Jacked-up estate cars can sometimes end up feeling like the poor relation; a last-ditch attempt to mop up a few niche sales with the promise of a suspension lift and some plastic cladding.

All too often, though, the result is little more than the corruption of what were otherwise pretty decent road manners.  Sometimes, it seems, things are best left well alone.

However, this is a recipe Volvo have been perfecting since they created the V70 XC back in 1997.

And, having spent a week a with it, I humbly submit that this latest Cross Country model, far from being the runt of the V90 range, is actually the pick of the bunch.

we think the Cross Country is the pick of the V90 range

The changes sound fairly modest – a 65mm increase in ride height bringing ground clearance to 210mm, a wider track (by 24mm at the front, 14mm at the rear), larger door mirrors, rufty-tufty wheel-arch and sill extensions, plus skid plates front and rear.

The result, at least to our eyes, is even more handsome, the Cross Country wearing its rugged additions particularly well.

It seems to ride better, too.  Volvo say they worked hard to preserve the characteristics of the standard V90, and while it can still occasionally drop heavily into sunken manhole covers, for instance, the isolation of suspension noise remains incredibly impressive.  And while there’s undoubtedly a touch more body-roll than the conventional model, the softer set-up seems to suit the Cross Country’s more relaxed gait.

A new Off-Road drive mode can be activated below 25mph, and it alters the responses of the all-wheel-drive system, transmission and throttle to make it easier to tackle rough terrain, while Hill Descent Control automatically maintains a set speed down a steep slope.

It’s understandably less about rock-crawling and more about maintaining all-weather traction, but during testing on our forest tracks it proved itself capable of dealing with even the trickiest of situations.

What it excels at, though, is a long-distance journey.  Because this is a car that seems to positively relish the opportunity to embark on a cross-continent adventure.  Its party trick is that it’ll do it regardless of sun, rain or snow.

this is a car that seems to positively relish the opportunity to embark on a cross-continent adventure

It’ll do it regardless of the load it’s carrying, too, its 560 litre boot expanding to 1,526 litres with the seats folded, made easy by buttons in the boot wall that drop the headrests and seat backs in one go.  Clever details continue with an array of hooks and tie-down points, an underfloor compartment (with gas struts so you don’t need three hands to extricate the spare wheel), a load cover that automatically retracts and a power tailgate as standard.

The rest of the interior is largely V90 business as usual save for some black walnut trim, so that means it boasts one of the most comfortable and highly adjustable cabins on the market today.

Volvo’s touch-screen system continues to impress us, and we’re pleased to see a recent software update has added the ability to delete your navigation history, something we’d previously observed was missing.

Power comes from a choice of two diesel units – a D4 with 190hp or a D5 with 235hp and Volvo’s PowerPulse technology for lag-free acceleration – as well as a T6 petrol unit with 320hp.  All are mated to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic, and while the D5 offers a welcome sense of urgency over the D4, it does come at a near-£4,000 premium.

Prices start at £40,605 for the entry-level D4, and while standard equipment is good, we think both Apple CarPlay (£300) and a rear-view camera (£400) really ought to be included.  As it is, tick more than a handful of options and you’ll quickly stray into XC90 territory.

For many people, though, a large seven-seat SUV is overkill for their needs.  Rather than corrupt one with elements of the other, this new Cross Country offers a surprisingly well-resolved blend of V90 and XC90, one that Volvo predicts a quarter of all buyers will opt for.

We suspect the real percentage might turn out higher.  Because rather being a niche, the V90 Cross Country feels more like the pick of the range.

Tester’s Notes

  • Long-travel suspension suits the V90’s relaxed gait; Probably the pick of the V90 range
  • One of the best cabins on the market for sheer passenger space, quality and adjustability
  • Touch-screen interface still a favourite of ours, although we’d still prefer to have physical temperature controls; Nice to see you can now delete recent navigation history
  • Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and rear-view camera really ought to be standard
  • Practical touches aplenty in cargo area – hooks, gas-assisted floor, retracting cargo cover – although sloping tailgate does cut into overall space
  • Pushes the V90 irretrievably into the £310/pa VED supplement
  • 46.3 mpg on test
Entry-level Price£40,605Price as tested£50,380
Engine1969cc 4-cyl dieselTransmission8-speed auto
Power190hp @ 4,250rpmTorque400Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
0-628.8 secsTop speed130 mph
Economy54.3 mpgCO2138 g/km
Dimensions4939 x 1879 x 1543 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight1920 kg