Sport wagon fans, crossover fans, unite! Volvo has created your ultimate ride.
The new Volvo V90 Cross Country might be the spiritual successor to the XC70, but it’s an altogether more advanced, more luxurious, better driving, and better looking vehicle.
Of course, any wagon fan worth their salt loved the XC70 when new too, but that was a long time ago. A very long time ago.
In fact, the first time I tested an XC70 was way back in February of 2005, on a lake in Quebec, Canada, ice racing of sorts. We weren’t actually racing each other, although pride was up for grabs. The usual gaggle of auto scribes and TV correspondents were given a half dozen or so XC70s to abuse on a makeshift autocross course in the middle of a frozen lake, with orange cones outlining the track and just enough snow around its edges to act as curbs. It was brilliant fun despite the brutally cold day, my fingers feeling the chill while trying to snap photos, but the XC70s kept us warm and plenty entertained ahead of an evening sipping drinks from glasses formed out solidified H-O-H at Quebec’s famed Ice Hotel (yes, a hotel made out of ice).
By the time I got my hands on one, the XC70 was already five years into its second generation and nearly a decade on since inception, a car that was soon renewed for the 2008 model year. That was a particularly long seven-year lifecycle compared to the three years of its predecessor, although the third-gen XC70 could qualify for nonagenarian status when it retired last year. Yes, this V90 Cross Country couldn’t come soon enough.
Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain its new nomenclature. The XC70 was introduced as the V70 Cross Country when it debuted in 1996, and while “CROSS COUNTRY” remained boldly decaled across its backside in most markets, it was actually badged XC70 (“X” for Cross and “C” for Country). In 2014 Volvo revived the Cross Country nameplate for a raised version of its V60 sport wagon with similar rugged 4×4-style matte black body cladding, Cross Country officially becoming the terminology for differentiating Volvo’s raised crossover wagons from its XC-named SUVs. Hence, the V90 Cross Country, that’s directly based on the V90 Sport Wagon, compared to the recently redesigned XC90 SUV that’s been winning awards galore while selling up a storm since debuting last year, which shares about 70 percent of S90/V90 underpinnings.
The V90 series pulls design cues from that XC90, but it found even more inspiration from the new S90 sedan that shares most everything from the C-pillars forward. Handsome is an understatement, and that goes for everything coming out of Volvo’s Gothenburg design studio (and its California studio). I visited the brand’s Strategic Design Center in Barcelona back in January of 2007 as part of the C30 introduction, but that was when Peter Horbury was directly in charge. Horbury was at least partially responsible for the second-gen XC70 and many other Volvos (as well as some Fords and Lincolns), but now he’s moved up to head Volvo parent Geely’s design renewal and put Thomas Ingenlath, previously of Volkswagen, Skoda, and Audi, in charge as VP of Volvo Design, a man a year my junior who hails from Krefeld, Germany, a small picturesque city in the North Rhine-Westphalia area, just northwest of Düsseldorf. I spent the less enjoyable portion of an otherwise wonderful summer of ’71 vacation there with meine absolut verrückte cousine (absolutely freakin’ crazy cousin) und meine onkel und tante, who lived in a small apartment and kept a tiny urban garden that I loved. Believe me, I wish I’d known Thomas then, as he would’ve been more fun to spielen fußball mit.
The V90 Cross Country might not be as ideal a soccer dad vehicle as the XC90, being that only two rows of seats can haul four players and gear rather than a potential six kids with the taller SUV, but it lower, sleeker crossover would certainly cause a stir when you arrived. Near every eyeball within the V90 CC’s vicinity, not otherwise glued to a smartphone, craned to catch glimpse of my beautiful Osmium Gray painted example, its stunning Thor’s Hammer LED headlights beaming, a proud P1800-inspired grille announcing its respected Swedish heritage (albeit more of an irregular hexagonal ovoid shape combined with a late ’60s-era diagonal crested slash than a classic open oval), a complex LED fog lamp-infused matte black and metallic silver lower fascia posturing its off-road potential, yet more matte black body cladding wrapping around wheel cutouts that frame gorgeous machine-finished twinned five-spoke 19-inch alloys circled by 235/50 Pirelli Scorpion all-seasons that bespeak pavement pounding prowess, stunning LED taillights transforming a trademark vertical L-shape into something altogether new and fresh, and yet more matte black and silver metallic design elements detailing a dual exhaust infused bumper out back. For raised wagon crossover fans the V90 Cross Country is an instant classic, and that’s before climbing inside.
