Volvo V90 Cross Country
Overlanding to Moz in a (4x4) estate
FOR me, to truly say I’ve had an adventure, there needs to have been some sort of obstacle, one that many would say is insurmountable, but one that I overcome and return wiser and more equipped to deal with life.
The brief that I received was simple: take a Volvo V90 Cross Country across some country, into Mozambique, until you reach a place called Machangulo. Sounded pretty straightforward, so I accepted my mission, not knowing quite how much of an adventure I’d be embarking on.
The route map made from some interesting reading: some 744km needed to be covered, and the expected travel time was around 11 hours. I did the math, which is a dangerous activity for me, and realised that once we crossed the border, we’d have a solid four hours of driving ahead, and yet that part of the route was only 120km.
With this in mind, I started to realise why some had asked me how I proposed getting a Volvo to our final destination.
“Well, this is the Cross Country version of the V90, which means it has 210mm of ground clearance and an offroad mode with a four-wheeldrive system, so it should breeze through the route,” I said in my most matter-of-fact tone.
I then phoned Paul, the owner and manager of Touching Africa House, the resort we’d be staying at. We had a great chat about the journey and he asked about the car, to which I responded that Volvo has come a long way in a very short space of time and that its products were capable off-road.
His response was simply: “The road coming in here isn’t the easiest to negotiate.” This had me slightly concerned. You see, the Volvo has relatively lowprofile road tyres and 20-inch alloy wheels: not exactly ideal for thick sand. But hey, I like a challenge. And this trip seemed exactly that.
My alarm went off at 3am on the Wednesday morning. I woke my girlfriend up and we made sure the car was packed with all of the things we needed: passports, water, snacks, clothing, my mountain bike and a playlist skilfully compiled by yours truly to keep us entertained.
We left Johannesburg just after 4am; I had preloaded the route we were to follow on Google Maps and downloaded it so that once we’d crossed the border, where the reception is about as reliable as my oil leak of a motorcycle, we’d at least have some sort of route to follow.
I headed out into the curtain of blackness that is the highway to Secunda. The first casualty of the morning was my girlfriend, who promptly fell asleep a few minutes into our journey, a victim of heated leather seats that recline, I presume.
I soldiered on, through the darkness and thought that it was an ideal time to use some of the cool technology on board the Swede.
We’re moving into a future where autonomous driving is a real possibility and Volvo is among the best in the business when it comes to semiautonomous driving technology. I activated the Pilot Assist system, which is basically adaptive cruise control on steroids.
The system works at speeds of up to 130km/h and will keep you in your lane, brake, accelerate and warn you of impending danger. It really makes long journeys quite a bit easier with the drive to our first stop in the sleepy town of Piet Retief going past rather quickly.
I filled up the V90 at the
Engen garage and refuelled myself with some breakfast. I’m not sure that any road trip in South Africa is complete without a caffeine-laden stop at a Wimpy. With the car and its driver rejuvenated, we set out to complete what can be a rather frustrating drive through to Jozini and eventually, Kosi Bay.
Many of the frustrations stem from the sheer number of animals and trucks that populate this stretch of tarmac.
We used some of the V90’s grunt to pass slow moving trucks and were on the anchors quite often when a rogue goat or cow decided that the grass looked greener (or more brown in this case) on the other side of the road. When I heard that we’d have the T6 model to complete this task with, I was sceptical, because for me, a diesel Volvo simply makes more sense from a economical and low-down grunt point of view.
Nevertheless, its 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder motor provided plenty of overtaking clout, with 235kW/400Nm which is transmitted through a slick eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Many miles and indeed, many rather tasty songs later, we arrived at the Total garage in Kosi Bay, which is the last time you can get trustworthy fuel for a car that’s on a strict 95 octane diet.
With the tank brimmed, we set off to complete the last eight-or-so kilometre stretch to the border. I’ve never seen the Kosi Bay Border Post quite as quiet as it was when we arrived. I parked the car and we had our passports stamped and the car was cleared for us to head through the border.
The entire exercise, including the purchasing of travel insurance and the obligatory “ZA sticker” took no more than 15 minutes.
From here on out it was all on us. We had a phone with the basic route loaded as a guide and our own intuition to get us to our lodgings. For those who haven’t travelled through southern Mozambique, here’s a general rule of thumb: if you’re headed in a certain direction and have taken a road that’s not really part of the route map, it will generally lead you back to the
road you’re intended to be on.
