I’ll let you in on a little secret you might not know about: around here, we loooove wagons. We love the styling, the utility, the quirkiness and—most of all—how they break away from the SUV and crossover craze that has consumed American roads. The new Volvo V90 is a lovely wagon, but face it, in the U.S. it’s probably going to get drowned in that SUV tidal wave. Can the lifted 2017 V90 Cross Country split the difference? I went to Sweden to find out.
(Full Disclosure: Volvo wanted me to drive the 2017 V90 Cross Country so badly that it put me on three flights to get to the beautiful ski town Åre, which is located in the Volvo Motherland, Sweden. They paid for everything, including a dinner at Fäviken. Yeah. The whole trip was out-of-this-world lavish.)
I’ll preface this by saying that despite the intercontinental travel, my time testing this car was relatively limited. The five-day press trip to Sweden was great fun and all, but in total, I only got about 90 minutes behind the wheel of the V90 Cross Country. The rest of the time was spent flying between airports and driving an XC90 Hybrid—last year’s car. What you’re about to read is as thorough a summary as I can give you from that.
The Cross Country, as you might know, is the raised version of the standard V90 wagon. Which means that instead of the six inches of ground clearance you get on the standard wagon, you get 8.3 inches on the Cross Country. And even though it’s just two inches and some change, it actually makes a huge difference. The Cross Country looks noticeably raised. This is a very excellent thing, especially for wagon-wary American buyers dead set on an SUV of some kind.
If you still need any visual cues to differentiate the two, the Cross Country has a metal stud grille, whereas the standard V90 just has the waterfall grille.
Much like the S90, the V90 maintains the sedan’s handsome looks. Volvo’s new corporate face includes the T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” headlights, which were very much my shit.
Clean lines extending to the back of the car slant elegantly upwards to form the rear profile—a natural evolution of the Volvo V70's upright tail light design. Delightfully, by virtue of a wagon’s design, rearward visibility is not sacrificed in favor of a stylish but tiny rear window.
Inside, a world of butterscotch leather (or whatever color you choose) awaits. As someone with a severely messed up back from sitting in front of a computer all day, I found the seats to be extremely comfortable and supportive. Sometimes a simple and ergonomic design is all you need.
The dark walnut wood inlays contrasted nicely with the frosted chrome switches that surrounded the Tesla-esque nine-inch touchscreen. (Fun fact: Tesla poached Volvo’s head of interiors not too long ago.)
Of course, the things you touch aren’t Bentley material, but that doesn’t matter: for a car that regular people are supposed to buy, this is great.
The T6 AWD model that I tested has the twin-charged 2.0-liter four-banger, good for 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. (Four cylinders + turbo + supercharger = T6. Volvo math!) The car comes with optional rear air suspension and Four-C Active Chassis, which lets you choose the car’s driving characteristics from pre-set settings.
The engine itself is quite good—responsive and adequate at moving the Cross Country to wherever you want it to go. Volvo estimates that it will get 22 miles to the gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. All in all, it is a very capable piece of machinery.
But does it have character? No.
Perhaps it has something to do with how well the engine does what it’s supposed to do. How it cruises and accelerates so predictably that you can drive the car with just the tiniest sliver of concentration. Mind you, I’m not asking for the engine to be bad. I’m just looking for some kind of quirk.
And then there’s the sound of it. Very few four-bangers sound good. This is not one of them. Floor the accelerator and a braying drone permeates the cabin, the whir of a sound profile that doesn’t change as the revs climb, only increases in volume.
Of course I’m biased. I got my driver’s license in an old Volvo 850. It was a 1995 or 1996, if I remember correctly. Sure, the seats weren’t very good and it smelled kind of funny inside, but it always sounded so much more spirited than it actually was. That was all due to the inline-five that hid beneath the blue-green hood. God, I miss that car.
But anyway. We can’t all live in the past.
The Cross Country comes with four pre-set driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Off Road and Dynamic. Each will alter the car’s steering, engine, transmission, brakes and suspension to fit a certain driving characteristic. But if you want to tweak the settings individually there’s a way you can do that as well.
