What are you driving?
This is the Volvo V90 Cross Country Ocean Race. Remember the Volvo Ocean Race? It's a gruelling, round-the-world yacht race that has visited Ireland a few times over the years, bringing with it a veritable hurricane of burger vans and Dubarry shoes. To mark the 2017/2018 running of the race, Volvo has released this, a special edition of the jacked-up, all-wheel-drive V90 Cross Country crossover estate, kitted out in a special Ocean Race colour scheme inside and out.
It's not just about trim and kit, though. For each of the first 3,000 Ocean Race V90s that it sells, Volvo will donate €100 to the Ocean Race's science programme, as well as helping to fit boats in this year's race with a variety of sensors that will capture data from some of the remotest parts of the world's oceans. This includes temperatures, barometric pressure, currents and wind speed, which will help contribute to more accurate weather forecasts and climate models used by scientists globally. The boats will also be able to look for salinity, dissolved CO2 and algae in the sea water around them. Combined with other data on microplastics, these measurements will help create a more complete picture of the scale of plastic pollution and its impact on ocean life - a hot button topic, and something that makes the purchase of this high-end luxury estate car a little more altruistic.
Name its best bits
Well, it looks great for a start. It's hard for something this big and this white to look like anything other than a refugee from a Moby Dick convention, but Volvo has broken up the exterior acreage of 'Crystal White' paint with some slightly darker plastic wheelarch extensions, and some very subtle orange highlights.
That colour scheme is copied over to the inside, where you'll find the same mix of bright white, beige and some small licks of orange, including orange seatbelts. The panels on the dashboard, normally covered in a warm, soft, Scandi wood, are here cloaked in black carbon-fibre, which adds a slightly incongruous touch of motor sport to the style, although we guess that there's probably a lot of carbon used in modern racing yachts too.
The cabin is just a fantastic place to be - the seats are wonderful, the big 'Sensus' touchscreen is still, along with BMW's iDrive, the best infotainment system to use and you can waft along in total comfort, securely smug in the knowledge that you're not only driving a big, squishy, Volvo, but you're simultaneously doing your bit to help clean up the world's oceans.
The 235hp D5 'PowerPulse' diesel engine (which uses a small cylinder of refilled, compressed air to puff the turbo up to speed that much more quickly) is refined and mostly smooth, although I think it's fair to say that Volvo has lost the refinement lead it once had in the four-cylinder diesel world, if only by a small amount. Performance is very good, though, and economy's not bad for something with this much room, comfort and weight.
You do have the security of four-wheel drive too, which is always a good thing to have in Ireland. We, not surprisingly, decided to take the V90 to the seaside while we had it, and on the windy roads on the way out to Skerries, just north of Dublin, the Cross Country felt secure and sure-footed, if not quite out and out fun.
This being a Volvo, it also felt exceptionally safe, and the Pilot Assist system - which helps to keep you in lane on the motorway, and which uses the adaptive cruise control to keep you safely behind other traffic - is still one of the better semi-autonomous systems out there.
Anything that bugs you?
While some might be tempted by that striking Ocean Race colour scheme, I'm honestly not so sure. Previous Ocean Race models used a a striking, deep, rich, blue paint job, combined with a black leather interior, which maybe sounds a bit more conventional, but it did look really, really good, and rather less challenging to the eyes than this white version. Also, what happened to the loop of yacht-style rope that was used, on the old V70 Ocean Race, as the handle for the luggage cover? That was a nice touch, and it's gone missing here.
More significantly, though, I'm just not sure that the Ocean Race justifies its lofty price tag. The Cross Country version of the V90 already feels a touch redundant to me, given that you could just buy an XC60 or XC90 if you want an SUV, and that the lower, sleeker, better-to-drive, and more affordable V90 estate is also available with four-wheel drive. OK, so the Cross Country can tackle rough terrain better than the V90, but then, with this interior colour scheme, something tells me you're not going to be getting muddy, much.
Basically, it boils down to this - a V90 estate, with four-wheel drive, the D5 engine and the desirable R-Design kit, is a full €16,000 cheaper than this Ocean Race, and is nicer to drive. And you don't have to have it in white. So why not just buy that, and donate €200 to ocean conservation?
And why have you given it this rating?
While it's not a car that we could ever give an unreserved recommendation to, the V90 Cross Country Ocean Race is far from disgraced. Yes, a regular V90 is better value, more engaging to drive, no less practical and the better choice overall, but the Cross Country Ocean Race does come with the usefulness of all-terrain ability, the same core strengths as the rest of the V90 range and the tang of both exclusivity and an environmental conscience. Ahoy, and indeed, avast.