Volvo's flagship trio: S90, XC90 and V90 cross country driven

Cape Town - Volvo is synonymous with safety and technology, rivalling the very best of what German automakers have to offer.

Within its ranks are many vehicle options (sedans, SUVs and station wagons), able to suit various budgets and tastes. Leading the Swedish automaker’s charge is its 90 series, comprising the S90, XC90 and V90 Cross Country.

All three these models might use similar architecture, engines and features but execution and their capabilities are completely different. Though some traits may overlap, each of these three cars have something unique to offer.

Same architecture, different models

To save costs and to make life easier for engineers at its factories, the S90 (sedan), XC90 (SUV) and V90 CC (station wagon) all share the same platform. The frame on which these vehicles are built can be adjusted to fit the needs for each of the three vehicle applications.

As is to be expected, the XC90 and V90 CC have higher ground clearance to suit their more adventurous (read: traversing gravel roads) customers than the S90. The V90 CC slots in between its two siblings.

The good thing about this is that Volvo managed to gift each of these vehicles their own dynamic characteristics. It can’t be expected that the V90 CC will be able to traverse the same terrain as the XC90, nor can it be expected of the XC90 to feel as comforatble around bends as the S90. The basis on which these three cars are built are fundamentally the same but the execution is intended for a vastly different buyer.

One size engine

I was a bit sceptical when I heard that Volvo will only offer its vehicles with one engine size - a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit with turbo technology. Covering both diesel and petrol, the power range is quite vast but the aim of this is to be fuel efficient and a lot more environmentally friendly.

Sweden is one of the world’s most green-conscious countries, so it’s a given that Volvo would try and be at the forefront of reducing emissions. Volvo is hard at work at having electric drive in its entire vehicle range within the next couple of years. And they’re pushing with their own autonomous technology. Keep an eye on them.

The XC90 and V90 that were on test were D5 AWD Inscription models fitted with a diesel engine. Capable of 173kW/480Nm, the vehicles felt lively and properly tuned in. Especially in the V90!

The S90 T6 AWD Inscription, on the other hand, is powered by a 235kW/400Nm petrol engine. This engine is used in the XC90 and V90 too, and its application and purpose is to be the performer of all the power units. It has the most power, the sprightliest performance, and it is also the least fuel efficient.

There's a fair amount of weight to haul around. The S90, for instance, tips the scale at just over 1.7 tons. The V90 at 1.8t, and the XC90 1.9t. That’s a lot of weight for these engines to work against. Yes, the vehicles all feel alive when pushed, but it does have a negative effect on the consumption. And especially that T6 engine. It’s a wonderful unit and mixes smooth power delivery with good gear changes, but the fuel needle loves taking a tumble.

With regards to fuel efficiency, it would not have made much of a difference if there were to be 3.0-litre V6 in the mix. Albeit diesel or petrol. But given Volvo’s stance on a green future, they have to be commended for taking this route. These 2.0-litre engines will be around for a few years still and the automaker will refine the technology and save weight on the cars to make these engines the fuel efficient propositions they’re supposed to be.

Which one?

Each of these three cars offer something very unique but it will come down to what the car needs to do with regards to its buyers way of living. The S90 T6 AWD Inscription (R902 630) offers a spacious cabin and all the bells and whistles you’d come to expect from a car nudging on the R1-million mark.

But so too does the V90 CC and XC90. It’s just that the S90 is a car better suited to executives and city driving. And the best part is you’d be looking pretty darn cool pulling up at your destination. The XC90 D5 AWD Inscription (R1.0-million) is a proven vehicle, especially since the XC90 is a former South African Car of the Year champion.

It may not be as dynamic as the S90, but at least you can conquer the curbs at your local mall when parking is a problem. It’s a lot more practical than the S90 and it has more cabin space than its sedan counterpart. Plus, it can seat seven occupants. The XC90 is an SUV that can actually venture off the beaten road and tackle a bit of gravel and sand, but is it really what you’d be doing on the regular? Which leaves only the V90 CC D5 AWD Inscription (R889 066).

It’s more affordable than both the other two vehicles in this review, is more practical than the S90, yet not as big and imposing as the XC90. In many regards I view the V90 CC as my choice from this trio.

Not because it’s something different to the sedan vs. SUV battle, but because it actually is a very good proposition as a vehicle that does everything well. It’s not afraid to get its tyres muddy, it can drive through not too loose or deep sand thanks to its AWD system, it drives like a dream on gravel, and it transports a family of five in great comfort.

It’s just a pity that the V90 is not given a fair chance to prove its worth by South African car buyers. Because it simply is the best 90 money can buy.

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