THE ULTIMATE GETAWAY CAR
WHO KNEW THAT A STATION WAGON WOULD BE THE ANSWER TO THIS SUV- LOVING FAMILY’S ADVENTURE QUESTIONS.
AS AN UNABASHED FAN OF THE VOLVO XC90, I was surprised that the V90 Cross Country stayed off my radar for so long. I think I was put off by the styling when the concept first broke cover, and then by the overall length of the overhangs when I first took delivery. Our last family excursion into the Northern Cape was in the relative lap of Land Rover luxury, so my wife was understandably nervous when the nine hour drive was to be done in a car without a rear seat video entertainment system.
See, we’re an SUV family that prefers to ride high over the bumps of life and have headroom for days. The V90 CC’S 210 mm of ground clearance is higher than our soft-roading daily driver, but the roof and shoulder lines are significantly lower slung. And it was then with great trepidation that we set off on the longest continuous road trip in our young family’s history.
It’s rather perplexing that these raised-body, all-wheel drive wagons aren’t more popular because they are awesome.
Why? Easy. It’s called drag and when you’re experiencing it, it’s a terrible drag on the health of your finances as well as the health of the environment. Strange then that the most we consumers have ever paid for fuel also coincides with a boom in the SUV market. It’s a bizarre coincidence because of how relatively poor SUV aerodynamics are for slicing through the atmosphere with the greatest of ease. But the chief offender is actually the squared- off rear end which creates turbulence behind the vehicle, effectively acting like a parachute.
The V90 CC falls somewhere between the design language of the trend-setting XC90 and the sleeker S90. There’s a lovely taper towards the rear to help the air slip off instead of come to an abrupt cliff. But this model that took us into the deepest and very dark Northern Cape came equipped with a roof rack which ruined the aerodynamics entirely. Luckily the car has other talents.
Those who follow this magazine closely will be well-acquainted with the Volvo Intellisafe features and, importantly, the Pilot Assist semiautonomous capabilities. It’s standard Level 2 autonomy which combines active lane keeping and adaptive cruise control to deliver self- driving when the conditions are suitable (well-marked roads).
A detour and reluctance to put the
CC’S off-road credentials to the test on the winding gravel track to Fraserberg meant that we arrived at our destination at least two hours later than expected and well after nightfall. The last stretch was also about three and a half hours of driving after dark through towns that don’t offer much nighttime entertainment. Setting the object/vehicle detection to its longest range and engaging Pilot Assist to outsource the keeping- on-the road bit to a machine was a godsend.
And that’s the real promise of the self- driving car. No more do you have to tax your brain with the load of trying to anticipate and upcoming hazard from just in front of the headlight beams, but rather fully focus on the conversation or get lost in the music while the car keeps you safe.
The road to Williston and beyond – towards Carnarvon – is actually quite well marked. There was only a very strange incident with a stationary Hilux and one very large hare that somewhat slowed our nighttime traverse, but outside of that the car did its job with aplomb.
Wagons also have lower floors, which helps a lot when you have young children who want to do everything for themselves. You also get the same useable boot floor area of the SUV. There’s a loss in load area height, but you’re not transporting a washing machine in the back of your car every weekend.
Another bonus is not paying the SUV levy at the car wash and you also get a relatively free pass on commentary from your more environmentally conscious friends. To be honest, besides for the obvious vantage point disadvantage when trying to see beyond a car in front G of you in traffic, the cabin is a very roomy place. There’s plenty of space to sprawl and stash your possessions.
I’m a raised-body station wagon covert now. Maybe the Subaru Forester or Legacy should power my next trip. The only question is whether those will be even half as good as the Volvo V90 Cross Country. Stalking the streets of Hantam land was like landing in a UFO. The locals rarely see the "Thor's hammer" headlamp LEDS around these parts and the striking road presence stops foot traffic dead. These cars should really sell better in our market because they are extremely well-suited to the travel habits of the roadtrip-loving South African. Now if only it could come in a hybrid...