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Car reviews - Volvo - V90 - Cross Country D5 Inscription

Our Opinion

We like
Unassuming styling, superb comfort, quality features, well thought-out cabin, strong drivetrain, spacious cabin
Room for improvement
Subtle styling belies price, marketed against its stronger XC90 sibling, engine can be harsh, steering a bit vague

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Volvo logo25 Sep 2017

By NEIL DOWLING

Overview

SCANDINAVIAN sensibilities are behind the pursuit of a holistic approach to car ownership by the very people who first slipped a three-point seatbelt around the world’s drivers.

But now the emphasis is less on preventing collisions and coddling car occupants than on the bigger picture of air quality and sustainable resources.

The latest 90-series range of Volvo vehicles sit on the top shelf of its burgeoning range and are at the forefront of Volvo’s bid to make safer, long-lasting, less-polluting and recyclable cars.

Volvo has adopted a methodical, stepped program that takes its products through its 2020 tipping point where it will make every vehicle operate either partially or fully on electricity.

So in this transition, the 90-series use a 2.0-litre diesel or petrol engine, adding supercharging or turbocharging and even electric assistance to improve performance while reducing emissions and fuel consumption.

In terms of its progressive development of the car into the future being done on its own terms, perhaps only Mazda comes close to a vision that melds the mobility needs of today with what is likely to be in demand tomorrow.

But the engineering planning that will take Volvo beyond 2020 aside, the 90-series represents a trio of vehicles – S90 sedan, XC90 SUV and the V90 Cross Country wagon – that sidle up to the German and Japanese prestige brands and give them a rub.

The Volvo may not be on every shopper’s list but the 90-series – and the dual-natured luxury and capability hallmarks of the V90 – should capture a lot of attention. Maybe the first problem will be to divert attention from more common prestige brands.

Price and Equipment

Anything with even the remote appearance of an SUV is like a Tim Tam to an Australian travelling overseas – you just want one.

The V90 Cross Country follows the old V70 Cross Country in concept and basic design and presents as a stylish rival to the more upright XC90 SUV sister, and more general purpose than the S90 sedan.

Volvo believes the XC90 and V90 are different animals but buyers may not agree, especially when the two models sit alongside each other on the showroom floor.

The wagonesque V90 D5 Inscription – the only V90 variant – is also more expensive than its equivalent boxy sister. At $99,900 plus on-road costs, the wagon adds $2000 to the XC90 price yet is similarly equipped.

The most direct rival is the jacked up Mercedes-Benz E220d All-Terrain wagon priced from $109,900 plus on-roads, as well as the Audi A6 Allroad from $114,700. BMW also offers a 5 Series wagon from $99,900, but it does not have the SUV-like styling flourishes and slightly higher ride of its competitors.

Its diesel SUV rivals (see comparison below) on price and size include the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport and the new Range Rover Velar – quite illustrious company.

But – and it’s a big but – few rivals can offer so much in the way of standard equipment.

The list is pretty comprehensive, with Volvo including Nappa leather, 10-speaker audio with satellite navigation, electric tailgate, 19-inch alloy wheels and self-park.

The safety inventory (see safety chapter) is as expected from Volvo and doesn’t want for much. The brand’s signature autonomous emergency brake system (AEB) was the first commercial application of the radar-camera system and remains pivotal to Volvo’s safety commitment.

You may like to cough up for the air suspension ($3600) and panoramic glass roof ($3000) or, better, opt for the Premium Pack that includes heated seats, 19 speaker premium audio and the air suspension.

Must-have metallic paint for the Volvo is $1900.

Interior

Like a tasteful exercise in decor using the Ikea catalogue, the V90’s cabin is warm, inviting, elegantly simple and ergonomically on the ball.

It carries over everything from its 90 series siblings with the hallmark centre touchscreen the most obvious and – judging by the fingerprints – most used cabin feature apart from the door handles and steering wheel.

The simplicity of the cabin, however, can mute the effect of the quality of the materials – the Nappa leather, for heaven’s sake, is rarely seen as a standard sub-$100,000 car feature – while the clean dash design that hides most switches in the glass screen can cheapen the aesthetics.

There are hints of the expense put into this car by the leather stitching which rather than traditional single or paired stitches, is a pearl-seam design.

The timber veneer is deliberately tinted a darker colour to enhance the wood grain.

These are precisely the hallmarks of Volvo and need an understanding eye to appreciate the design and craftsmanship in the furnishings.

There are some acknowledgements of Volvos past, as well, including the shape of the car that melds the profile of the 240 wagon with the 740 estate, and the large-diameter steering wheel that promises comfort for the arms and shoulders over a long distance.

Aside from the materials and stitching of the seats, they are very comfortable without suffering from being excessively bolstered and making them hard to exit. They are electrically operated and include a lumbar support.

