IF YOU were asked to name the ultimate hero-to-villain downfall of the modern age, I wonder if your first reaction would be, “Grant Hackett in an economy-class seat”?
But I’d suggest the slippery slope that diesel fuel has found itself on in recent years is of greater global significance, unless of course you were the owner of that cruelly tweaked nipple on a Virgin Australia flight over Melbourne back in April last year.
Diesel fuel was, for decades, touted as Europe’s supposed energy saviour, subsidised because of its energy-dense ability to reduce consumption and therefore CO2. Since then we’ve had dieselgate, alarming warnings as to how NOx emissions can be worse for your health than binge-watching a season of Real Housewives of Melbourne, and recently, Volvo’s announcement that its current diesel tech will see it out, as the company transitions to a purely hybrid/EV range by 2019.
So where does all that leave me and the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel in my Volvo V90 Cross Country? Well, probably fairly ambivalent if this engine was an oil-burning benchmark of efficiency and refinement. Alas, it’s not, if only by a small and specific margin.
First, the positives: the D5 donk features the very clever ‘PowerPulse’ system, which sees an electrically driven compressor feed a pressurised air canister that fires a burst of compressed air at the turbine to spin it up just off idle and reduce lag.
Brilliant idea, but its effects on low-rev performance are subtle. This is a not a laggy engine, but the off-idle response is still quite soft, and teamed with the V90 CC’s hefty weight – about 2.1 tonnes with my gut and fuel on board – means you need to clog it firmly to get moving smartly, then ease off as the surge takes hold. In that bottom-end zone below 2000rpm – most apparent in slow-crawling traffic – the sound is not obtrusive, but still gravelly and identifiably diesel.
Above 2000rpm there’s a chameleon-like transition; the clatter disappears and a more anodyne growl takes over. From here to the point of peak power at 4000rpm, it’s terrifically strong and refined; you’d be hard-pressed to identify what type of fuel the Volvo is burning.
I’d be curious to see how the engine behaved if the optional drive-mode selector was fitted; would it be more responsive in Sport mode? Then again, just fitting a pair of paddles would give more immediate ratio control and potentially alleviate the soft bottom-end issue.
On the subject of the Aisin-sourced eight-speed auto, it’s largely very good without troubling the benchmark from ZF in terms of smoothness and response. What is good is its willingness to upshift on a light throttle and make use of the torque. The ratio spread is also well considered; a nicely stacked set that leaves eighth sufficiently overdriven to drop revs to just 1700rpm at a 110km/h cruise.
As for consumption, the 5.7L/100km official combined figure is the usual nonsense; it’s low sevens on the freeway, high nines around town. The engine is Euro 6-compliant, but let’s not talk about the NOx thing...
No knob jokes here
Knob lovers, roll over; resistance is futile. Multimedia screens handling every minor function are here, and there’s no turning back. Fortunately, I rate Volvo’s effort as one of the better of the breed.
Firstly, it’s super responsive to the touch. The three main pages are logically presented, they swipe swiftly, and require minimal eye diversion from the road. Crucially, there’s a hard ‘home’ key, and — rejoice — a knob for volume.
Read part one of our Volvo V90 Cross-country long-term review here!