Rugged Serenity

For many years now, I’ve argued that, all things considered, the best cars in the world come from Sweden. By that, I am talking about Volvo.

When I was about seven or eight, I had a kiddy encyclopedia that showed definitions of creatures and things. The illustrations filled up an entire page. When you flip the pages and eventually land into what defined a mammal, there was an illustration of a human, for an insect, there was a bee, and for a car - there was a Volvo. As a child that absorbed information like a sponge, it stuck with me in my formative years. Unlike the vast majority of people, I never found Volvo to be boring. A lot of people do, but I’ve always believed that the title of the most boring cars belonged to Lexus. Not the Lexus of today, but the ones from two decades ago.

The Swedish carmaker always made good cars, except for the early S40 and V40 - which were Mitsubishi garbage. Sure, not all of them were very interesting and almost none of them could set your heart ablaze, but there was an intangible sense of intelligence when you purchased one. It was like buying life insurance, quite literally - since they’re supposedly the safest cars in the world. You always knew that when you drove out of the showroom, you’d be in good hands. Maybe you didn’t directly buy it with your heart, but you may have had your children in mind, and that would probably be the same thing now, wouldn't it?

Technically, I should hate this concept because I don’t like things that dwindle in between, like a mango shake that can’t decide if its yellow or green - but somehow it’s unsettlingly brilliant.
— Enzo Teodoro

Today, I see Volvo quite differently. All the hallmarks that I love about the brand are still top of mind, but I happen to think that they make the most beautiful cars on sale today. I mean it across the board. The XC60, sexy. The XC90, handsome. The S90, dignified. And this V90 Cross Country, oooh don’t get me started. This new design language that started with the XC90 is just, and I hate to use this, on point. The design is so versatile and scalable that they all look gorgeous from small to large, my favorite being the V90 Cross Country. It’s no secret to all of you that I adore big wagons and estate cars. And really, unless you are talking about an Audi RS4 or RS6 Avant, no company on Earth makes wagons better than the Swedes.

They’re versatile, handsome, and dignified. The fact that wagons are branded as soccer mom’s cars make it so much more rewarding when you pull up next to the person who said it, and silently mock him for the very boring life that he has which includes his pitiful taste. Volvo’s Cross Country line are basically raised versions of their sedans and wagons. It’s for those who require just a little bit more ground clearance, but don’t necessarily need an SUV. Technically, I should hate this concept because I don’t like things that dwindle in between, like a mango shake that can’t decide if its yellow or green - but somehow it's unsettlingly brilliant, a feat I can’t say has been successful for the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Begin your journey.

The V90 in Cross Country form is extremely long. The engine and the exhaust pipes are in different zip codes, but somehow it manages to look proportionate. The design is svelte, but with machismo touches provided by the black plastic cladding that are supposed to protect the painted panels from nasty types of debris should you decide to go on a trip up the mountains. It’s purposeful, yet striking. Don’t mistake it for a full-blown SUV though. It isn't.

It’s no Toyota Land Cruiser, but that’s also why it’s a gorgeous thing to behold. The space between the top of the hood to the wheel arch is almost non-existent, and in turn, that's what gives it the stance of a performance car. I do wish that they specced it with larger and more attractive wheels, but for most buyers in the country, they probably won’t care. Besides, larger wheels are always detrimental to ride quality. And so far, this rides like a cloud. With that, there also isn't a lot of feel to the steering.

"I drove this back to back with a Macan, and I’ve never begged to get out of a Porsche, until then."

This wagon on stilts is almost too big, but at the very least, it translates into acres of space inside the cabin. And what a wonderful space it is. The design cues are a timeless blend of old and new. There are slabs of unpolished wood scattered around the cabin, while the 4-zone climate control system has a set of very pretty vents to blow air out of. There’s a vast amount of legroom, headroom, shoulder room, and all the kinds of room imaginable to you. There are many big cars out there that don’t necessarily transcend into spacious cabins, but this one does. The seats, well they are wonderful.

