Road Tests

Drive Review: Volvo V90 counters the SUV trend

Volvo South Africa has introduced the V90 Cross Country as the last model in the trio of 90-cluster vehicles. It’s a more robust, more versatile and terrain-enhanced model compared to the V90 Estate that is on sale in other markets around the world. It features extended wheel arches for the larger hoops as well as a raised 210mm ride height and of course all-wheel drive. Sometimes. It’s predominantly front-wheel driven but the lightweight coupling can send 50% of the power to the rear-wheels.

What’s more interesting, however, is that the car launches from a standing start by sending power to all four wheels. With the accelerator pushed to the floor for 6.3 seconds on the flagship T6, the 0-100km/h is two tenths faster than in the equivalent but heavier XC90.

Volvo was determined to ensure that TopGear experienced the V90 in all its versatile adeptness and as such, the company organised a drive experience that took me to 290kms out of Johannesburg to a nature reserve at the foot of the Waterberg Mountains where we noticed that extra suspension travel has a hidden talent – wonderful malleable ride.

During short droughts of animal sightings where zebras were passed without gazing a faint recognition, the attention fell to the V90’s perfectly secluded and climatically controlled oasis of luxury.

There is a level of detail and intuitive design that is second to none. The interior of the car is enormous with 560 – 913 – 1526 litres of usable cabin space. I say useable because unlike the XC90, this trades a third row of seating for likelier loading practicality. Up to the point of its max loading configuration, the Volvo V90 is better suited to packing everything but seven people into it than Volvo’s flagship SUV.

But the cavernous space is shrouded in ergonomic luxury focused on comfort and a premium in-car experience. There’s almost no difference in interior design and functionality from any of the other 90-cluster vehicles and this is a good thing. The Volvo V90 carries the 9-inch tablet infotainment system named Sensus. Ahead of its time with the launch of the XC90, Sensus remains the authority on the in-car user experience.

The drive to Limpopo from Johannesburg is as diverse in road conditions as you would imagine with stretches of smooth highway driving before falling into rutted and pothole-pocked roads that eventually give way to the twisting bits that lead into Thabazimbi. The Volvo V90 Cross Country was unshaken by either of these and I got to experience some of its lauded tech including the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist as well as its adaptive cruise control functions. No matter the road, the system was as intuitive as I’ve experienced, taking complete control when information permits and warning you when it isn’t able to engage or when it’s time that you took control. The heads-up display is a most necessary luxury. The car even sports Run-Off-Road mitigation and Road Edge Detection technology. These sorts of safety features coupled with six airbags, side-impact and whiplash protection and all the myriad safety features that come with an adaptive system, make the Volvo one of the safest cars money can buy.

The 235kW flagship Inscription model that I drove is built on the same Scalable Product Architecture that carries all other new Volvos. It’s a Twin-charged 2.0-litre motor and it’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Whilst it’s a powerful driving experience with seamless shifts, my only criticism of the car was a slight lag in response when I needed to access power very quickly to overtake the multiple coal-carrying trucks along the R510.

Thanks in part to Volvo’s design chief Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo has hit a home run with all of its 90-cluster cars including this Volvo V90 Cross Country. The company has revolutionised what the world now embraces as Scandinavian design and engineering. The appeal of this car is its crossover design, combining the practicalities of an estate car with the high-riding capability of an SUV. And it’s a Volvo, which nowadays means a great deal of sophistication enveloped by arresting design.

But as I comfortably wafted along the gravel tracks of the Marataba Nature Reserve in the supreme comfort of the Volvo V90 Cross Country, I was struck by a sobering thought. With Audi doing away with their Allroad models here, and Subaru selling fewer than 15 Outbacks per month, the V90 is left in a most precarious situation. Will South Africa embrace this peculiar car more than any other Estate? My guess errs to the cynical which is a pity, because this is indeed a class above the rest.



  • Price: R927 684
  • 1969cc, 4-cyl turbo petrol, AWD
  • 235kW, 400Nm, 8A
  • 7.7l/100km, 176g/km
  • 0-100km/h in 6.3secs, 230km/h
  • 1966kg
  • Verdict: Wagons and Cross Country. Volvo’s expertise.
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