This ain’t your grandma's Volvo, no sir!

Firmly entrenched into the ‘V’ category of Volvo cars, which is the only real reminder of the quintessential safe, family car of the 80s, the new-generation of this legacy estate car bears no resemblance to a block of butter, from any angle.

Finely chiselled and perfectly proportioned for a photo shoot in the Rockies, this is Volvo’s answer to the eternal conundrum - to buy a luxury car or an urban SUV? The force is strong with both categories, but eventually it’s the SUV that triggers the aspirational adventure lifestyle.

Which no one ever actually lives out, but it’s the knowledge that your car is capable of going places is what drives sales northwards. The V90 Cross Country appeals to exactly this sort of an individual, who’s divided. Until now.

 

Volvo V90 Cross Country: Practical and sexy at the same time

From the headlights to the C-pillar, the V90 is almost identical to the S90, but it’s the rear that gives it the muscular character that makes it look sportier. The sharply raked rear windscreen blends beautifully with typical Volvo tail light design and the skid plates, 20in wheels and cladding around the wheel arches distinguishes it from the standard V90. Oh, and the front grille with metal inserts as opposed to a full metal grille.

But Cross Country isn’t just a marketing term Volvo has used to describe the embellishments. Differences run deeper and taller. First up, the ride height has been raised by a whopping 60mm and now the ground clearance stands at a tall 210mm. That’s close to many proper SUVs and definitely more than the so-called crossovers roaming our streets.

To better fill out the raised stance of the car, 20in wheels are standard on the launch edition and Volvo will offer a 19in option at a later date for those looking for more serious off-roading. The tyres, again, are custom-developed Pirelli P-Zero’s, specifically for the V90, which are impressive to say the least. The ride quality, amazing grip levels and the complete lack of road noise vouch for its authenticity.

Volvo V90 Cross Country: Beauty on the inside

Like the S90 and the XC90 before it, the V90 follows the brand-new Volvo interior design and in a word, it’s elegant. It personified Scandinavian chic even more on the V90 Cross Country as the big wood inserts on the dashboard and door panels have now been replaced with textured aluminium. Coupled with a double-stitched leather top, the three-layered dash looks decidedly modern and minimalist, of course helped by the inclusion of the huge 12in touchscreen. Sensus, as Volvo likes to call it, clubs every major function of the car’s systems on to this screen, reducing button count to a bare minimum.

I’m glad they retained the large circular volume knob for the audio system though, it just adds a bit of old-world charm and tactility to a control that you’ll be using often to turn it up! The 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins hi-fi comes standard in the India-bound V90 Cross Country and with its 1400watts of power and user-selectable sound spaces, it is by far, the best stock system you will hear at anywhere near its class or above.

Bass definition, imaging, detail and resolution and the fact that not a single body-panel protests against the high SPL, makes this a big reason to opt for the V90 Cross Country. The effect it has on your daily trafficated urban crawl is more significant than horsepower, believe me!

The instrument cluster is all digital too with a rev counter and speedo engulfing a dynamic centre display that is contextual. A projector serves up the Head-up display on the windscreen, again in a more intuitive manner than most, reducing obvious information when not required.

For instance, it shows speed at all times but will throw up sat/nav information only when you’re close to the next turn, so you don’t have to stare at a blue strip in your line of sight for a 40km straight. The rear-view mirror has a neat little digital compass built-into it so that you always know if you’re going in the right direction for an adventure. Or not. I won’t judge.

The seats are an exercise in comfort and the V90 Cross Country also gets cooled or heated massage function on the front thrones. Electrically adjustable for virtually every type of body, the side bolsters are active and can be saved in the user memory (or key fob) so you don’t have to be crushed at the ribs if you don’t share your driver’s dimensions.

The front seats also get cooling/heating and the importance of this in erratic Delhi weather cannot be emphasised enough. If you want to pretend that you’re off to the Swedish fjords instead of Gurgaon, the steering gets heating too.

V90 Cross Country: Safety first

You’re still reading a Volvo review hence safety is a term that cannot be overlooked. Especially in this new V90 Cross Country, which is packed to the gills with passive, active and semi-active assistance systems. Bagging the usage of radar frequency, the V90 Cross Country uses Distance Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control and Pilot Assist to ensure that you don’t hit the car in front of you when you text or that you don’t get out of your lane, by gently providing steering assistance. This seems unnerving at first but you soon get used to it and start trusting it.

