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2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country first drive

Like a moose in a tux, Volvo's V90 Cross Country takes city style to the tundra

For Volvo, the station wagon isn’t merely a sedan off-shoot launched as an afterthought, or yet another body style developed as part of a quest to fill every conceivable market niche. It’s an art form, and the Swedish brand has perfected it over the course of six and a half decades.

The V90 Cross Country is the newest addition to the family tree. What better place to get a taste of it than right in Volvo’s homeland? Join us as we hit the snowy streets of Sweden in the nation’s latest family hauler.

Same recipe, new ingredients

“Cross Country” means rugged in Volvo-speak, and the V90 follows the same proven formula as its predecessors. All of the defining styling cues are accounted for: it receives plastic cladding over the wheel arches and the rocker panels, a raised suspension, and specific bumpers on both ends. However, this time around Volvo’s “crossover-ized” wagon is more stylish than ever before.

That’s because it falls in line with the design language that spearheaded Volvo’s renaissance. Up front, the look is characterized by an upright grille with model-specific metal studs, and sharp headlights that encompass T-shaped LED daytime running lights named Thor’s Hammer. Out back, the rear window is much more rakish than the outgoing V70’s, and it’s flanked by a set of long, elegant-looking tail lamps. The V90 is all-Volvo; you’d be hard-pressed to find another company’s DNA in the design.

The V90 Cross Country is only available with an all-aluminum, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged. Called T6, it makes 316 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 2,200 to 5,400 rpm. That’s enough grunt to power the wagon from 0 to 60 mph in a brisk six seconds. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels.

All of Volvo’s 90-series cars ride on a modular platform named SPA. The S90’s gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain easily fits in the V90, but an electrified Cross Country isn’t currently in the works. However, Lutz Stiegler, Volvo’s director of powertrain engineering, told me product planners will approve a hybrid model if there is enough demand from customers.

Life aboard

More polished than the outgoing model, the V90 Cross Country reflects Volvo’s upmarket shift. The materials in the cabin are at least on par with the ones Mercedes-Benz and BMW are using, and every component feels solid and well screwed together. The generous list of standard features includes leather upholstery, heated seats, and a panoramic sunroof. This wagon knows how to pamper its occupants.

The V90 is all-Volvo; you’d be hard-pressed to find another company’s DNA in the design.

The V90 Cross Country offers 8.3 inches of ground clearance – 2.6 inches more than the standard V90 – which improves visibility by raising the seating position. It also gets dark wood trim on the dashboard, and pearl stitching on the seats. The interior is virtually identical to the S90’s apart from those details, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The cabin is spacious, well-lit, and uncluttered, and the five occupants travel in utmost comfort. Out back, it can swallow 53.9 cubic feet of cargo.

The infotainment system is one of the V90’s strong points. It’s displayed on a color, high-resolution touch screen that’s mounted vertically on the dashboard, which makes all the difference. It stands out as one of the most intuitive and user-friendly systems on the market. While the switchgear has been reduced to the strict minimum, there’s virtually no learning curve involved because every function is clearly labeled, and none of the essential features are buried several menus deep.

Behind the wheel

Volvo station wagons have always been solid, comfortable, and sure-footed to drive. That’s a big part of why buyers keep coming back to the brand. The V90 Cross Country is no different.

The engine barely makes its presence known at idle. The volume goes up to a distant hum as the rpm rise, but the four-cylinder is never loud enough to be considered a nuisance. Wind noise isn’t an issue, either, even at freeway speeds. The V90 is one of the quietest wagons we’ve tested, and that makes for a serene driving experience.

The V90 is as quick off the line as you’d expect a 316-horsepower wagon to be. Acceleration is linear, but it’s not the brutal kind that grabs you by the gut and pins your entire upper body against the seat. It’s controlled and confident. Volvo asked its engineers to develop a versatile, go-anywhere wagon, not a sports car. The Cross Country consequently puts a much bigger emphasis on refinement and comfort than on sportiness.

The Cross Country is an evolution of the V90, but from a chassis standpoint it’s an entirely new car. Equipped with the optional air suspension on the rear axle, it strike a nice balance between firm and supple. That means it soaks up bumps before they reach the occupants’ spine, even on rough or unpaved roads, but the wagon doesn’t feel boat-like on a twisty road. The Cross Country does exhibit a little bit more body lean during hard cornering than the S90 because it’s taller, though it’s hardly perceptible in normal driving conditions. I also found that the additional wheel travel gives it a more compliant ride.

More polished than the outgoing model, the V90 Cross Country reflects Volvo’s upmarket shift.

While the electric power steering is well-weighted, it doesn’t provide as much feedback as I’d like it to. In fact, the built-in sport mode doesn’t suit the V90 Cross Country very well. It’s much more enjoyable to drive in normal or comfort mode, though that’s not to say it’s lethargic.

Grip is excellent, even on icy surfaces – as I found out by taking the V90 for a high-speed jaunt on a frozen lake. In case you’re wondering, it’ll happily drift all day long if the traction control system is turned off. But back to real-world conditions. When the pavement ends and the going gets tougher, an off-road mode active at up to 25 mph sends up to 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. Off-road mode doesn’t increase the ride height, but the traction control is more likely to let the wheels spin when it’s engaged. Don’t get the wrong idea, the Cross Country won’t tackle the Rubicon Trail like a Wrangler can. But, it’ll hold its own in snow, mud, slush, or rubble and clear large obstacles that would leave a nasty dent in the underbody of a standard V90.

Talkin’ tech

Safety is a core part of every Volvo. In addition to numerous airbags, the V90 Cross Country comes standard with Pilot Assist (which keeps the car from veering out of its lane), automatic emergency braking, a road sign information function, and adaptive cruise control, among other features.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

In Sweden and Norway, Volvo drivers also benefit from an innovative car-to-car communication system that warns them when another Volvo driver turns on the hazard lights, or when the traction control system detects slippery and potentially dangerous conditions like black ice. The feature isn’t available in the United States because there aren’t enough Volvos on the road, but the company plans on expanding availability over time.

Conclusion

The world’s wagon expert has honed its craft. The V90 Cross Country keeps its predecessor’s adventurous spirit alive, and it adds a dose of luxury to the cocktail that makes a big difference.

If you’re in the market for a premium wagon, this is the one to get. If you’re not, consider it. Unless you need genuinely three rows, Volvo’s V90 Cross Country does everything a crossover can do in a smarter, more buttoned-down package.

Highs

  • Luxurious interior
  • Head-turning looks
  • Great infotainment system

Lows

  • Steering lacks feedback