TAKING your hands off the wheel and your foot off the brake at 70mph on the motorway constitutes a massive leap of faith.
Especially when you’re cruising ever closer to a 56-seater coach up ahead and drawing level with the articulated container lorry to your left.
On top of that there’s the little matter of your mind playing games – you feel sure the car is hanging to one side, when actually it’s travelling safely within its lane.
Safety has been synonymous with the Volvo brand for 70-odd years thanks to innovations like laminated windscreens and the three-point belt to whiplash protection and collision warning with auto brake.
That’s why the leap of faith is more a small step of belief when you engage the Swedish company’s Pilot Assist set-up that’s standard fit on the latest S90 and V90 models that complete Volvo’s range of large premium models.
At the press of a button on the wheel, the system takes care of the steering, throttle and brakes to keep you within your lane at a set speed up to 80mph, and no longer requires a lead vehicle to follow.
You can keep to the desired cruising speed or stay at a set distance from any vehicle in front, accelerating or braking with the flow of traffic – right down to a standstill.
Hopping into the back for forty winks is off limits of course but for now the technology is seen as a stepping stone towards fully autonomous driving, a key innovation area for Volvo.
The existing S90 saloon and V90 estate are now available in R-Design grade, the sportiest trim level and featuring more dynamic suspension plus some sporty style upgrades.
They cost from £35,455 for the S90 and £37,455 for the V90, which places them between entry level Momentum and flagship Inscription on the price ladder.
Also new is a V90 Cross Country variant, up for grabs only in estate form with four-wheel drive and costing from £39,785 for the 190bhp 2.0-litre D4 diesel and £43,585 for the 235bhp D5.
Volvo has been perfecting these jacked-up estates since the pioneering V70 XC some 20 years ago and the newcomer is a magnificent offering.
With its suspension raised by 65mms, some protective body cladding, larger door mirrors and softer, more rounded tyres it made short work of an off-road course through Cannock Chase forest during the press launch.
Also new is an off-road setting – which keeps the car in low gear and lightens up the steering – for the Cross Country’s drive mode selector.
Unlike in some other 4x4s you don’t need to separately engage the hill descent control and a new camera giving a bird’s eye view of the vehicle makes off-roading manoeuvres like driving over the brow of a steep slope less daunting.
Back on the black stuff and the Cross Country is impeccable – as sweet and enjoyable to drive as either of its 90 series siblings, beautifully built, leather-clad and blessed with a classy and intuitive cabin.
Okay the chassis feels a little soft but the steering is nicely balanced, the ride relaxing, interior space accommodating and the punch is there should the driver require it.
That’s down to the tested model using the D5 PowerPulse engine with its instant response courtesy of a tank of compressed air pumped through the engine to beat turbo lag – that momentary delay in throttle response associated with big diesels.
We’re talking acceleration of 0-62 in 7.5 seconds, a Combined fuel figure of 53.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 139g/km from a 2.0-litre engine and eight-speed auto transmission.
Not only does the V90 both fire and float, it operates with the minimum of drama and near absence of wind, engine or road noise too.
Its wide, low boot opening makes for easier loading while capacity with the rear seats up is 560 litres, which increases to 1,526 litres with them folded flat.
The rear-seat headrests and backrests fold down electronically and the tailgate is also powered.
Every S90, V90 or Cross Country model is also exceptionally specced up with a nine-inch touchscreen including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and operated via pinch and zoom plus voice control, though smartphone integration and a Spotify app are optional extras.
You also get Sensus navigation with full European mapping, LED headlights, a Cleanzone air quality set-up, heated front seats and internet access.
There’s also now run-off road protection automatically tightening the front seatbelts should the car inadvertently leave the road.