Thankfully, the system doesn’t intervene when you’re driving hard and cornering using the racing line, so again, Volvo has used tech intelligently rather than a tool to pad up the brochure. The Distance Alert can be set up to maintain a car length or three car lengths between you and the car in front. Cross that virtual boundary and the braking systems get prepped and the seat belts strangle you so tight, you wish you were dead anyway. But hey, all in the name of safety, so I’m not complaining.

The on-board camera can also detect road signs and suggests appropriate action to reduce speed and while near a toll, the sat/nav throws up a couple of dollar coins to remind you that it’s time for the chillar to be emptied. You can also get a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the car during parking or let it do the dirty job itself. You won’t get the new BMW’s fancy screen-enabled key fob, but the automated parking process is the smoothest so far. It actually works in Indian conditions too.

V90 Cross Country: Driving dynamics

A car with this form factor doesn’t evoke glimpses of performance, unless you’re starting at the air intakes of an Audi RS6. But a few minutes behind the sumptuous steering wheel of the V90 Cross Country and you can’t help but wonder “how in the world did Volvo achieve this ride/handling balance!” The massive 20in wheels show no signs of discomfort tackling broken tarmac and ‘kachha’ trails around our Coorg driving route.

Of the four driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Off-Road and Dynamic), I spent most of the time in Dynamic and Volvo’s super-refined D5 diesel never failed to impress with its lack of vibration, almost unperceived turbo lag and smoothness of delivery.

The Power Pulse technology that Volvo uses is simple, yet clever. Without waiting for the turbo to spool up until enough pressure is built up, it uses an external air compressor to feed the turbo at 500RPM, allowing for almost instantaneous power surge. The system works well and is only masked occasionally by the slow-acting 8-speed automatic transmission. It all falls into place the moment you take off your racing suit, which should be the case with a car like this anyway.

Around the twisty mountain roads from Mangalore to Coorg, the V90 Cross Country never once let me wanting for more power than its 235bhp and 480Nm on offer. The steering is accurate with sharp instincts and the car never fell prey to pronounced under or oversteer. The all-wheel-drive grips and grips and along with the brilliantly set-up chassis, makes you want to go faster around the corner than any estate car has the right to go. Changing direction is actually fun and the paddle shifts offer some amount of control, heightening the engagement levels.

Come across a bad patch of road? Without the need for slowing down, the air-suspension just soaks up the undulation, flattens the surface and you come out on the other side like you were on an Autobahn. This level of ride comfort on 20in wheels while preserving dynamic control is nothing short of black magic.

Factor in the increased ride height of the Cross Country and it soon takes on mythological significance. The Off-Road mode comes in handy for the more serious stuff and during a small excursion down an empty coffee trail, it proved its worth by never once allowing the wheels to slip and making me feel like a hero, which I'm really not. Hill Ascent and Descent do a great job of torque vectoring and I have a feeling it does exceedingly well during high-speed corners too. Not once did the traction control get bothersome or intrusive, just great mechanical grip and a well-calibrated electronic nanny.

Out on the highway, its refinement levels match that of an E-Class or 7-Series. The hushed quietness of the cabin highlights the excellent insulation of the cabin and everything from the wipers to the windows, works with silence that’s a reminder of Sweden’s stark Arctic landscape. Time to enjoy the ride in Comfort mode and switch on London Grammar’s Big Picture on the B&W hi-fi and you are easily transported into another dimension.

The way the seats massage your back, the soft rubberised texture on the back of the paddle shifters, the diamond-cut volume knob, everything is designed to make you feel relaxed and that’s what the V90 Cross Country does best. Isolate you from the madness outside and just enable you to enjoy the car and all its elements.

 

V90 Cross Country: Initial Verdict

Packed with style, safety and physics-defying dynamics, it can be a different car for different days of the week.

The only real let down is the sluggish transmission but most sensible people won’t be looking to set lap times in the city so it can be forgiven. For all other senses, it’s a treat of a car that blends practicality and fun like nothing else in the market. The touchscreen is fantastic to use and easy to master, the levels of customisation is high and the seats beg you to rest your posterior for a little while longer.

The space with the rear seats folded is enough to serve during a house-moving expedition and the massive panoramic sunroof lets in more light than the Mother Teresa. Now, I wonder what the Polestar engineers will do to this beauty?