Its taller profile makes that latter task easier than slinking downward to enter a car like the V90 Sport Wagon, the Cross Country ideally positioned for ultimate ease of access. The seats are beyond beautiful in Luxury Package trim, my tester’s covered in perforated Amber leather instead of the usual black, which gave it a rich opulence normally associated with upper echelon Bentleys and the like. The quality of workmanship is similarly superb, from its open-pore hardwood to its satin-finish aluminum, the latter including Bowers & Wilkins speaker grilles that featured large enough mesh to make their bright metal tweeters and beige-colored cones clearly visible, a little techno-industrial design shining through the otherwise luxuriantly posh surroundings.
You’ll be forced to search for hard plastics if that’s your thing, nearly all V90 surfaces made from the best soft touch composites and leathers, as well as genuine metals, woods, piano black lacquered veneers, and digitized interfaces (I suppose the various TFT screens are essentially hard plastic). Then again the vertical tablet-style Sensus infotainment system could be Huawei’s latest Matebook slotted into place, it’s that good and that user-friendly (I’ve recently dumped my Samsung Note “Dumbphone” in place of a much cheaper Huawei, as the Chinese device is shockingly better). If you know how to tap, swipe and pinch a tablet you’ll know how to use Volvo’s Sensus, and it’s filled with most features one could think to want.
My tester’s primary gauges were 100-percent color configurable, placing key driving info, navigation routing and mapping, audio settings, and most other features otherwise available within the center stack-mounted infotainment display between the primary instruments ahead of the driver, where they’re more easily seen and dealt with via high-quality glossy black steering wheel controls.
The lower console switchgear boasts shiny inky detailing too, but it’s more like jewelry. The leather-clad shifter and boot is surprisingly conventional, but the rotating metal ignition switch and similarly sparkling drive mode selector is the stuff of the ultra-premium brand noted earlier, or for that matter its British archrival Rolls-Royce. Seriously, since when did Volvo start pimping its cars with glitzy glam? Since now, I suppose. While I’m more of a minimalist-modern Bauhaus fan (the 1920s-30s German industrial design movement and school, not the late-’70s and ’80s band, although I liked their cover of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, speaking of glam), Volvo’s new showy sense of splendor is starting to wear away on my puritan beliefs, the glittering eye-candy as soul corrupting as a Breitling Chronomat GMT beckoning my otherwise immovable mindset away from the clean, simple quality of a Grand Seiko SBGR305, Nomos Tangente, or Lange Saxonia Thin; pretty soon they’ll have me donning a Franck Muller Conquistador, or worse, a diamond encrusted Hublot Big Bang. Alas, despite the bejeweled switchgear there’s no analog clock decorating the V90’s otherwise rich cabin, not that you’ll need one thanks to a small digital timekeeper on the infotainment display, as well as the Glashütte Sixties Square Chronograph, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Patek Philippe Nautilus, or GS SBGM001 GMT already on your wrist (you have impeccable taste).
An elegantly sporty theme suits the V90 Cross Country, because it’ll take you most anywhere you’d likely want to go in grand style and supreme comfort. Granted, if you’re a serious outdoors type that regularly trudges well into the wild, something from Land/Range Rover might better fulfill, but for those of us who merely need to get near the hiking trail mid-summer and ski hill come winter, a V90 Cross Country is more than adequate. It boasts standard all-wheel drive, featuring torque vectoring technology so it won’t only clamber its way out of a fresh dump of white powder when called upon but also manage the curving mountainside two-laner that got you there in record speed and total composure.
Volvos aren’t only about safe anymore, their legendary crash protection now combined with the agility to avoid accidents before they happen. First via lightweight construction and sound mechanical engineering, the V90’s rigid body shell made up of high-strength steel, aluminum and composites, its mostly aluminum suspension fully independent for superb handling and sublime ride quality. Volvo makes its Touring sport suspension standard with the V90 Cross Country, while those aforementioned 19s and plenty of active safety kit (second on the list) keep the car planted on terra firma no matter how hard it gets pushed, or at least when kept within reason. It’s a good thing too, as its eager powertrain is one of the most advanced anywhere.
