Tuesday 25 April 2017

Entering an estate of grace

Volvo's new Cross Country estate might be just the thing to lure buyers away from SUVs, says Geraldine Herbert

Sophisticated: Geraldine Herbert with the new Volvo V90 Cross Country
Sophisticated: Geraldine Herbert with the new Volvo V90 Cross Country
Geraldine Herbert

Geraldine Herbert

Since the introduction of the first Cross Country almost 20 years ago, Volvo has not only become synonymous with practical and safe estate cars but also with rugged all-road, all-weather versions. The latest model in the range is the V90 Cross Country.

As Volvo prides itself on their cars' ability to handle the most extreme conditions, we travelled to the Arctic reaches of northern Sweden to put the newest addition through its paces driving on sheet ice, deep snow-covered tracks and racing around on an ice-covered frozen lake.

At the heart of their go- anywhere philosophy is years of research and development into all-wheel drive systems. The first AWD Volvo car to go into serial production was the Volvo 850 Estate, launched in May 1996. Following in those tyre tracks, the V90 Cross Country is a more rugged, off-road variant of Volvo's new estate which has been designed to compete with the likes of Audi's A6 Allroad Quattro and the Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain.

The V90 CC gains a retuned suspension, higher ground clearance, more robust styling, plus the ride height is up by 65mm. Inside, it is beautifully built and is intuitive and minimalist. Exclusive to the CC is leather-faced upholstery with unique stitching and black walnut trim. Engine choices are two two-litre four-cylinder turbo diesels; the D4 with 190bhp, and the D5 with 235bhp. The sun was barely up when we reached the specially prepared ice-driving course, located just on the outskirts of the ski town of Are. Several V90 Cross Country models were waiting, all fitted with studded tyres for maximum grip on the ice.

We took the wheel and first left on the traction control, which resulted in an impressively composed car, given the conditions. If this was to demonstrate how the car would perform in the most extreme conditions, then it was very reassuring, even negotiating the slalom courses, but as an exercise in pure indulgence, we turned the stability control off. Without much effort, the V90 Cross Country was soon drifting in circles around the frozen lake. We also sampled the car's seatbelt pre-tensioners, which provide a pretty intense constriction reminder from time to time.

It's easy to understand why some of the world's best rally drivers come from the Scandinavian countries and driving on the ice inspires so much confidence, that after a morning of drifting, I felt certain I could sign up for the next Swedish Rally.

The V90 Cross Country is a pretty impressive performer on road too. Although our studded tyres did little to emulate a driving experience in Ireland, the V90 coped with everything, from deep snow to brisk overtakes, on icy roads. Overall, it is a very likeable car with good weighted steering and a beautifully smooth, luxurious ride, even on rough Swedish back roads. In keeping with the brand's safety heritage, all V90 models feature an impressive range of safety aids.

The V90 Cross Country starts from €54,650, which is €8,000 more than the regular V90 Estate. The XC90 would certainly be one of its key competitors but, while the SUV offers more space and a third-row seat, the extra €10,000 on the price tag means Volvo has positioned it sufficiently well above the rugged estate not to lure too many buyers away.

No company has a reputation for estates quite like Volvo, and the new Cross Country delivers safety, comfort and performance in an understated package. Despite the popularity of SUVs, big estates are showing signs of resurgence; it would seem there is still a role for an elegant, yet practical alternative.

Sunday Independent

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