Like Chevrolet’s El Camino, Volvo is synonymous with a specific form of car: the wagon. Despite the popularity of the Subaru Outback utility and luxury introductions from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, the five-door long and low body style has never been more popular here than in Europe. But with its massive ground clearance and all-wheel drive — useful in wintry weather or on dodgy roads — the Volvo V90 Cross Country might make more practicality than an SUV to many buyers.
If you’re more inclined to ride on asphalt than to live the off-road life and conquer the hills that you see in SUV commercials, you might be better served in a wagon. To see if this luxury-minded people carrier – which you can choose to cost up to twice as much as a basic Outback – is capable enough, we loaded it up with gear and luggage and we headed for the Adirondack mountains. Read on for our Volvo V90 Cross Country review.
Day 1: Loading and shipping
The V90 is long, wide and sculptural, a real look. With its 20-inch-wide wheels and eight-inch ground clearance, it looks athletic and capable. For our test, Volvo submitted a T6 model equipped with a roof box. We didn’t initially expect to need it, but after filling the cargo space behind the rear seats, we noticed that the trunk of the V90 was not as big as that of our Outback. Despite being four inches longer and five inches wider than the Subaru, the V90 has below-average storage space. Can you put some hand luggage and transport from the market there? Yes, but we ended up using the crate to carry three bags on our trip. On the plus side, the Volvo’s lower roofline made accessing the Thule roof box much easier than on an SUV or crossover.
The wagon’s tailgate opens hands-free with a sweep of the leg, which is more useful than it looks. There is ample storage space in the cabin for things like phones and drinks for all passengers. The front center console does a smart job of holding a phone to the grippy wireless charger in transit, but it also stows away quickly with sliding doors that cover the cup holders, which inevitably fill up with trash.
Day 2: Take the mountain roads
Volvo equips the V90 Cross Country with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is both supercharged and turbocharged. The powertrain develops 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque thanks to an eight-speed automatic transmission with permanent all-wheel drive. Compared to a beefier six-cylinder SUV, the V90 may seem underwhelming, but on the road it feels perfectly capable. It’s fast right off the bat, with all the power you need and the control you want. The engine is neither flashy nor boring; it is convenient. If the car turns heads at a red light, it will be for the beautiful 16-foot-long wheelbase, not the roar under the hood.
Seated in what might be the most comfortable seat in any car – we’ll talk about that later – the interior was very quiet and well insulated from road noise, even at highway speeds. From lane changes to merging on the freeway and navigating tight parking lots, the V90 behaved like a smaller car. A selectable dial on the center console allows quick changes between its five driving modes. The eco option forces the Cross Country to use the engine start / stop function when braking, which we are not fans of. Fortunately, Volvo engineers have included a dedicated button to replace this feature (only available in other drive modes) instead of burying it in the infotainment system.
Comfort mode absorbs bumps in the road for a smoother feel, and in dynamic mode gear changes are noticeably sharper and the shocks stiffen so you feel a little more of the road. Volvo isn’t trying to emulate a paddle-wheel roadster here (although the shifter does let you control the gearbox), but this mode is an easy way to get a more spirited ride at the gym or while taking secondary roads. The V90 also comes with an individual mode that lets you tweak settings like driver display, feedback in the steering wheel and brake pedal, and suspension stiffness, but it wasn’t as fun as the integrated dynamic mode.
The driving setup we expected the most was off-road. In this mode, maintaining traction is given priority and hill descent control is activated to provide better control at low speeds. The Four-C adaptive suspension worked to level the rear of the car over rough terrain. On rough trails, it inspired confidence while leaving just enough bumps in the road to keep things fun. Driving up the paved Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway, a five-mile drive that increases in elevation by about 450 feet per mile, the engine never felt overtaken, even at torquey 20 mph. Creeping back down at a speed of 10 to 15 mph, the V90 bet on a clinic, displaying control in the tires and decisive steering.
Volvo is known for its safety, and the V90 Cross Country is no exception. It comes with a host of safety features, including basics like blind spot monitoring to collision avoidance and preventative braking. But the feature we liked the most was the pilot assist with lane centering. Although not true autonomous driving, it is a very user-friendly system that can be controlled from the steering wheel. We used it to help on long stretches of highway. With our foot on the accelerator and one hand on the wheel, the Volvo centered in its lane and adjusted its speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. If we let go of the wheel for a few seconds, the car would gently remind the driver to take control.
Day 3: Immerse yourself in luxury
Once inside, it’s hard to miss the huge sunroof that blows up the cabin, including most of the rear seat, with light. Those traveling in the back have access to USB ports, HVAC controls and sliding sunshades tucked away in the doors, as well as a center armrest with cup holders and storage. For parents, these rear seats also include integrated booster seats. While there’s plenty of room for two adults to comfortably ride in the back on a long trip, three taller buddies would face tough pressure, especially for a trip over 30 minutes.
Up front, the Volvo pulls away from the pack. It has a lot more luxury than the Subaru and, we would say, a more refined interior than its German rivals. The instrument panel is a compelling mix of supple leather, real wood, clean horizontal lines and a bright nine-inch infotainment screen. The center console’s start button, along with a few other buttons, feature a textured plastic surface, a tactile reminder that designers paid attention to detail.
The perforated leather front seats are heated and cooled and have just about every adjustment you can imagine, including the massage modes that made us consider working from home in the aisle. You’re sitting in the back of this car which helps it feel more like a sedan and light years away from an SUV. The center console is positioned high enough for your forearm to rest on and your hand has easy access to the gear lever and various buttons. In true Swedish fashion, the interior is minimal and clean.
The center touchscreen is faster and more responsive than those on previous V90 models, and while it took some getting used to, swiping to access any of the three main screens ultimately became a second. nature. The physical buttons below the screen are minimal, but luckily Volvo places the HVAC controls at the bottom of the screen, so whatever menu you’re in, adjusting the temperature is easy.
Native Sensus navigation works well, and you can write destinations on a small on-screen touchpad, although we suspect most will use their iPhone or Android for directions. The car helper was hit and miss with our requests, often excelling at things like adjusting the temperature but more awkward with tasks like finding coffee. Volvo did not include a wireless connection to your phone, so you will still need this cord. We prefer to use Waze in town, but these step-by-step instructions will not appear on the car’s 12-inch-wide digital gauge display.
The Bowers & Wilkins stereo system is one of the best audio options available, and it comes with some very useful listening modes. When you’re alone, for example, you can adjust the speakers to focus on the driver. Don’t bother playing around with the equalizer, just use the Gothenburg Concert Hall setting, which will give an exceptional sound upgrade to any playlist.
At the end of the line : The Volvo V90 Cross Country starts at around $ 56,200, reaching over $ 67,700 according to tests. Its price is that of a high-end luxury car, and it drives to match, with a few tough road chops added. You can find comparable ruggedness in a cheaper Subaru Outback, but you’ll sacrifice technology and cabin comfort. The Volvo stands up to the equally expensive German wagons, although spec for spec it is not as powerful. Instead, the V90 is a very capable people hauler for those looking for crossovers or who don’t need an SUV to tow. After our weekend, we left with a strong appreciation for the V90: it’s a practical, sometimes sporty, easy-to-love everyday driver.
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