Volvo V90 Cross Coun­try

Over­land­ing to Moz in a (4x4) es­tate

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: Sean Nurse

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.

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...

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...

Pho­to­graphs: Sean Nurse and supplied

This page: With the V90 Cross Coun­try, Volvo has given its classy es­tate some off-road abil­ity.

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