Volvo V90 2019 d5 cross country inscription

2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country review

Rating: 8.2
$80,990 Mrlp
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Volvo's jacked-up V90 D5 Cross Country is cheaper to buy and to run than ever. Is the giant wagon worth another closer look?
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Certain cars front up and require little explanation as to why you’d want one. And the 2019 Volvo V90 D5 Cross Country is the perfect example of a particular machine for particular buyer whims.

They’ll like the cut of the New Volvo’s jib. They prefer a wagon than the rather excellent XC90 SUV – whether it's some general dislike for the SUV format and/or the fact that the V90 cousin is, at $80,990 list, a big five-door family-friendly Volvo that's about $14K more affordable. And they probably want similar D5 diesel propulsion, all-wheel drive and some jacked up, quasi-all-terrain purpose. And besides, you can't buy the regular plus-sized S90 sedan any more in Oz because they appealed to too few buyers' wants and whims.

Yes, the V90 CC is a niche dweller for esoteric tastes. For those who want something more lavish and substantial than the newly released V60 that, for a good many shoppers, will be plenty large and roomy enough. It’s also $24K cheaper, petrol powered, and has no all-terrain pretensions. It doesn't neatly plug into the V90 CC-sized pigeonhole, does it?

So, it's a given that if perhaps you'd make it this far into the review, you're sold on the concept – even the polarising “awesome” and “hideous” styling, as described by opposing CarAdvice colleagues – and now really just want to know how it goes.

Like it or not, the V90 CC’s sort of squashed, avant-garde styling creates a bit of visual deception. It’s actually shorter than five metres in length (4939mm), though the profile view of its elongated body lines, raised ride height and plastic cladding over narrow-width 20-inch wheels makes it look a longer vehicle.

It doesn’t merely look substantial: there’s a nice, satisfying bank vault-like heft to the weight and closing action of the doors, too. So, it comes as some surprise that the V90 CC only tips the scales at 1894kg, around 10 per cent lighter than the XC90. Although, unlike the seven-seater SUV it only has five seats and, at 1526L beneath that sloping tailgate, there are 342 fewer litres of luggage capacity.

The relatively lean form means that a seemingly huge wagon doesn’t struggle too badly with just two litres of turbo-diesel motivation, offering a healthy 173kW from an optimistic five-grand redline (peak power is actually just 4000rpm) and a decent if hardly herculean 480Nm in a slim 1750–2250rpm band. It's not the most flexible oiler out there, though it is backed by a conventional auto with eight forward speeds – enough to keep the engine in its narrow-band sweet spot – and an on-demand all-wheel-drive system featuring active all-terrain traction smarts.

The big-wagon/small-engine combination yields quite favourable performance figures: a decent 7.5 seconds to 100km/h from a standstill, a heady 230km/h top speed – not that you’ll need it in Oz – while returning a particularly impressive combined claim of 5.7 litres per 100km.

The downside to the small-engine/big-rig concept is that in real-world testing, consumption can fluctuate considerably. Out on the open road, ticking along at two grand in the thick end of the torque band, it's a sipper. But stick it into the stop-start frenzy of big-city driving, where the oiler works harder, and it'll go a fair way to doubling consumption. We saw 9.0–10.0L/100km thirst in a typical weekday urban commute.

On the move, the powertrain is a gem. There’s quite assertive thrust in the engine’s mid-range with impressive vigour in rolling acceleration, and while diesel chatter hasn’t been completely suppressed, there’s decent refinement in the noise and vibration stakes.

Off the mark, there’s some hesitation in throttle response, which is exacerbated by the ramp up in torque that follows. Strange this, particularly given Volvo fits its clever PowerPulse anti-lag system to the twin-turbo diesel that combines electrically assisted turbo compression with a pressurised air feed, though the less-than-linear delivery seems more a powertrain than purely engine calibration.

Admittedly that’s in Comfort drive mode. Although, frankly, who’s going to drive a large, jacked-up luxury wagon in the sharper Dynamic option? It just makes the powertrain feel unsuitably more highly strung and sends the consumption deeper into the hip-pocket red zone. It's just not a substantial engine for such a substantial luxury wagon.

Our test car fits the adaptive rear air suspension upgrade, part of a $3100 optional Versatility Pack that brings a number of various goodies (power-folding rear headrests, grocery bag holder, self-dimming interior mirror with compass, et cetera). You can progressively firm up the ride and body control through two additional stages (Eco and Dynamic) up from the softest Comfort, which delivers an overall ride-handling quality that’s generally nicely tempered, as you’d expect, if a touch wallowy in roll control and occasionally terse across square-edged road imperfections.

Some of the sharp jolt symptoms might well be down to the fitment of 20-inch wheels with 45-series tyres. And while we Aussies do love our big rolling stock, you can downsize to 19s with meatier 50-aspect-ratio sidewalls at no extra cost, which might round off a few of those hits with more conviction.

Generally, though, the V90 CC is a pleasing, quiet and cosseting on-road experience for all occupants. For the driver, specifically, it steers clearly, responds faithfully, and is easy to place despite its size, if a little tricky to judge when parking. While the overhead 360-degree camera system is sharp and clear, it does limit your surround perspective without toggling between different camera views.

