"In Sweden every road leads to the forest." That's the claim of Volvo executives at the launch of the firm's latest addition to its new model line-up. Following the reinvention of the brand we have seen the arrival of the striking new XC90 SUV and the great looking luxury saloon S90. Now comes the rugged estate version of this car, the V90 Cross Country.
Personally I prefer the estate V90 to the saloon but most executive buyers in Ireland will opt for the boot. Only a handful will opt for the estate and I suspect fewer still for this rugged four-wheel drive variant. Yet by doing so they stand out from the crowd. And that's an appealing trait to some premium buyers.
Just like the flagship XC90, this iteration delights in the juxtaposition of a rugged all-rounder, capable of some serious rough-and-tumble work, while at the same time a cabin that cocoons its occupants in opulence. Basically the interior of the Cross Country has all the touchscreen tech wizardry and leather finish of the firm’s latest premium saloon and SUV.
It rides 60mm higher than the regular S90 and V90, and is clad with the usual array of extended wheel arches and plastic protection strips we have come to expect on the Volvo’s Cross Country format.
Volvo developed a special tyre range for this car along with Pirelli. The claim is that these tyres offer the best mix of comfort and off-road ability for the car. However, it does invite the question of whether the tyre development came about because the chassis engineers couldn't make the ride quality as good as they wanted based on the suspension system alone.
The Swedes have been doing this variant for 20 years now, and it has become something of an icon for the brand. In its home country it is the car of choice for the police thanks to its large boot, urban looks but off-road ability. Volvo executives told The Irish Times the importance of this version for brand reputation and heritage makes up for the fact it is in reality a niche model in the range. Besides, while the regular V90 is the preferred format for the main European markets such as Germany and Britain, Cross Country variants are favoured in the United States and China.
Four engines are on offer from launch – the D4 and D5 diesels and T5 and T6 petrols – with no plans as yet to offer a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid power train to the mix.
With prices and arrival time in Ireland yet to be confirmed we have not got confirmation as to the Irish specification but the aim is to offer this variant at the higher grades of the S90 range.
Volvo's revolution doesn't stop here. Next up is likely to be a replacement for the current XC60, a perhaps even a new crossover format for the current V40. Asked if the Swedes were hoping to become a crossover brand, Volvo's research and development chief, Peter Mertens, said that in the future it is possible that the majority of its range will be either crossovers or SUVs, but that models like the S90 were still important to the brand.
He denied the Cross Country was merely a cosmetic exercise. “If it was just cosmetic people would realise it very quickly and it would not be good for the brand. This is much more than a cosmetic exercise.”
The Cross Country also boasts the latest safety technology, part of the firm’s ongoing efforts to meet a promise that by 2020 no one will be killed or seriously injured in or by a new Volvo. It’s a brave – even foolhardy – target but its engineers are striving to meet it. The new car features two elements that focus on alerting other cars nearby when either the road is slippy or a car further up the road has its hazard lights on. The system uses cloud computing to transmit the information from the Volvo in front about either slippery roads or hazard lights in operation. This information is then passed down to cars within a few kilometres and travelling in the same direction.
For now the system has limitations. It only communicates with other new Volvos fitted with the system. It will be rolled out in Scandinavia first, before coming to other markets in time. It will be rolled out later this year on all XC90, S90 and V90 cars built from November onwards. It is indicative, however, of the increasing focus on car-to-car communication systems and the ongoing debates about protocols and standardisation across the motor industry and transport systems.
Worth the wait?
We await a proper test in the new Volvo, but for those who like the mix of rugged ability but more conventional looks and a proper premium cabin then it may be worth the weight. Not everyone wants to join the SUV, set and this V90 CC offers something different. With car parks filled with German brands it stands out from the crowd and the SUV set.
Its predecessor was one of my favourite cars of recent years, and I’m looking forward to finding out if this latest version lives up to its high standards.