Look over to its German rivals (sorry Thomas) and you’ll find plenty of turbocharged 2.0-liter fours, but for some reason there isn’t an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz with an engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged. That’s how Volvo boosts its efficient four-cylinder, the masterful little machine putting out a V6-like 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque yet capable of just 22 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway and 25 combined, via an efficient eight-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission with manual mode and auto idle-stop. Remember, this is a mid-size crossover, not a compact hatch, just in case those numbers had you thinking otherwise. The previously noted three-digit numbers make it spirited off the line, plenty powerful for highway overtaking, and loads of fun through fast-paced corners, its aforementioned standard configurable drive-mode settings allowing for personal tuning depending on need and mood via preset Comfort, Eco, Dynamic and Off-Road modes, or Individual that lets you modulate as per unique preferences, the V90 Cross Country a wholly more enjoyable car than the already good XC70 it replaces.
As noted earlier it’s enjoyable from a comfort perspective too. The suspension is particularly compliant over rough patches of pavement or worse, rutted gravel roads and the like, where the Cross Country likes to play on weekends, the cabin is especially quiet due to plenty of behind-the-scenes insulation including laminated windows, while the seats are downright dreamy, especially when upgraded with Nappa leather and cushion warmers in back. I recommend only having two children, just so you don’t have to hear the smallest complain about the cold leather center seat, while it’s also easier placing skis within the 60/40-split rear seatbacks’ center pass-through if no one’s sitting in the middle.
I jest about family size, of course, but I’m hardly joking about the V90 Cross Country’s wonderfully flexible passenger/cargo arrangement. What’s more, the rearmost compartment is beautifully finished with wall-to-wall carpeting, chromed tie-down rings, and even a pop-up grocery (or what-have-you) divider, while the retractable cargo cover is second to none, pulling up out of the way when the powered liftgate is raised, or alternatively easy to remove when larger loads necessitate laying all the seats flat. My tester also included a retractable mesh cargo divider that pulls down from the ceiling above the rear seatbacks, potentially critical in keeping wayward cargo from catapulting forward in the event of a crash.
Safety in mind, the V90 Cross Country is fully equipped with the latest near-autonomous driving kit with features like Pilot Assist, front and rear collision mitigation, lane keeping assist, and more. All the usual active and passive electronic safety features are part of the standard package too, as is a driver’s knee airbag, whiplash protection headrests, hill start assist, hill descent control, etcetera.
Aiding safety and nighttime driving pleasure are standard full LED headlamps with active cornering and high pressure cleaning, plus front and rear fog lights, while other convenience and luxury features include a leather clad remote key fob, illuminated door handles with puddle lamps, proximity-sensing keyless access, metal doorsills, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multi-function heatable steering wheel, configurable power steering, 12.3-inch color configurable digital primary instruments, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control with CleanZone air filtration, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio connectivity, Sensus infotainment with a backup camera, navigation, satellite radio, speech recognition, Volvo On Call telematics, road sign information, USB and aux connections, heatable powered front seats with four-way powered lumbar support and driver’s side memory, leather upholstery, Black Walnut inlays, a massive panoramic sunroof, a powered liftgate, a metal cargo scuff plate, power-folding rear headrests, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision mitigation, and more for $55,300 plus freight and dealer fees. There’s a sizable 26 cubic feet of capacity behind those rear seatbacks, by the way, and a max of 54 cubic feet when lowered.
My tester was upgraded with a $4,500 Luxury Package featuring LED accent lighting, four-zone auto climate control with glove box cooling, Amber Nappa leather upholstery, massaging front seats, a mechanical cushion extension for the driver’s seat, rear side window sunshades, heated rear outboard seats, and more; a $1,950 Convenience Package with heated windshield washer nozzles, a Homelink garage door opener, a surround parking camera, Park Assist Pilot self-parking, a digital compass and a grocery bag holder; a sensational sounding $3,200 19-speaker 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system; a $1,200 premium air suspension; a $140 cargo mat; and $595 worth of metallic paint.
If you want more you can order your V90 Cross Country with a head-up display, integrated rear child booster seats from the factory, a rear entertainment system, rubberized winter mats, and the list goes on.
If I were buying a luxury car today this new V90 Cross Country would be hard to pass up. I appreciate the extra visibility of an SUV, yet it drives much more like a sport sedan. Likewise it has all the passenger and cargo flexibility of an SUV, but is much more efficient than anything so big (XC90 T8 hybrid excepted). Steering wheel paddle shifters would be nice, but it certainly doesn’t need them, as the drivetrain is wonderfully reactive all on its own. Yes it’s hard not to be a fanboy of this fabulous new sport wagon cum crossover, or Volvo on the whole these days. From a seemingly derelict near-premium Swedish brand to a thoroughly modern dynamic dynamo that’s making some of the Germans look passé, they’ve certainly come a long way in little more than a year.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press