The Volvo’s off-roadability really comes down to how far off the beaten path your expectations sit. The V90 CC does pack dedicated Off Road drive-mode traction smarts – such as Engine Drag Control to prevent wheel lock-up – tailored towards rough surfaces and slippery terrain. But its somewhat limited if increased ground clearance, modest wheel articulation and on-road rubber are more fit for manicured dirt tracks typically found in Europe, than they are on the more challenging stuff you’ll find in Oz once you leave the hot mix out in the sticks.

Beneficial? Yes. Ultimately versatile? Not really. Your average Aussie rutted track will have a field day chewing up the faces of those diamond-cut alloy wheels.

In fact, you’re more likely to reap dividends from the all-wheel drive and traction enhancements when towing along dirt trails or up boat ramps, where the V90 CC is rated for two-and-a-half tonnes braked.

Aside from the Versatility Pack ($3100), which apart from the air suspension adds a swag of updates mentioned above, plus a 230V power outlet in the centre console, our tester is fully loaded and sits at $93,490 before on-roads up from its circa $80K base. Further additions include Metallic Paint ($1900), a Premium Pack ($5500) including a panoramic glass roof, rear glass tint and Bowers & Wilkins sound, and the Luxury Pack ($2000) that brings multi-functional massage seating in fine nappa leather trim among other niceties.

A neat detail that rarely gets a shout is that the Volvo begins syncing sat-nav, Bluetooth and phone connectivity via the touchscreen, and displays the fully digital instrumentation, while you’re still climbing in and before you turn on the ignition. A classy touch for what’s quite a classy cabin.

It really is a neat, striking and streamlined design. One rich in material choice that’s superbly integrated, but really clean and pleasingly minimalist in the attempt to remove unnecessary button and control clutter. From the knurled start dial to the sliding console lids, the simple wheel design to the beautifully formed air vents, Volvo really knocked interior presentation out of the park.

It’s roomy and airy in row one, the ornate perforated seats a little firm and more sport-oriented than emphatically comfort-contoured, if otherwise tough to fault and a nice environment to spend long hours in when touring. Volvo’s indicative take on the infotainment format, with its portrait-oriented screen and one-swipe access to almost every control imaginable, is inspired if not everyone’s cup of tea. Bar the incessant finger smudges on its glass surface, I’m a big fan. Ditto the nice, large, metallic volume knob for audio volume.

Volvo hasn’t skimped in row two, either. Bar limited toe room, it’s very roomy for legs, shoulders and elbows, with comfy seat contours in all three positions, plus a number of nice touches such as LED reading lights, four-zone climate control with individual rear passenger controls, air vents in the B-pillars, retractable window blinds, multiple power outlet types, and the brand’s excellent retractable child booster seat bases. The only area it really loses out to an SUV is perhaps in head room, and even that is hardly what you'd call limiting for my 180cm height.

While the XC90 might comprehensively outdo the V90 on boot space, it’s mostly outright height and the sloping tailgate that eat into outright volume: the flat boot floor is massive and hugely useable. There’s a novel grocery rack – with hooks and elasticised straps – that folds up vertically out of the floor that’s pretty useful. More so than the strange, thin underfloor compartment that separates the boot from the space-saver spare wheel, but it’s something.

Active safety and driver conveniences? As you might expect from a high-end Volvo, the list of 'smarts' wants for nothing and is far too lengthy to cover off in detail here. Excellent credentials, then, even if the road-sign-recognition tech is less than completely accurate and the collision warning system is a little too conservatively calibrated for close-proximity Aussie urban combat.

Volvo finally addressed one of the biggest bugbears about the marque’s wider ownership experience by introducing industry-competitive capped-price servicing plans across its ranges. At $1895 total for three years or 45,000km, whichever comes first, the V90 isn’t the cheapest Volvo to service, but its cost is similar or less than some other European premium brands’ plans. Warranty, like many Euros, remains a modest three-year term of basic coverage, if with no kilometre cap.

If most of this review sounds very familiar to how we appraised the V90 Cross Country back in July 2017, you’d be right. With the in-metal experience, not much has changed at all.

What has changed is the business of Volvo Australia. The last time we parked the big, plastic-clad wagon in the CarAdvice garage, it sat above the S90 as the range flagship and wanted for $99,990 list, which was eight grand more than an XC90 D5 Momentum. Fast-forward and the very same model – complete with much more attractive running costs – is a whopping $19K more affordable than it once was, and some $14K less than the same aforementioned SUV variant.

This alone should make the jacked-up, plus-sized, if now older wagon a great deal more attractive to the relatively small group of buyers who like exactly what the V90 CC is and what it represents. The caveat is that if you’re not quite so wedded to all of its ‘isms', there’s a whole new generation of sharply priced, fully equipped and generously proportioned V60 wagon that’s just hit local showrooms.

Our advice is to not part with your cash for the big brother, without at least a cursory look at its smaller and more affordable petrol-powered sibling.

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