Volvo makes some of the best seats in the business. I haven’t fully recovered from my slipped disc injury, and so far, this is the only car I’ve driven for more than an hour that didn’t make me want to check into the ER of St. Lukes. I drove this back to back with a Macan, and I’ve never begged to get out of a Porsche, until then. The Volvo felt just as upscale as the German. I know I’m not talking apples to apples here, but that is everything you need to know about the Cross Country's fit and finish. It isn’t so much an insult to German, but a supreme compliment to the Swede. 

I particularly enjoyed driving the Cross Country because it’s so versatile. I had the ground clearance to not fear scraping into anything, but without the clumsy driving dynamics of an SUV. It’s no sports car, but it handles the way you’d expect a big European car would. It’s serene and docile. In unpaved roads and gravel parking lots, switching the driving mode to ‘off-road’ removes the edge and the bumpiness by adjusting its dampers to keep the car flat. The shocks take all the bumps.

I imagine that it’ll come in handy in the dirt trail to your beach house. I absolutely love the diesel engine and the 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s so smooth with heaps of torque that ride on an endless wave. At naughty speeds, you’ll appreciate the amount of R&D put into the car’s noise, vibration, and harshness rating. You are oblivious to the chaotic wind and tire noise that’s generated outside the vehicle, because nothing seems to seep into the cabin. 

Rugged sophistication.

I can’t talk about a Volvo without mentioning the extensive measurements that they’ve developed in the name of safety. This has every single thing that you can think. It’s got Pilot Assist, which can semi-autonomously drive itself. It won’t do it like a Tesla, so you still need to keep your eyes peeled on the road, because once the white dotted lines on the road disappear, the cameras will lead you straight into a wall and they’ll have to wash you off it. The car also brakes on its own when it senses an accident waiting to happen, but you’re going to want to turn it down to its least obstructive setting. Otherwise, it’ll drive you mad in the Philippines, because the car thinks you’re about to have a crash every ten seconds.

It doesn’t just brake hard, the seatbelts tighten in the most unpleasurable way. It can strangle you to death. You may not crash into the car in front, but the car behind might just slam into you. It also has one of the best rear view cameras I’ve seen in a car, mated to one of the most intuitive parking sensors. Yes, the car can obviously park itself and get it out of the tight space too. Basically, you’d have to be a real idiot to bump this one. The electronics may be a little over-bearing at times, but overall, it’s a fantastic package. 

Safety comes first.

Do I like this car? Absolutely. Would I buy it if I had the money? Yes. Would others buy it? I'm not so sure. At nearly 5 million bucks, there are too many choices out there that may be more appealing to the vast majority of consumers. You can get a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Porsche Macan, a Lexus RX 350 F Sport, or a BMW 520d - all of which have significantly more pedigree in their respective fields of specialty. I get it. This brings me back to why I like the V90 Cross Country so much. In a world of artisan burgers with exotic cheese and ketogenic ramen noodles, I believe that there is a rather special place for a classic golden brown waffle.

The simpler ways are a rarer sight nowadays, and the Cross Country is a reminder of that. It is as soothing and as trustworthy as your mother. It breeds you to not be shouty, insecure, nor to be for everybody else - which is a great thing. And in turn, you have a competent estate car with added ground clearance that can pull your speedboat up to the beach house. It is supremely comfortable, quick, and reassuringly safe. I can’t think of any other car as gifted versatility-wise, as this. It is truly a standout for me. I’d rate it 11 if it had better wheels and the Bowers & Wilkins audio system. For now, it’ll have to deal with a 10.

Choose your adventure.


2018 Volvo V90 D5 Cross Country

Engine: 1,969cc, DOHC 16v, Inline-4, Turbocharged
Fuel: Diesel
Power: 232 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 480 Nm @ 1,750-2,250 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed Automatic, AWD
0-100 km/h: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 225 km/h
Fuel Economy: 10.3 km/L Overall
Price: PHP4,695,000
+: Beautiful, practical, quick, frugal, and luxurious
-: Could use bigger wheels and a Bowers & Wilkins audio system
Verdict: As beautiful and as competent raised station wagons will come
Rating: 10/10

Ex-Automotive Executive

Instagram: @enzoteodoro