David MottonSee other tow car reviews written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
The Volvo V90 Cross Country is more affordable than the Audi A6 or Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain. How will this estate fare against them, though?
The Volvo V90 Cross Country is a more rugged V90 estate car, with a raised ride height to make it more able off road. It competes with the Audi A6 Allroad and Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain. All three are practical four-wheel-drive estate cars – an alternative to an SUV for drivers who don’t plan to venture too far off Tarmac. But the V90 Cross Country is more affordable than either the Audi or the Mercedes-Benz. We’re testing the entry-level model, the D4 AWD Cross Country Auto, priced at £42,520.
One advantage of this type of car is their lower centre of gravity, which can make them more stable at high speeds than some SUVs. But does that general rule apply here?
The Volvo V90 Cross Country is the first car to go through our revised tow test method. We’re spending more time on the road than the test track, covering a higher mileage than before. Without acceleration and braking figures to report, there’s more space to discuss things like the ease of hitching up and how well a car copes with reversing onto a pitch.
Volvo quotes a kerbweight and a running order weight for its cars. We’ve checked with them and it’s the running order that includes fluids and 75kg for the driver, so that’s the weight we’ve used for matching. In this case it’s 1860kg, which gives an 85% match figure of 1581kg. That’s enough for a good match for a variety of vans, but it’s worth noting the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain is a lot heavier, with a kerbweight of 2010kg, so will make a sound match for weightier tourers.
We matched the V90 Cross Country to a Swift Expression 635 with a MiRO of 1485kg. Our vehicle has the D4 engine rather than the more powerful D5, but with 295lb ft of torque, we found it performed well, even with a twin-axle tourer. Some of the roads on our test route include gradients as steep as 1-in-6, so we were impressed by the ease with which the car performed on these hills. The eight-speed auto helps, changing gear smoothly and promptly. However, we did find the ’box sometimes dithered at junctions – it was more decisive with ‘Dynamic’ mode selected.
Switching modes adjusted the throttle response and the weight of the steering, too. For most situations, we stayed in ‘Comfort’, but ‘Dynamic’ was worth switching to on hilly roads or at a busy junction.
Once up to speed, the Volvo towed well. However, the suspension is softer and has more travel than the standard car’s, and doesn’t feel as tightly controlled. In crosswinds, we could feel the caravan gently tugging at the back of the car, but this never got out of hand.
We felt confident driving at motorway speeds, but a Jaguar XF Sportbrake or BMW 5 Series Touring would keep the caravan on a shorter leash when winds start to pick up.
Hill starts were easy, despite the considerable weight of the Expression. On a 1-in-10 slope, the electronic parking brake held firm and released smoothly, and the car pulled away with no sign of strain. This was on dry roads during the heatwave, but the Volvo’s four-wheel drive would clearly have helped in the wet.
Hitching up was easy. The retractable towball has the electrics on the side, clear of the bumper. Reversing onto a pitch was simple, too, with smooth low-speed responses from the throttle and gearbox. All told, the V90 Cross Country is a very capable tow car, but it can’t match the unshakeable high-speed towing ability of the best premium estate cars.
How much you enjoy driving the V90 Cross Country is very much a question of priorities. Press-on drivers might find the Volvo’s steering aloof and the suspension too soft. But this is a very appealing car in which to cover distances in an unhurried, relaxed manner.
The ride can be a little fidgety around town, but otherwise, the Cross Country covers most surfaces comfortably. There is a trade-off – it isn’t as well tied down as a BMW 5 Series over dips and crests, and leans quite heavily when cornering. But if you prefer a more leisurely pace, the Volvo should suit you well.
The steering is short of feel, but it’s light enough for easy parking. Swiching the driving mode selection system to ‘Dynamic’ adds resistance at the wheel.
At speed, there’s rumble from the big tyres, but otherwise little noise in the cabin. The four-cylinder D4 can sound a little gruff compared with the best six-cylinder diesels, but Volvo has done a good job of preventing too much engine noise reaching the interior.
