THOSE of you with sharp memories may recall that, before he was appointed Labor’s Minister for Voter Dissatisfaction and Cock-Ups, lanky chrome-dome Peter Garrett was the frontman for a little Aussie pub band called Midnight Oil.
Despite them having delivered precisely zero new music in 16 years, it turns out I was not alone in being quite keen to see Midnight Oil on their Great Circle reformation tour.
A few hundred thousand Aussies felt the same way, leaving both Sydney shows – and one in the Hunter Valley – sold out.
Only one course of action, then: load the Volvo V90 Cross Country for a final roadtrip, and point north to the Oils’ Coffs Harbour gig about six hours away on the NSW mid-north coast.
This, I figured, was the sort of role the big V90 wagon was created for: loping expressway and country driving, loaded up with everything we’d need for a long weekend away.
Well, everything we’d need, plus all the extra crap I insist on taking any time we leave Sydney. After all, I learned the art of over-packing from the master, Ged Bulmer, and given the Volvo’s 1526 litres of load space with seats folded, it seemed foolish to risk leaving anything (remotely) useful at home. So with the boot brimmed with overnight bags, beach furniture, fishing gear, esky, picnic kit, portable barbecue and the trusty piano accordion (hey, you never know…) my partner and I rolled gently out into the pre-dawn darkness.
And still woke the neighbours. No question Volvo’s NVH team can do better on the low-rev acoustics of this engine, but once in its stride, it’s muscular and refined.
A 115km/h expressway cruise speed also plays to its efficiency strengths – you can watch the consumption falling from the around-town circa-10L/100km, steadily dropping to mid-sixes as the engine purrs away in eighth gear.
I know the target market may not care, but I still would have liked shift paddles for greater control of the auto, as chasing lower ratios via kickdown feels a little primitive in this age.
There’s also the sense that given the price and segment, there simply shouldn’t be fairly fundamental things like paddles missing.
On the M1 expressway towards Newcastle, I often found myself wedged in the ‘traffic scrum’, due to every other driver’s (justifiable) speeding paranoia, so when the chance came to accelerate into clear air, there was that slight lag that comes with having to kick down, rather than pre-loading a lower ratio. Yes, I could have just pushed the lever over into the manual mode, but the shift pattern is arse-about, and that irks me, and weekends away should be irk-free zones.
Those 20-inch Pirellis do challenge that theory, however. Freeway driving highlights just how surface-sensitive they are. On glassy hotmix, the sound from them slips away to a background hiss, like analogue tape, but the moment you hit coarse-chip, they roar like a Marshall amp with an open circuit.
We attempted to drown them out with some very loud ’90s Oz rock, which seemed in the spirit of the trip and worked pretty well. It’s in this mode – cruising on a mostly good surface, music cranking – that you can appreciate the accommodation virtues of the V90.
You sit in supreme comfort with seats that fully support your under-thigh zone, and waft cool air into your back via the three-speed ventilation system. The climate control works brilliantly, while the active cruise, if you are inclined, is well calibrated and responsive.
Driven like this, it’s effortless to reel off big distances. The tank’s cruising range of over 800km feels entirely useable, provided, of course, you have a bladder made of aircraft aluminium.
As we rolled into Coffs Harbour, I parked and reflected on the last four months with the V90. Firstly, I hope the Aussie SUV obsession never stops Volvo and
the premium Euros from offering wagons in their line-ups.
Secondly, this car is very spec sensitive. If you’re considering one, I’d say avoid the 20-inch wheel option and put that $2850 towards the $6000 Premium pack that includes rear air suspension. The potential is there for an excellent, versatile touring wagon, especially if you can make off-road use of the Cross Country spec. (Er, anyone?)
And yes, the Oils really did make the trip worthwhile. As a still, star-filled night fell over Coffs, the original five members emerged on stage as fit, fired-up fellas in their mid-60s, and proceeded to rip it up in a blistering sonic assault worthy of men half their age.
Please don’t ever go back to politics, Peter. Stick with the night job.
Should fairness be optional?
Am I alone in finding the option-bundling strategy of the premium Europeans confounding, and in many instances, utterly non-consumer focused? What happened to giving customers what they want, for a fair price? Take Volvo’s $6K bundling of rear air suspension with the premium B&W audio system. Why, exactly? What do they have to do with each other? Can you imagine a restaurant only allowing you to order a bottle of wine if you pay for a dessert at the same time? Not a Swede strategy, Volvo.
Throttle that rider
The vast power-operated panorama roof (part of the optional Lifestyle Pack that also includes dark tinted rear glass) was welcomed by anyone sitting in the rear seats, as it does make the cabin feel extra spacious and light-filled. No qualms about its operation, nor the effectiveness of the blind. Just one caveat: I’m fairly sure it’s the source of ambient noise entering the cabin. A truck, or an unmuffled Harley blatting alongside makes you feel like you’re at a screening of Easy Rider.
Read part three of our 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country long-term review here!