AUTO REVIEW: Volvo V90 Cross Country: A Perfect Marriage of Wagon and SUV

(Bloomberg) —
Volvo V90 Cross Country , V90, Volvo V90
The Volvo V90 Cross Country (Bloomberg/Troy Harvey)

Volvo is offering North Americans the V90 car in an attempt to take the edge off our SUV addiction. The brand already has the excellent XC60 and XC90 SUVs, but is betting that it can make a station wagon stylish and aggressive enough to garner a slice of that market. After all, the wagon was once its bread and butter in the United States.

Enter the $55,300 V90 Cross Country, the heightened version of the $49,950 V90 wagon. Both are new for the year and are bigger and better equipped than wagons from previous years. If Volvo created a Venn diagram of an SUV and a wagon, the V90 Cross Country would occupy the middle: The extra $5,000 required to get the Cross Country edition affords nearly three inches of additional height over the standard V90, several inches’ worth of additional ground clearance, and lots of handy extras, such as full LED headlights that bend around curves as the car moves forward.

With ample storage and passenger space, an AWD capable of handling treacherous terrain, and that superior ride height, the V90 Cross Country makes full-size SUVs feel bloated — superfluous for all but the largest families or most devoted weekend warriors. And it feels much more special than the crossovers that litter every strip mall in middle America. There aren’t many lifted station wagons like this.

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The V90 Cross Country is special because in almost all cases it has more interior space, finer creature comforts, and better fuel efficiency than crossovers from BMW, Porsche, and Audi. It’s also more endearing as a complete package. Those are great cars, too — there’s just something about Swedish design (and the general uniqueness of a handsome wagon these days) that makes this car special.

Don’t feel like you’ll be stooping to enter this not-SUV, though. You’ll be surprised at how high off the ground you feel when you slip behind the wheel. The sight lines here avail lovely views at every point. A moonroof that spans the width of the ceiling enhances visibility as does the extensive camera and radar-enabled blind-spot identification system in the 9-inch vertical touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. (This system prompted the first-ever complaint from my neighborhood garage attendant that it was “too much.” It’s a one-time anecdote from one person, sure, but the man handles every car I do. This was the first time he made a point to tell me the cameras were overcomplicated.)

Volvo makes some of the most beautiful interiors in the car industry — this regardless of whether you’re including “luxury” brands. Its cars have cabins filled with so much light and warm wood that at this point comparing them to a Swedish sauna is just cliché. Suffice it to say the V90 Cross Country comes standard with high-quality heated leather seats, tinted windows, and dark, warm walnut inlays, plus high-gloss trim around the door sills that matches the black gloss of the metal stud grille. (The V90 has a simple Volvo “waterfall” grille.) These are all trappings that are de rigueur for pricier luxury cars. They help make the V90 Cross Country a good value for the money. (I’m not forgetting it is still expensive for a typical wagon.)

A Luxury Package ($4,500) includes Nappa ventilated leather seating, a cooled glove box, rear sun curtains, color-coordinated sills and bumpers, a heated rear seat, and power seat cushion extensions.

As you might expect, child- and supplemental-restraint systems and safety features inside are myriad. There’s a reason vintage Volvos are legendary for their safety ratings: they’re earned. Whiplash protection didn’t kick in when I drove it, thankfully. The Pilot Assist, which directs the car if it feels you get too close to a wall or another vehicle, did. It’s weird to feel the car take over momentarily, but it’s effective.

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I drove the V90 Cross Country T6 model, which is important to note because it means that its 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine comes turbocharged and supercharged for 316 horsepower and 295 pound feet of torque. (The regular V90 offers a lesser T5 version and an “R Design” sport package; V90 Cross Country does not.) It is capable, though nothing incredibly special, on the road (leave that for the hot BMW wagons, really), with dutiful acceleration through its eight gears and less side-to-side roll than you’d feel in a proper SUV, as you might expect.

This doesn’t bother me much. I feel safe presuming most who buy a V90 Cross Country will do so for its space, functionality, beauty, reliability, efficiency and individuality. Not for its zero-to-60 mph sprint time.

In fact, the most memorable thing about how it feels to drive this car is how well the premium air suspension in the rear ($1,200) actually smoothed out corners and swerves. That suspension is an especially rewarding feature because, if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, this wagon is truly lifted. Where the $25,645 Subaru Outback with its more-detailed body can look a little outdoor-nerdy, and the $25,850 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is in general less chic, Volvo’s svelte V90 Cross Country looks jacked up. The clearance I mentioned is 8.3 inches above ground vs. 6 inches for the standard V90. A few inches don’t sound like much, but they will certainly split the difference between stuck and unstuck for those who may drive this car off the pavement.

The car is in good taste, plain and simple. That’s contrary to, say, Mercedes-Benz’s $62,300 E-Wagon, which is more powerful and exciting to drive but can skirt dangerously close to hearse-like in mien if you choose the wrong color. Audi’s A4 All-Road and BMW’s beloved sport wagons come closest to matching the chilled good looks of the V90 Cross Country. But the V90 Cross Country is just different and unexpected enough to turn the head twice.

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