Back in around 2002, I used to cycle past a Volvo dealership not far from where I lived on Sydney’s lower north shore.
I swear if the wind was blowing right, you could hear the morose howls from the dealer principal as he surveyed his ghost-town forecourt, and you could just about watch the cobwebs growing around the mirrors of the undesired C70s and S80s.
Amazing how a change of ownership can reinvigorate a brand. Chinese giant Geely bought Volvo from Ford in late 2009, and immediately set about giving the Swedes access to Chinese finance, paid for a new Chinese manufacturing base and generally gave them the resources they needed to revitalise the line-up and produce relevant, competitive cars.
Global sales last year were 534,127, almost exactly 200,000 units more than Volvo shifted in 2009. And while the all-new Volvo XC60, due here soon, is primed to be the brand’s volume model, the wagon lover in me was keen to try the V90, the car Ben Oliver drove to Sweden’s most remote restaurant.
“No can do,” said Volvo Australia. It turns out a decision as to whether the regular V90 will join the local range is yet to be made.
Instead, I was offered this; the high-riding Cross Country version of the V90, jacked up by 60mm, armed with underbody and sill protection, and sold here only with the
2.0-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel making 173kW and 480Nm, rather than the 2.0-litre petrol that’s turbo- and supercharged (for 235kW/400Nm) that
can be fitted to the S90/V90, as well as the XC90 and forthcoming XC60.
So, I’m now the proud custodian of a large all-wheel-drive wagon, built to handle light-duty off-road driving, and priced at $99,900. It’s worth noting that figure is about 10 percent sharper than its rivals like Audi’s A6 Allroad ($112,855) and the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain at $109,900.
The options list for my car has been given a nudge, but not to an abnormal degree for this class. Mine is fitted with the $3000 Technology Pack, which adds head-up display, 360-degree camera, digital radio tuner, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
Then there’s the Lifestyle Pack at $2000, which includes perforated charcoal-coloured Nappa leather, heated front seats, a vast sunroof, and tinted rear glass. Added to this is front-seat ventilation for $1200, power cushion extensions for the front seats at $650, and 20-inch Tech Grey machine-finished wheels with Pirelli P Zero rubber for $2850. Finally, there’s the black metallic paint at $1900.
That brings the total to $111,500 plus on-roads, but does leave a significant option bundle called the Premium Pack unchecked. There is no drive-mode selector, for example. You get in, you drive; one mode fits all. But I suspect I’ll miss drive modes less than a couple of other bits of equipment. The standard sound system is reasonable but not a patch on the 1400-watt Bowers & Wilkins system also included in the Premium Pack.
Perhaps the most noteworthy exclusion, though, is the rear air suspension which is also part of this elusive bundle. Without it, the V90 runs a transverse, composite leaf-spring rear suspension system. First impressions, with the car on those plus-one 20-inch wheels, is the ride does not deliver the suppleness, refinement or comfort one could reasonably expect in this class.
The wheels and Pirellis do look great, but they sit as a slight spec anomaly on a Cross Country model, seeming about as well-suited to mud ’n’ guts adventures as Graham Norton in a pair of Tom Ford brogues.
There’s no questioning the strength of the engine for a four-pot, however, while the cool, minimalist Scando interior design has won me over, and has me reaching for my black turtle-neck sweater and wire-rim glasses. And did I mention the size? I can hear my own voice echo, it’s so cavernous inside. Actually, maybe I should just stop singing along to Roxette.
The head-up display is great in that it shows speed zones; the only problem is its software is sometimes wrong. Anything that is a 40km/h zone during school hours is always a 40km/h school zone; the Volvo is convinced there are kids wandering the road at 10pm on a Sunday night. Meanwhile, on the Bradfield Expressway after crossing the Harbour Bridge, the car advises the 80km/h zone is actually 30km/h; guidance that would see you rear-ended if you took it.
I’m wondering if Volvo sources its AEB sensor equipment from the same supplier as Mercedes-Benz, because my car exhibits the same false-alarm and braking intervention as that which has affected Ryan’s E-Class. Sometimes you know why the system has triggered; it may be a pedestrian island up the
road that the car thinks you’re on course to hit. But there have been other times where I’m at a loss to explain what the car has sensed to spook it. How do I convince the Volvo to relax?