Australia offers a three-year warranty with no kilometre limit plus full roadside assist for the term. You can also purchase a variety of SmartCare service packages kicking off at $2195 for three years worth. More here.
All told, the V90 Cross Country embodies the best and the worst of modern Volvo. It’s gorgeous, comfortable, safe, distinctive and impeccably crafted. It’s also under-equipped for the money.
Yet on balance the positives here are much more important than the negatives, given none of the luxury crossover set excels when it comes to value. As a complement to the vastly more popular XC90, it's wonderful.