Volvo V90 Cross Country review: ‘You have to be in something far more costly and exotic to find a rival experience’

The Volvo V90 Cross Country is a refreshingly different 4x4 estate–more comfortable and longer legged than its teutonic rivals, it’s just as foxy to look at, even if you can’t lower the suspension.

I wrote recently about what might make the best motor for those who love to shoot and fish and have muddy dogs and a bootful of kit to transport across soggy fields on their way to fun with feather and fin. Knowing the venerable Discovery and Range Rover are stubbornly obvious choices for that accolade, I put my money on two lower-slung all-rounders with ‘all’ in their names: Audi’s Allroad and Mercedes All-Terrain, mostly because of their chameleon ability to morph from road-hugging to mud-plugging via telescopic suspension.

However, not everyone knows that the Swedish firm Volvo beat both German marques to the creation of the explicitly rugged estate, with its very first V70 Cross Country in 1997 — even if Subaru’s 1994 Outback is the grandfather of the pack.

Now that the Swedes have turned their Cross Country attentions to the V90 estate, we have a new and lateral choice for those looking for the ultimate all-rounder. I recently took one on a family holiday to Cumbria, loaded to the gunwales with people, dog and kit, to see how it stacked up against these arriviste Germans.

The raw ingredient of Volvo’s Cross Country is the very capable and deliciously cool V90 estate, a refreshingly different take on the riff of large load-lugger: more comfortable, softer shod and longer legged than its teutonic rivals, but just as foxy to look at and uniquely Volvo inside.

The company has really moved the game on in terms of interior design and quality. You have to be in something far more costly and exotic to find a rival experience, but, no matter what you pay, Volvo’s seats are the best.

The V90 is commodious for all occupants, with plenty of head and leg room, even if, in the back, it trades the boxy space of yesteryear with rakish, modern looks aimed at eclipsing the handsome Germans. However, the V90 is so good-looking, it’s a fair swap in my book. Its 560 litres is large enough, although a fair deal smaller than the Merc’s cavernous 640.

It being a Volvo, the V90 comes fully equipped with a smorgasbord of safety kit, much of it de rigeur at this level nowadays. Yet there’s a City Safety automatic-braking system, too, and Pilot Assist, which combines cruise control and lane assist to allow the car to pretty much drive itself on a motorway. I prefer to turn all this off and pay attention to what I’m doing, but that’s only me being antediluvian. I’m not convinced robots make better drivers than people, but the genie’s out of the bottle and Volvo’s genie is better than most.

The V90 Cross Country comes with several different engine designations: the entry-level 190bhp D4 giving you a Cross Country estate that costs £20,000 less than Mercedes’ lavish All-Terrain. The 235bhp D5 might be the better choice, admittedly, as a fully laden car of this size needs power and the D4 does not have enough of it. If you can live with the fuel consumption, the T5 or T6 petrol engines — with 250bhp or 320bhp respectively — might be worth a look.

So far, so good. The Cross Country designation adds a useful 65mm to the ride height, beefs up the suspension with air-damping and adds — of course — four-wheel drive to the mix. With a trio of drive modes — Comfort, Sport and Off-Road — the V90 Cross Country is a capable estate car that will get you places the standard V90 would struggle to reach, enrobed in a very stylish package that is usefully less expensive than the German rivals. There’s little not to like.

The (small) fly in Volvo’s ointment, however, is that the Cross Country does not have a rival ability to rise and fall on its suspension. Volvo’s permanently raised ride-height does ace the Germans with a generous 8.3in, one inch taller than the Audi’s highest setting and two inches taller than the Merc’s.

The trade off is that the Volvo cannot hunker down for the 95% of motoring time one spends on smooth roads. This makes it less the all-rounder, I feel, even if the V90 Cross Country is still a very lovely car.

On the road: Volvo V90 Cross Country D5

  • Priced from: £51,110
  • Combined fuel consumption: 49.6mpg
  • Power: 235bhp
  • 0–60mph: 7.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 140mph
  • More detailswww.volvocars.com