The central portrait touchscreen measures 12.3-inches and compacts all the car’s function under a sliver of glass and offers access by swiping and highlighting specific tasks. As such, it is as easy to use as an iPhone and has excellent clarity and simplicity.

The clarity is important because such glass panels lend themselves to light reflections. The Volvo unit fielded sunlight well and produced a map resolution that could match an Apple MacBook for colour reproduction and sharpness.

Familiarity makes it a quick unit to operate as well, helped by a home button and readily identifiable graphics. As mentioned before, the only drawback is that the screen should be cleaned regularly.

The engine idle-stop button is on the centre console, presented as a rectangular button that is twisted to start the engine, repeated to stop.

Behind is a silver roller that selects the three driving modes – eco, normal and sport.

Personal storage space is very good with an open bin in the centre console and a larger unit beneath the lidded bin between the seats. There are also bottle holders in the front, cupholders in the front centre, and cupholders in the rear seat’s fold-down armrest.

In the years from the 240 wagon to today’s V90, the design elements have transitioned from what is basically a box on wheels to an extended rectangle.

In the process, the huge carrying capacity of the old 240 has been slimmed down so that the luggage capacity is now 560 litres. With the rear seats folded down – which lay almost perfectly flat – it grows to 1526 litres.

That’s actually not as big as some other European wagons – the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series are both over 1600 litres – but in its favour, the Volvo’s cargo area is squared off to make it easy to fit awkward items.

Having an electric tailgate is a boon, as is the high cargo floor and the lack of a prominent lip so items can be slid straight into position. Shoppers will also appreciate the hooks for shopping bags, the luggage blind and the elastic security net.

The rear seat is generous in leg and headroom but more suited to two adults – that is, four all up – because of the rather large central tunnel for the prop shaft. Maybe five adults for shorter trips.

Engine and transmission

A small history lesson: Volvo’s previous owner was Ford and the big American was responsible for keeping the Swede afloat during some tough economic times and a changing audience. Ford owned Volvo from 1999 – and triggered the split between Volvo Cars and Volvo Group (trucks and buses) – until 2010.

The ownership gave Volvo access to some technologically fresh drivetrains – including the sparkling 2.0-litre four-cylinder Duratec petrol engine – but Ford held the license, so Volvo decided to go its own way.

The result is three-cylinder (forthcoming) and four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines that share major components and even crankcase design, saving development and manufacturing expenses.

Now the Volvo range has 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines enhanced with turbocharging and, for higher performance, the addition of supercharging and/or electric hybrid drive.

The D5 diesel (the most powerful diesel and one above the D4 available on other models) gets Volvo’s PowerPulse unit that claims to rid the engine of turbo lag. Big claim.

But the proof is in the pudding and the V90 is indeed remarkably responsive off the mark, aided by two turbochargers feeding the four cylinders.

PowerPulse is a small electric compressor mounted on the exhaust manifold that pressurises the exhaust to make the mechanical turbochargers spool up quicker, reducing lag.

As mentioned, the engine is identical in every aspect except the cylinder head, fuel injection and spark ignition systems, to the 2.0-litre petrol engines.

The V90’s powerplant boasts 173kW at 4000rpm and a strong 480Nm of torque at 1750-2250rpm. It is an ideal unit for the V90’s 1894kg of dry weight and is sufficient to complete the 0-100km/h sprint in a brisk 7.5 seconds.

While not being raced to the state speed limit, the V90 is capable of an average of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres. We are usually cynical of such claims but appreciated that the test vehicle – on a mix of suburban streets, freeways, country roads and city traffic – returned a pleasing 6.4L/100km. That gives a probable range of almost 940km.

A common performance aid in cars in the V90’s class is driver-select modes, that in the V90’s case allows a choice between Eco (economy - don’t bother), Comfort (the default position), Dynamic (or Sport – and the way to go unless the traffic is congested) or Off-Road.

They work well with Dynamic adding a sporty feel to the response of the engine, transmission and steering firmness. It can be annoying in suburbia as it holds the gears and creates more engine noise and some extra fuel use.

All engines are mounted in the front of the vehicle and transverse to drive the front wheels. Volvo plans to phase out the drive shaft to the rear and use electric motors for the rear wheels in certain models.

So the V90 has all-wheel drive (mechanical at the moment) using a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

The drive is an on-demand all-wheel system with rear-wheel engagement triggered by sensors that detect loss of traction at the front wheels.

The Haldex drive unit doesn’t react and allow drive to the rear wheels if all wheels are turning at the same rate. It is only when there is a difference that the viscous coupling is firmed and drive is allowed to the rear.

On the road the package is impressively quick, particularly when overtaking where the engine punches so much torque at around 2000rpm that it effortlessly rockets forward.

If anything, the quietness makes it a relaxed machine. However, when pushed, the diesel harshness intrudes into the cabin. It is perhaps the only fault in the driveline and one that – given the level of serenity in most rivals – should be rectified as soon as possible.

