Entry-level petrol engine isn’t this ruggedised, four-wheel-drive estate’s greatest asset but it isn’t short on others

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The raised-up-and-ruggedised, full-sized family estate car is at risk of becoming another casualty of the tempestuous past few years for the motor industry. At one stage, not so many years ago, every manufacturer seemed to have one: right down to the enigmatically named Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and the Skoda Superb Outdoor (the indoor-use version was good, but a poor substitute for a coffee table).

Neither of those cars exists any longer. One of the originators of the niche - the Audi A6 Allroad - was quietly removed from UK showrooms in 2022, and the year before the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain went the same way. A few lower-rise, new-groove ‘crossover shooting brakes’ are beginning to come through to take up the vacated space, but the older-guard ‘allroad’ with the greatest staying power of all may yet prove, predictably enough, to be the pleasingly classically flavoured Volvo V90 Cross Country.

In light of the engines on offer, fuel economy might still be a good reason to pick diesel here. The B5P petrol returns a real-world 32mpg; the diesel’s cheaper, and it’s rated for MPG in the low-40s.

At a very simple level, this is a Volvo V90 estate with four-wheel drive, 60mm of extra ground clearance, electronic hill descent control and all-season tyres - all intended to enable it to deal with muddy fields, moderately rutted tracks, and the kind of light off-roading that an active lifestyle might put its way. Only when you get into Volvo’s brochure in detail do you realise that the Cross Country has become the only way into a V90 that doesn’t have ‘dynamic’ sports suspension; the only way into any V90 with a diesel engine; and also the only way into a four-wheel-drive mild-hybrid petrol.

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So what we might once have considered a slightly fringy and left-field model derivative suddenly looks a lot more like the traditional heart and soul of the modern V90 range. Volvo offers two mild-hybrid 2.0-litre petrol engines in the car, with around 250 and 300 horsepower respectively, and one mild-hybrid diesel with around 200 horsepower – all with proper, mechanical all-wheel drive. There is no Cross Country Recharge plug-in hybrid, electric charging posts being quite hard to find on idyllic beaches, on ski slopes and in farmers’ fields, after all.

For equipment level, you choose between Cross Country Plus or Ultimate trims, the former having a mix of coil and transverse leaf springs and passive dampers, and the latter bringing self-levelling air suspension at the rear, as well as adaptive dampers, full-LED headlights, a head-up display, and a Bowers & Wilkins premium stereo, among other things. We tested a lower-powered B5P petrol in Cross Country Plus trim, with only metallic paint and a spare wheel as cost options.

Some new cars are positioned in a way that takes a surprising amount of thought for a reviewer to fully compute, but this isn’t one of them. Volvo uses the umbrella term ‘relaxed confidence’ to describe the character it aims at for the car, and it’s clearly not a complicated concept. 

This is a big, smart, versatile, robust, comfort-first, executive family holdall. It’s not tall or bulky like an SUV, so it handles in relatively tidy fashion and doesn’t tower over other cars. You can blend in with the traffic very nicely in a V90 Cross Country. But the long-travel, soft-set suspension combines with a sensible 19in wheel, and a tyre with decent sidewall, to create a gentle, absorbent, comfortable ride on the road - as well as enough ground clearance to give the car that extra versatility you may require off it.

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The V90’s interior offers lots of space in both passenger rows, even by the standards of big estate cars. Two larger adults can travel very comfortably in the back, or three smaller ones when required. Boot space is similarly generous. Although the car doesn’t lead its rivals for outright boot space on paper, its load bay is long and wide when you look at it, and comes with Volvo’s useful flip-up bag holder as standard (although it is a shame that 40:20:40 folding seats aren’t included; you get a 60:40 split instead, biased for a left-hand-drive cabin layout, a little annoyingly).

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The driving environment is one of appealing materials, simple controls and good, solid-feeling fit and finish. This V90 doesn’t bother with shift paddles or a drive mode toggle button. (There is an off-road drive mode, which you’ll find the toggle switch for through the central infotainment screen.) The leather driver’s seat is widely adjustable and as relaxing to sit in as you’d hope, the instruments are clear, and the drive computer is fairly intuitive to operate.

It’s the infotainment software that’s new in this car. Volvo’s latest Google-based touchscreen infotainment system has been added this year, having moved into Volvo’s smaller 60-series cars last year - to decidedly mixed reviews. However, the company’s software developers have clearly been working hard to knock the bugs out of the new system and here it seems more slick and responsive, and more intuitive. Our test car’s digital instrument console was clearly rendered and bug-free too. 

If you’re used to the usability of the old Sensus Connect system, the activation or deactivation of some systems (toggling the standard cruise control and ‘piloted driving’ functions, for example) will seem a little clunky at first. But if you’re an Android smartphone user, the integration of all of your phone apps with the car’s central screen, and the ability to transfer Google maps navigation data so easily from your phone to the car and back again, will be well worth the trade. Google Assistant voice control also works well in the car, once your phone’s data connection with it is all set up and your personal Google accounts synced.

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On the move, the V90 Cross Country’s cheapest mild-hybrid petrol powertrain provides more than enough performance and good drivability. Refinement is just a little bit vocal at low speeds, when the combustion engine has the merest tappetty chug about it, and it isn’t so quiet when revving hard above 5000rpm, either. But at most cruising speeds, it settles to a muted background hum and it always has enough accessible torque to motivate a car that you’d be unlikely to drive hard whatever the circumstances may be.

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The car’s ride isn’t always perfectly isolated and calm, but it feels nicely lazy and laid-back. Sharper edges and transverse ridges can excite the 19in wheels a little. But the way this car ambles mildly down most roads, keeping its occupants very comfy as long as you respect the speeds at which it clearly prefers to travel, makes it a wonderful and welcome change from the modern executive car norm.

You could seek out a more dynamically engaging BMW 5 Series Touring for the money Volvo is asking even for this lower-end V90, of course, and plenty of other rivals offer four-wheel drive for less outlay, if that’s all you feel you need. But it’s the super-mature and laid-back, classic Volvo character of the V90 Cross Country, wrapped in those smart looks, that ought to make it appeal to drivers who like to take their time about their daily lives, and always to arrive well prepared.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volvo V90 Cross Country First drives