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VOLVO V90 CROSS COUNTRY

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There was a time, okay, a long time ago, when station wagons were all the rage in South Africa. Today, SUVs rule the roost, and it seems the only way to sell a ‘wagon’ locally, is to make it look, and feel like its sporty utilitarian brethren. None do it better than Volvo, though, and the wagon version of the ridiculously lovely S90 is a case in point. 

It should come as no surprise that Volvo has created an estate version of the hugely successful S90 saloon. Wagons, after all, are what made the Swedish carmaker famous around the world. It did come as a somewhat of a surprise, however, that Volvo South Africa decided to extend their new model programme to a country that has become notoriously anti-wagon in recent years. South Africans have fallen in love with SUVs, seemingly shunning all else in the process.

Yet, this particular V90 is more than a station wagon – it is a Cross Country version of it that follows in the tyre treads of cars such as the Subaru Outback and Audi’s A4 Allroad.

WHY CROSS COUNTRY?

At Volvo, the Cross Country theme goes back two decades, the name having made its debut on a version of the boxy V70 wagon back in 1997. At the time, SUVs began appearing from every manufacturer, and Volvo had no alternative to counter the rising tide of sports utility vehicles.

Quite a number of Volvo fans, and some new customers, fell in love with the concept, choosing them over SUVs for various reasons that we could only surmise had to do with better fuel economy, or possibly the handling, or even the styling.

Whatever the reason, Volvo unknowingly set in motion a chain of events that would lead the brand to develop some of the most engaging leisure vehicles around.

CROSS COUNTRY IN OUR COUNTRY

We tested the new V90 Cross Country during an overland trip to the province of Limpopo and the Marataba Game Lodge. Known for its rugged beauty, this area perfectly compliments the V90’s intrinsic design value of rugged capability, while offering the kind of driving environment that the Cross Country was made for.

Sitting 600 mm higher than the standard V90, the Cross Country boasts all-wheel-drive and hill-descent control as standard – a perfect combination for tackling the rutted dirt roads in and around South Africa’s northernmost province.

Carrying over the same slatted grille design which debuted on the S90 earlier this year – albeit it that each slat is adorned with five metal studs to hint at the Cross Country’s rugged intentions.

The Cross Country comes to South Africa in five derivatives – four diesel and four petrol – and ranges R770,900 for the T5 Geartronic AWD Momentum, to the T6 Geartronic AWD Inscription, which comes in at R921,300.

Bringing such an extensive range to SA shows both Volvo’s commitment to expand their ever-increasing Scalable Product Architecture-based (SPA) line-up of vehicles. Starting with the 2016 WesBank South African Car of the Year-winning XC90, to the recently introduced S90 saloon, the new generation of Volvo cars have brought the latest engine, drivetrain, and semi-autonomous technologies to South Africa.

DRIVING IT HERE

The new Cross Country wagon we drove was equipped with optional adaptive dampers, which are packaged with load-levelling air springs in the rear. Unlike in XC90s equipped in the same way, the Cross Country’s Off Road driving mode does not raise the vehicle; the fixed ride height provides 210 mm of ground clearance. Off Road mode (a choice available via a centre console switch in addition to Comfort, Dynamic, and Eco) can be used at speeds up to 40 km/h and merely remaps the traction-control system, activates hill-descent control, and commands the all-wheel-drive system to send some torque to the rear wheels rather than defaulting to 100% to the fronts.

Dynamic mode also directs some torque to the rear (based on an algorithm, the amount varies), so that’s the mode we chose for our initial highway drive.

Predictably, the V90 Cross Country tackles asphalt with embarrassing ease, munches the kilometres towards our destination without breaking a sweat. Despite sitting higher than the S90, for example, the adaptive suspension never allowed any body-roll to upset the car’s carefully balanced equilibrium.

SWEDISH MINIMALISM

The Cross Country’s interior is virtually identical to the S90’s. As in the sedan and the XC90, the cabin is designer-chic, with its vertically oriented central touchscreen and air vents, textured-metal finishes, and minimalist ambience.

The Cross Country’s cabin is brightened by a panoramic sunroof; it’s standard, as are heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, leather seats, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, laminated side glass, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving capability.

All V90 Cross Country derivatives feature satellite navigation as standard, with pinch zoom and real-time traffic updates. With free map upgrades for life, the system is easy to use and can be effortlessly programmed with searchable points of interest, favourites and full itinerary logging.

Fitted as standard with ten high-quality speakers, entertainment in the new Volvo V90 Cross Country is always a premium experience. Bluetooth, USB, aux and radio functionality are available as standard, with an optional CD player available as well. Internet connectivity also features as standard, with the V90 Cross Country able to tap into a smart device’s network connection or an external Wi-Fi network which enables apps like TuneIn internet radio, connected service booking, enhanced traffic updates and downloadable vehicle updates.

LAST WORD

The V90 Cross Country might help expand Volvo’s appeal beyond the traditional station wagon strongholds. It is very much a leisure vehicle in the mould of the XC90 and XC60 (see our international launch review on page 48) but brings an additional dimension of estate car elegance that a traditional SUV simply isn’t designed to do.

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