Volvo station wagons are, and have been, cool without even trying.
Arguments can be made whether the original PV445 Duett met the standard when it was new, but it sure is today. Its successor, the 140, the original “brick,” most certainly did. After all, it established the squared-off design parameters for Volvo wagons for the next four decades.
Now, brick-inspired design is officially retired. Replacing the XC70 in Volvo’s lineup, the new V90 and V90 Cross Country are almost seductive in appearance, sleek, curvy, and sensually detailed. One is a traditional wagon, while the other is a wagon wearing an SUV costume. Americans can special order the V90 wagon, while the more rugged V90 Cross Country is in stock at your local Volvo dealership.
Based on the same vehicle platform and architecture that forms the foundation for the S90 sedan on which they are based, the V90 and V90 Cross Country are available as the T5 with a 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and as the T6 with a 316-horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.
All-wheel drive is optional for the V90 T5, and standard for the V90 T6 and all Cross Country versions, the latter model also boasting extra ground clearance for more adventurous traveling. It was this version that I sampled for a week, in T6 guise and equipped with a Convenience Package, a Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system, and a head-up display. My test car’s price came to nearly $65,000.
Rakishly tapered, the V90 features unimpressive cargo volume numbers, underscoring the primary benefit of Volvo’s previous brick-like styling. With the rear in use, the V90 Cross Country carries 25.5 cubic feet of luggage, and with the rear seat folded you can cram up to 53.9 cu.-ft. of your stuff into this car.
Nevertheless, my family used the Cross Country for an airport run to depart on a two-week trip, and it hauled all of our things without much effort. Volvo also offers an extra-cost accessory divider that allows owners to safely stack cargo to the car’s roof, or to isolate a pet within the cargo area.
Personally, I don’t mind giving up some cargo space in exchange for this Volvo’s styling. While I’d prefer a V90 R-Design for its sportier appearance, the Cross Country’s rugged detailing is agreeable.
Inside, Amber leather contrasted sharply with the dark wood inlays and charcoal carpets, headliner, and dashboard, resulting in a rich, upscale look and feel. Scandinavian simplicity rules, limiting instrumentation and controls to a bare minimum and grouping many features and functions into the Sensus infotainment display, which works much like a modern smartphone screen.
Both a blessing and a curse, Sensus allows Volvo to craft a gorgeously minimalistic cabin while at the same time forcing more screen interaction than is preferable while driving.
The good news is that Sensus works like a smartphone. The home screen, accessible using a button at the bottom of the display, offers layered tiles showing key data related to navigation, the stereo, a paired smartphone, and the climate system. Pressing a tile expands it to show the full navigation map, radio station pre-sets and details, phone-related options, climate adjustments for temperature and seats, and more.
Swipe left or right to access apps related to other vehicle functions. Owners can arrange the app tiles in any way they prefer, putting the most frequently accessed functions in the most easily found locations.
In theory, Sensus is brilliant. In practice, in the same way your smartphone occasionally reacts differently from your intent, or fails to react to input at all, Sensus can behave the same way. While this is cause for irritation when your smartphone does it, the same characteristics experienced in the Volvo are downright distracting, and thus dangerous.
Needless to say, perhaps Volvo has stripped the cabin down too much. Simpler access, via buttons and knobs, to the most commonly used functions would be a huge improvement.
Switching gears, Volvos have long been revered for their comfortable seats, and the latest V90 is no exception. Whether you’re sitting up front or in the back, the V90’s seating coddles you.
Ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are bundled into a Luxury Package that adds a whopping $4,500 to the car’s price, accompanied by massaging front seats, power adjustable front side bolsters and thigh extensions, perforated Nappa premium leather upholstery, and a quad-zone automatic climate control system. My test car did not have this upgrade, and I missed it only during hotter late summer afternoons, when the ventilated seats would have been useful.
Immersed in lush sound from the optional Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system, I motored forth with a slightly sweaty backside, dipping into the Cross Country T6’s abundant well of power and tackling all manner of roads, both paved and dirt.
Driven in the manner for which it is intended, the V90 Cross Country is agreeable. Driven with sporting enthusiasm, its composure cracks. This is not a fault of the car, merely an observation. If you want greater athleticism on pavement, order a V90 T6 R-Design and install the optional air suspension.
The point of the Cross Country is to continue the journey once the blacktop ends. Equipped with all-wheel drive, 2.3 inches of extra ground clearance, and an Off Road driving mode with downhill brake control, this Volvo wagon successfully traveled a trail that would have halted a standard V90 in its tracks. It soaks up the ruts and bumps, too, providing a remarkably smooth ride.
For daily driving, the Cross Country brings improved blizzard battling capabilities to the equation, and can more easily tackle the crumbling roads so common in many parts of the country, its suspension lift and thicker tire sidewalls less susceptible to curbs and pot holes.
Equipped with the turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, the V90 T6 Cross Country generates 316 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,200 rpm to 5,400 rpm. According to Volvo, acceleration to 60 mph takes six seconds flat, compared to 7.1 seconds for the V90 T5 Cross Country.
Quick certainly describes this version of the Cross Country, but when powering out of a turn or away from a corner, graininess within the drivetrain hints at a lack of refinement. The 8-speed automatic transmission, however, behaves nicely, snapping off crisp shifts when necessary and otherwise operating without hiccups. I averaged 22.8 mpg during the week, falling short of the EPA’s estimate of 25 mpg in combined driving.
If the ride is unexpectedly sublime in the dirt, the standard suspension does transmit some undue harshness in the city. I assume the optional air suspension helps to resolve this. Likely, the air suspension also helps the Cross Country to demonstrate greater composure in curves and corners, too.
Steering is light for tight maneuvering, and feels heavier and more secure on center at higher speeds. I turned off the active lane keeping assistance system, mainly because of its tendency to try to correct driver input against its, and your, best interests.
The least satisfying element of the V90 Cross Country’s driving dynamics was the braking system. Despite moderate temperatures in the 70s, they warmed up and began to shudder in short order, in both heavy city traffic and while driving in the mountains. Furthermore, pedal feel and response proved inconsistent. Finally, the automatic emergency braking system, despite being set to medium sensitivity, engaged unnecessarily a couple of times.
Essentially, the V90 Cross Country is a Swedish Subaru Outback. It looks rougher around the edges, and can actually go places a regular car can’t. The suspension lift makes it easier to get into and out of, while providing extra clearance on trails and when encountering snow drifts. It’s long and low compared to a typical SUV, too, offering a look and driving character that is more like a car than a truck.
Prices rise quickly as you add extra power and equipment, but then, this car is based on Volvo’s svelte flagship sedan. As a result, the V90 Cross Country is uniquely positioned without direct competition, offering luxury SUV buyers an alternative to the same models that everyone else in gated communities across America are driving.
The brick might be dead, but if rugged individualism isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.