What is it?
The Volvo V90 is the estate version of the S90, our favourite new luxury sedan of 2016. The V90 Cross Country is the V90’s more rugged alter ego, and this is the one that's coming to India. Why the Cross Country? The reason is simple. Estates or station wagons have never been popular in India because of SUVs, which offer the same utility and added rough-road ability in a more desirable shape. So if an estate is to sell in India, it has to offer a little something special. Audi took the high-performance route with its RS6 Avant, and Volvo is going the ‘rugged’ way with its V90 Cross Country.
It's not just for show though. The chassis was thoroughly reengineered from the standard V90, with ground clearance raised by 60mm to an SUV-baiting 210mm. All-wheel drive is standard and comes with an off-road mode built in, and, with adaptive air suspension, the whole chassis setup is more akin to the XC90 than the S90.
It's a looker too, enhancing the S90’s cool restraint with rugged bits all over. First off, the shape isn't boxy like Volvo estates of old, or even like the XC90 for that matter. It has a sloping rear windscreen and the haunches curve out nicely beneath the signature Volvo LED tail-lamps. The ‘toughened up’ front and rear bumpers aren't overdone, and neither is the black cladding that runs around the car. The big, chunky alloy wheels on our test car certainly looked good, so let's hope these come to our market too.
Volvo has been renowned for its practical and safety-focussed estates for decades, so who better to push this wagon renaissance in India. But will this jacked up, rugged estate be enough to woo Indian buyers back to a body style they've long since abandoned?
What's it like on the inside?
It's based on the Volvo S90 sedan, so, in short, it's pretty incredible. In fact, the two cars are virtually identical from the dashboard till the rear seats. The delightfully clutter-free and restrained dash returns with the vertically-oriented touchscreen taking centre stage, flanked by slim and upright air con vents.
Our test car had black leather upholstery, but the more soothing lighter colours for both the leather and the unpolished wood trim should be available in India. Those very well-contoured, powered front seats return and though they're superb on their own, perhaps a few more adjustment options – like for squab length and bolster thickness – wouldn't have gone amiss, at least on the top spec car. The back seats are similarly comfortable, with ample legroom and great support. Thigh support could have been a bit better, but then the headroom – thanks to the lengthened roof – is much better than in the S90 sedan.
Then of course there's every station wagon’s raison d’etre – the luggage area. With the second row in place, you get 560 litres of luggage space, and with it folded, that number climbs to 1,526 litres, so you will never be left wanting for space. And because it's lower to the ground than an SUV, loading your luggage is a bit easier.
We've been assured the India-spec V90 Cross Country will be the cream of the crop, with all the bells and every last whistle, including radar-based cruise control, which, you will remember, Volvo was able to activate in India on the XC90 after some previously restricted frequencies were opened for use by the government. Additionally, it will get things like a heads-up display, heated and powered front seats with memory, the superb touchscreen with loads of apps and smartphone connectivity, a massive panoramic sunroof and that incredible Bowers & Wilkins audio system. One feature that’s still missing is paddle shifters, but as you'll see in the following section, we ultimately didn't miss them that much.
What’s it like to drive?
While the V90 Cross Country is available with a ‘T6’ petrol engine – a supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder with over 300hp – Volvo says it will only consider bringing it to India if a demand for it ever arises.
What we will get is the 2.0-litre diesel, but not the 190hp D4 from the S90, but rather a new 235hp D5 – 10hp up from the D5 in the XC90. We didn't really get to push it – less because of the speed limit, more because of the sheet ice spread comprehensively all over the Swedish roads – but first impressions were good. It may be heavier than an S90 but it's still lighter than an XC90, so the D5’s 480Nm of torque is more than ample. Power delivery is not ferocious, so enthusiast drivers shouldn't go into this expecting anything more, and as with the S90, the driving experience is far more relaxed; also the reason why you won't miss those shift paddles.
As with the power, the very Scandinavian winter, combined with mostly straight and smooth roads meant we didn't really get a good indication of the V90 Cross Country’s ride and handling. Over the few rough patches we did encounter though, it seems the raised ride height hasn't compromised comfort, but then again, it does also have air suspension. Speaking of which, there isn't a raise/lower function like in some other cars equipped with air suspension at all four corners. Instead, the car chooses a preset ride height and firmness setting based on the mode you're in – Eco, Rough Road, Comfort or Dynamic. Again, the steering isn't one for the enthusiast, as we discovered in greater detail when we were let loose to have some fun on a frozen lake bed. It's a bit too light and lacking in feedback to be thoroughly enjoyable, but it should be good enough to let you make a quick lane change on the expressway.
Should I buy one?
The V90 Cross Country will go on sale in the middle of this year, likely in May or June, at an expected price of Rs 60-65 lakh (ex-showroom). This puts it bang in between the S90 and the XC90, in a region where Volvo doesn't currently have any offerings. The simple answer at this point – to whether you should buy it – would have been ‘Yes’, if you're in the market for this sort of a niche product; Volvo isn't even aiming for big numbers with it. However, it's worth noting that Audi and Mercedes-Benz are also mulling launching their own rugged estates – the A6 AllRoad and the E-class All-Terrain, both direct rivals for the Volvo V90 Cross Country – possibly before the end of 2017. So in the next 10 months, we could go from having no crossover luxury estates to having three. Traditionally, Volvos aren't as popular as their German counterparts in the conventional sedan and SUV segments, but this could be the one time the Swedish brand has the advantage. The V90 Cross Country takes everything we love about the S90 (in our eyes currently the best car in its segment) and adds loads more practicality and near-SUV levels of go-anywhere ability. Plus, aside from safety, estates are a big part of brand Volvo, and if that resonates even slightly with the small number of buyers Volvo is targeting with this car, they will be drawn to it, and they will be very happy with what they get.