Test Drive: Five minutes with a Volvo V90 Cross Country

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What is it?

It’s the brilliant Volvo V90 executive estate car, only here blessed with all-wheel drive, rugged black plastic body cladding and a 65mm taller ride height to earn it the epithet ‘Cross Country’.

This fits it in between the Swedish firm’s regular road car range and then its full-on SUVs, which have XC – not CC – badging. So this is the car to choose if, for some reason, you think the magnificent XC90 is too gaudy. We’re not saying that to denigrate the V90 CC, though, because we love Volvo’s latest products and this could be a splendid blend of the attributes of the lower, non-CC estate and that wonderful XC90.

Why are you driving it?

There’s been an explosion in these halfway-house, crossover ‘soft-roader’ machines since the turn of the century, but two companies have been doing jacked-up, plastic-adorned estate cars longer than most: Audi and Volvo (ignoring Subaru, of course, which has been doing this sort of thing since Adam were a lad).

In fact, Sweden actually beat Germany to the punch here, the Volvo V70 XC arriving first in 1997, compared to the A6 allroad’s debut in 1999; and yes, we appreciate this is getting confusing now, but ‘XC’ was originally trendy shorthand for ‘Cross Country’ and, at that time, Volvo didn’t make any SUVs at all.

Anyway, Byzantine Volvo branding history aside, the V90 CC does not have such a clear field in 2017. The A6 allroad is still going strong, Volkswagen has rocked up to the party with the Passat Alltrack, Mercedes is readying an E-Class All-Terrain (bound to be spectacularly good), there’s far more choice of mid-sized SUV at this sort of price point these days, and finally these bigger soft-road wagons are under threat from exactly the same sort of car, only at a smaller and thus cheaper price point: there’s an Audi A4 allroad, a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, a Skoda Octavia Scout and a SEAT Leon X-Perience to choose from. The V90 CC, then, needs to stand out to justify its place near the top of this burgeoning sub-sector of the automotive market.

What do you like about it?

Like any current SPA-chassis Volvo of the brave, new, Geely-funded dawn, it looks exquisite inside and out. The exterior is just sheer class, wearing the cutting-edge details like its Thor hammer daytime running lamps and distinctive rear light clusters with real ease.

It looks brilliant outside but then you swing open one of its hefty, solid-feeling doors and gaze upon one of the utterly great modern automotive interiors. Charcoal-grey wood-effect trim pieces and discreet Cross Country badging in various places subtly enhance the ambience within, yet you still get the Volvo seats that are unsurpassed for comfort, that portrait touchscreen for the intuitive infotainment system, the crisp and cultured interior fittings, and near-perfect haptics for all the switchgear.

It feels shot through with quality from top to bottom before you’ve even driven it.

But when you do, you should be sold on the idea of owning a V90 CC. This is the more powerful D5 model with the 235hp/480Nm engine and it’s one you’ll want to own, because it lacks for any notable turbo lag at all and has little difficulty propelling the Volvo’s bulk along at a properly decent lick.

The steering is very good, well weighted and reasonably feelsome (for this type of car), while the gearbox and that motor are the very epitome of discretion when they’re operating in day-to-day driving; the transmission is slick, the engine super-smooth. Add in mammoth traction from the AWD system and it’s a hugely competent package, make no mistake.

That would all be good enough, if it were not for ride quality and refinement that’s next to out-of-this-world exceptional. Unlike the R-Design S90 we drove the other week, the V90 CC’s tyres can simply never be heard, even on the ropiest of tarmac. There’s a tiny bit more wind noise here than in the S90 and V90s elsewhere in the line-up, mainly because the CC is physically higher, but it’s not so bad that you’ll ever notice it in isolation.

The D5 mill is so, so quiet up to about 3,000rpm that you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself it’s not some sort of zero-emissions electric motor, and then there’s the ride. To allow it the off-roading capabilities its bodywork appearance promises, the CC sits on longer, softer springs than the already-comfy V90. And the result is suspension that deserves a place in Valhalla.

Without ever feeling like it is wallowing, the CC almost suggests it isn’t connected to the road in any physical fashion. It’s an extraordinary performance and more than enough reason to make most people fall in love with this Volvo.

Any issues?

Very few. Rev the D5 engine right out and it can sound a little bit coarse, but this is easily avoided by simply using the car’s massive low-range torque to get about on instead. Ultimate handling abilities aren’t as good as the regular V90 and, actually, you can get the lower-riding estate car with AWD too, so you don’t need to have this off-roader-type machine if you prefer a sharper steer.

And the Cross Country, in D5 trim as tested here, falls into the trap of going beyond £40,000, which means £450 to tax it in each of years two to six of ownership, instead of £140 per annum from year two onwards for the £39,785 D4 variant. Still, as ticking even the most basic cost option would tip the D4 into the VED snare as well, that’s probably not such a big issue…

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

Well, aside from that road tax farrago outlined above, the D5’s relatively clean, four-cylinder diesel motor keeps it in a respectable 27% Benefit-in-Kind tax bracket. With a P11D value of £43,400, that means a 40% taxpayer would be forking out a reasonable £390.60 per month for this. Which we think is more than compensation for having a big, sumptuous car that lacks for a six-cylinder motor.

Where does it rank in class right now?

Stripping out the cheaper, smaller alternatives – which it is superior to, for all their relative value – the V90 CC currently leads its exalted field. Audi’s A6 is in the process of being reborn as a new-generation machine and so the current allroad – great though it undeniably is – now feels aged compared to the achingly cool Swede.

The Mercedes is one we’ve yet to drive and it could prove to be the vehicle to usurp the V90, although it is absolutely bound to be more expensive again. Volkswagen’s Passat Alltrack is certainly worthy but it just doesn’t feel quite as special and luxurious as the Volvo.

So it’s another corking car from the Gothenburg outfit and the best off-roading, lifestyle estate you can choose right now. Indeed, so good is it that we’d definitely recommend it as being preferable to the regular V90, because the CC has even plusher ride quality. It’s a truly lovely thing to waft about in and that’s a priceless commodity to have in today’s congested, high-stress motoring conditions.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Volvo V90 Cross Country D5 AWD
  • Price: V90 range starts from £34,955; V90 Cross Country from £43,585
  • Drivetrain: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Economy: 53.3mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 139g/km – £200 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 27% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 140mph
  • 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
  • Power: 235hp at 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 480Nm at 1,750- to 2,250rpm