Away from the bitumen the V90 is a competent wagon that, thanks to its strong torque and 210mm ground clearance, will take its owner places that most wagons would not dare. But at around $100,000, it’s no LandCruiser.

Ride and handling

The V90 uses the same suspension – front double wishbones, rear multi-link – with steel coils and with the option of air suspension ($3600) as the XC90 and S90.

On the road, it is a quick, hushed cocoon and one of the better long-distance wagons on the market.

A lot is due to the pure ease of the controls, but more to the very comfortable seats, relaxed driving position, airy cabin and the way the suspension soaks up any undulations.

Handling is very good, though the bias is towards ride quality. The downside is that the steering feel is vague and uncommunicative and that is better suited to urban driving.

The most impressive feature of the V90 in the dirt – in this case gravel roads – was the superb ride comfort. The air suspension (optional at $3600) just soaks up any bumps while the body is taut, quiet without any suspension noise intrusion.

The V90 may share the extruded appearance of its wagon predecessors to appear low and compact but in the flesh it is very wide and with an almost 3000mm wheelbase and 4940mm length, it’s a big wagon.

At 1650mm, the front track and wide 235mm tyres (235/50R19) are indicative of its broad 1880mm width (not including the mirrors) so its presence on the road is dramatic.

These dimensions are also responsible for its confident handling and flat cornering stance. The lightness of the steering, unfortunately, fails to cement all these attributes.

There is some relief from choosing the Dynamic mode in the drive-select system and it’s easy to see why some drivers can be appreciative of the extra (artificial) weighting.

Safety and servicing

Aside from a string of neat safety gear, the V90 also includes Pilot Assist that is the next step towards autonomous driving.

Basically, it is the packaging of front and rear autonomous emergency braking (AEB which Volvo calls City Safety) and active cruise control that then work with an active lane-keeping system, lane-change alert and rear-cross traffic alert.

Effectively, the driver can allow the car to drive for about one minute without touching the steering wheel. The car will use cameras to keep within the white lines or dashes on the freeway, correcting the steering to keep at the centre while monitoring the car ahead (active cruise) to maintain a safe distance, eyeing the car behind to ensure no rear-end collision, and even those alongside (blind spot).

If any third party gets too close, the car will sound an alert and if the driver doesn’t respond, it will take evasive action with the ability to bring the car to a stop. Of course, this presumes a perfect world where another car won’t jump the gap ahead of you, where other cars don’t do sudden lane changes, and where the law doesn’t allow you to remove your hands from the steering wheel.

Still, it’s clever tech.

Standard safety equipment also includes self-park, road-sign recognition, driver attention detection, six airbags, front and rear park sensors, reversing camera, six airbags and cornering headlights with LED inserts.

Volvo has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty with three-year roadside assistance. The service schedules are 12 months or 15,000km.

There is no capped-price service program but Volvo has Smartcare and Smartcare Plus that cover all servicing for up to five years. It has to be purchase before the car’s first service and though it offers a saving, it is indicative of the high service costs of luxury brands.

Smartcare covers the car for up to five years and costs $2195 for three years or 45,000km $3295 for four years or 60,000km and $4050 for five years or 75,000km. Smartcare Plus, that covers more components, costs $3030 $7300 and $8875 respectively.

Glass’s Guide estimates that the car will have a three-year resale value at 42 per cent of its purchase price.

Verdict

Impressive new kid on the block follows on from targeting the thin-wedge all-road wagon market against overwhelming pressure from the more traditional SUV genre.

But the V90 is very, very good at everything it does.

It combines luxury with panache, loads of city style, a fuel-efficient and lusty drivetrain and a flexible interior that is at the opposite end of the rough-and-rugged off-road brigade. Excellent value for money, too, compared with most rivals.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz E220d All-Terrain from $109,900 plus on-road costs
Mercedes steps up to the high-rise wagon market using its highly competent engine and driveline pack shared with other models including the GLC. Standard equipment includes sat-nav, LED headlights, 360-degree camera, nine airbags, AEB, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, DAB radio and 20-inch wheels. Merc claims 5.7L/100km from its 143kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel and nine-speed dual-clutch automatic that drives the 4Matic AWD system. Boot space is 640-1820 litres. Has a common three-year, unlimited distance warranty and a 44 per cent resale after three years.

Audi A6 Allroad from $114,700 plus on-road costs
The brand that revived interest in the go-anywhere wagon in the past decade continues to become more refined and increasingly capable each year. The latest has a 160kW/500Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel with seven-speed dual clutch and AWD. Features include a 565-1680 litre boot, 189-inch alloys, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, DAB radio, leather, electric tailgate and sat-nav. It claims 5.6L/100km. It also has the same warranty as its rivals and a three-year resale value of 46 per cent, estimated by Glass’s Guide.

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