During the press briefing, a Volvo spokesman explained that Off Road mode transfers more torque to the rear wheels. The car will stay in Off Road mode unless its speed exceeds 25 mph and then it switches to a different mode. Since we did not do much off-roading, this mode was not used.
But! I will tell you that the few times we did take the car off road, that added height really makes you feel invincible. There’s something massively satisfying about seeing uneven terrain and just going for it—and then pulling it off! I wished that we had been given more time to off-road in the car because isn’t that the point of its lifted stance? Right?
On the paved roads, switching between Dynamic and Comfort was quite fun. The car noticeably tightens up when you put it in Dynamic. The throttle becomes more responsive and the whole experience feels more awake. The suspension becomes stiffer.
The issue lies with the steering. It tightens up, too, sure, but it feels so artificial. I wouldn’t call it more responsive, but I will say that it just feels like they added resistance to the turn-in. Which was weird and not at all organic. It was very distracting.
Actually, I quite liked the car in Comfort mode. It still drove extremely well and the steering was just steering. No added fake resistance. Also, why would this wagon of all wagons come with sporty steering? A sport wagon I understand, like an RS4 Avant.
But this is a regular V90 Cross Country. I would think that most people who buy it wouldn’t even notice it if you took away the Dynamic mode.
Furthermore, the cars were all fitted with studded snow tires because the Volvo people were expecting much colder conditions and more snow. There were neither of those things. The temperature hovered around a reasonable 34 degrees Fahrenheit the entire trip. Studded snow tires were good on the icy lake we drove on (more on that later) and the snowy backroads to get to said lake, but otherwise they made the car skittish on normal Swedish roads.
Studded tires are permitted in most of the states here, but some with heavy restrictions. Even so, most people aren’t going to be doing a lot of driving with studded snow tires, so it was difficult to gauge the feel of the car in the minuscule amount of time I had with it.
For folks reading this in the U.S., the V90 Cross Country will hit showrooms around March. This is the only V90 that you will be able to buy in the States; the regular V90 will only be available through special order or if you physically go to Sweden and pick it up. I know, life is not fair. I don’t make the rules.
This is just Volvo being aware of its market and the truth: wagons aren’t as popular here as SUVs are. So that’s why the Cross Country, with its extra ground clearance, will get a chance to gleam and preen in American showrooms while its lower sibling will not.
In terms of wagons, BMW offers the 330i and the 328d, both in the lower to mid-$40,000 range. Audi’s A4 Allroad starts at $44,000.
How much is the base price on a V90 Cross Country? $55,300. It’s a decent amount more expensive, I know.
But what you’re getting in return is a wonderfully assembled and thought-out car. It has a good (if bland) engine, and damn, does it look good. Anybody who gets the V90 Cross Country, with its 53.9 cubic feet of cargo space, will not do so accidentally—the price tag makes sure of that.
But then that makes me wonder who will actually buy this car and not, say, the Volvo XC90, which starts at a very reasonable $45,750. Someone who really, really doesn’t want an SUV and will pay extra for a wagon instead, it seems like.
So why the Cross Country instead of the V90? Convenience aside, the slightly increased ground clearance is basically the only thing that sets these two apart. Maybe for the peace of mind that when it snows, you’ll be able to get around more easily? Even now, in my head, the argument sounds thin.
Pricing for the regular V90 hasn’t been announced yet at the time of this writing, but I’m fairly certain that it will be cheaper than the Cross Country. Which I think is the real reason why the V90 won’t be offered in U.S. dealerships.
I think Volvo knows that most people (Americans) will be more inclined toward the XC90 over the V90 to begin with, so why not just offer the more expensive V90 Cross Country for the few that don’t want the SUV. Make the cheaper one harder to obtain. If that’s the case, I’m not sure I like that.
But, if none of that pricing garbage bothers you, go right ahead and treat yourself to a lifted and bitchin’ battle wagon. You’ll definitely be different.
Engine: 2.0-liter super- and turbocharged
Power: 316 HP at 5,700 RPM / 295 lb-ft at 2,200 RPM
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
0-60 Time: 6.0 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 140 MPH (electronically limited)
Curb Weight: 4,221 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 22 City / 30 Highway (from EPA)
MSRP: $55,300 base price