So there we were, following a thin blue line. Not the TV show, but an actual line on my phone, indicating the supposed track to follow. The terrain was manageable for the first 20km or so with soft, sunbaked sand being easily dealt with by the Volvo.
Then, out of a nowhere, we discovered a road. At first I thought it was a mirage, but my girlfriend saw it, too. The road was immaculate, a 25km stretch of beautiful black asphalt draped over the wild shrubs and soft sand once used to access Maputo and the game reserve.
We tackled that stretch without any issues and soon arrived at the gate of the Machangulo Private Nature Reserve. Upon entry, the lady who signed us in said something that echoed my own thoughts: “You’re taking a Volvo through this?”
It took all of 3km of driving in the park to realise why our host Paul and the lady at the gate were sceptical of our choice of vehicle.
The path through the reserve is rough, and I’m not talking Ponta do Ouro-road rough: I’m talking the-single-most-difficult-pathI’ve-ever-had-to-drive rough. My awful calculation from the day before started making sense all of sudden. These 65km would be the ultimate test for not only the V90, but also for the journalist behind the wheel.
I had reactivated the ‘OffRoad’ mode in the car upon
entering the park and knew that any loss of momentum would spell disaster for our trip because there was no cellphone reception and no help on the way. I simply kept up a healthy speed, which is not always easy in the sand where there are cross-ruts and evidence of what seemed to be a heavy-duty construction vehicle which had churned up many parts of the trail.
I could hear the Volvo’s allwheel-drive system hard at work many times, but I’m happy to report that after many hours (and an encounter with a furious bull elephant), we made it to unit 46 at Touching Africa House.
We were welcomed by Paul and his family, with an ice-cold 2M beer and a glass of red wine, along with some prawn and chorizo paella which we enjoyed in the rather opulent dining area. Paul and his family live on the property and like to socialise with guests, as do their four adorable dogs. One dog is named Tigger, a stray from the beaches of do Ouro which the family adopted, and he took a shine to us and became our K9 companion for the duration of our stay.
Having spent the best part of 12 hours on the road, we turned in early to allow ourselves a chance to experience the area the next day. We awoke to one of the most picturesque locations I’ve ever seen, a lofty balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean and a white sandy beach; it was as beautiful as the road to access it was tough. Being August, the area was quiet and the climate was a wonderful 27 degrees, a perfect day in paradise.
After getting some work done, we explored the lodge and even had a braai, where the order of the day was beef chuck, marinated and seasoned wonderfully along with some Oukraal boerewors grilled poolside, with a breathtaking view of the ocean. I just wanted to stay there forever, but, the real world beckoned and we had to make our way home the following day.
The route home was easier as I was more prepared, but we
travelled with a heavy heart, fed on just a slice of paradise pie despite being hungry for more.
As I said earlier, an adventure is only an adventure if there’s a tough challenge, an obstacle to overcome and to learn from.
Well, we definitely faced obstacles – literally – and overcame them; we even proved that a Volvo is ready and able to take on some of the toughest driving conditions out there. The lesson I learnt, though, was not how to tackle soft sand or how to compile a great road trip playlist, it was far more existential.
While the real world and responsibilities were calling, I filtered through the white noise of city life and realised that I need to adventure more often, I need to challenge myself and do what I love while doing it, as should all of us.
For that, I’ll always remember the endless white sandy road, a road that led me to discover new things, a road that encourages adventure, a road to make your life one worth reminiscing about one day.
Volvo’s marketing material claims the V90 CC is the ‘ultimate get away car’. That is debatable, and probably depends on what your view of a ‘getaway’ entails.
For me, the CC was an ultimate memory maker. And it took us to places I never thought a station wagon would ever go, and returned us to the big city to drive another day.
One day I will tell my grandchildren all about it.
This page: With the V90 Cross Country, Volvo has given its classy estate some off-road ability.
Far right: Thanks to an AWD system and some added ground clearance, the Cross Country can venture further off the beaten path than your average estate. Above: The Cross Country is not a pukka off-roader, but it can still go pretty far. It can certainly deal with some gravel and sand. Below: The T6’s two-litre petrol engine features a supercharger, as well as a turbocharger, resulting in 235kW and 400Nm.
Above: Despite looking sleek and low-slung, the Cross Country offers 220mm of ground clearance to work with. Far right: The cabin of the V90 is a fantastic place to be. It is well equipped, but doesn’t feel cluttered. Most systems are managed through a central screen.