Around town you are very much aware of the car’s size (it’s nearly 5m long) and it’s not always easy to judge where the bonnet ends. Standard front and rear parking sensors are certainly very welcome.
Volvo has a reputation for extremely well thought-out estate cars, and the V90 Cross Country is no exception.
The load space is long and wide, although not especially tall beneath the luggage cover. The capacity of 560 litres compares with 565 litres for an Audi A6 Allroad and 570 for a BMW 5 Series Touring.
So it is competitive with most of its rivals, but all are dwarfed by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate’s 640 litres.
While it might not have the biggest load space, the Volvo has been designed with ease of use in mind. The entrance is wide and there’s no lip to load items over. The floor is low to the ground, which makes lifting heavy bags inside much easier than in a high-riding SUV. The rear seats fold flat at the touch of a button if more space is needed, giving 1526 litres.
While the boot is big but not class-leading, the rear of the cabin is huge. There’s more rear legroom than in a 5 Series or an E-Class, and plenty of headroom, too. Air vents in the door pillars should keep those in the back warm or cool as required. The only minus is the sizeable transmission tunnel, which forces a third rear-seat passenger to splay their feet.
In the front of the car, there’s lots of room to stretch out, and the quality of build is excellent. The dashboard is dominated by the huge touchscreen for the Sensus infotainment system.
It looks great, but we found it required a very precise touch to select the right option in the various menus while driving.
Is the Volvo V90 Cross Country good value? Well, the range starts with the specification we’re testing, priced at £42,520. The same engine and gearbox combination in the regular V90 costs from £37,760, although the Cross Country does have four-wheel drive and extra equipment, including larger alloys, hill descent control and an off-road mode that optimises the car for poor surfaces.
Perhaps it’s fairer to compare the Cross Country with the Audi A6 Allroad and the Mercedes E-Class All Terrain, both of which cost more.
For a car of this size and performance, the official combined economy figure of 54.3mpg is respectable. We achieved 24.2mpg towing around an economy route featuring country roads, A-roads and motorways.
The Volvo comes with a range of high-tech driver aids, and has achieved a five-star rating from Euro NCAP. If you decide to sell it on after three years and 36,000 miles, What Car? predicts it will be worth 50% of the original price.
|Engine size||1969 cc|
|85% KW||1581 kg|
|Towball limit||130 kg|
|Maximum towing limit||2400 kg|
|Torque||295.0 lb ft|
|Official MPG||54.3 mpg|
|Towing MPG||24.2 mpg|
The V90 Cross Country is very easy to like. It’s the kind of car in which you finish a journey feeling more relaxed than you did when you started.
The ride is smooth over most surfaces, and the cabin is hushed at motorway speeds. You can simply glide along in your own luxurious, beautifully finished bubble.
However, if you are looking for the kind of engaging drive the BMW 5 Series offers, the V90 Cross Country isn’t for you. The steering is direct, but very light, and there’s lots of lean when cornering at pace. The Volvo is better suited to a more relaxed driving style.
We’re impressed with how well the D4 engine copes when towing a heavy caravan like the Swift Expression 635, building speed quickly and maintaining momentum on hilly roads. We wouldn’t rush to spend the extra on the more powerful D5 unless you have a very heavy tourer to tow.
At speed, the Volvo feels secure. It moves around in gusty crosswinds a bit more than the best estate cars, but we were never nervous.
The Volvo is a fine estate as well as a capable tow car. It’s not the biggest in terms of luggage space, but has been thoughtfully designed to make the most of the available room. Passenger have lots of space front and rear. Only a third person in the back of the car might have cause to grumble.
The Cross Country might look pricey compared with the standard V90, but it’s keenly priced and affordable to run compared with competitors.
- Easy to like, and a relaxing drive
- Ride is smooth over most surfaces, and the cabin is hushed at motorway speeds
- D4 engine copes well when towing a heavy caravan
- Passengers have lots of space front and rear
- Keenly priced and affordable to run compared with competitors
- Steering is direct, but very light
- Lots of lean when cornering at pace
- Moves around in gusty crosswinds a bit more than the best estate cars