Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Travel Gear -

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...

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