Station wagons are probably not going to become more popular than sport utility vehicles, but this Volvo can do everything an SUV does, in a sleeker package.
Welcome, friend. Surely you’ve glanced at the photo of the Volvo V90 Cross Country and understood that it’s a station wagon. And yet you read on. Possibly you’re an original thinker and open-minded about wagons.
Or perhaps you’re just odd. Lately, it seems, you have to be to own a wagon.
In 2016, 40 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States were crossovers and SUVs, according to IHS Automotive. Wagons? About 1 percent.
For some reason, automotive writers love station wagons. When we don our smoking jackets in our secret lair, we lament the dearth of wagons (but celebrate that few of us actually smoke). It can be argued that SUVs are simply raised wagons in camping clothes. I have owned five station wagons, one with fake wood paneling on the side. And full disclosure, the other four have been Volvos, two of them Cross Country models.
Let’s cherish the V90 and its outdoorsy sibling, the V90 Cross Country. The two, along with the Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic, are the last full-size wagons sold in the United States. The Cross Country starts with the handsome V90, adds rugged body cladding and exterior trim, and lifts the ride height by some 2.5 inches. Think Ranger Rick dressing for success.
A standard panoramic glass roof makes it easy to spot Woodsy Owl in the wild. The dark ebony wood in the cabin and the special seat stitching reflect Volvo’s Scandinavian sensibility.
Based on the same architecture as the XC90 SUV, the 2017 Cross Country has one powertrain, designated T6. Its 2-liter four-cylinder engine is turbocharged and supercharged, turning out a healthy 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The gearbox has eight speeds. All-wheel drive is standard. Drive modes noticeably change the vehicle’s dynamics, and the Cross Country’s suspension gets extra range of motion for smoothing out forest service roads.
This 4,220-pound machine moves from a standstill to 60 mph in a robust 6 seconds. For hikers in less of a hurry, the 2018 models will be available with a less expensive T5 engine (basically the T6 without the supercharger).
For highway trekking, the quiet, comfortable and composed Cross Country lives up to its name. A wagon typically has a lower center of gravity than an SUV, giving the Cross Country confidence in corners even with a suspension properly tuned for comfort.
The Cross Country is higher than a standard V90. But it’s more aerodynamic than the XC90 so the wagon’s fuel economy is 5 mpg better on the highway (the government rates it at 22 mpg in the city, 30 highway).
Fully describing the standard safety equipment would exceed this article’s allotted length. It includes automatic emergency braking for cars, bicyclists, pedestrians and large animals. Pilot Assist, also standard, is Volvo’s semiautonomous driving technology, which can handle steering, braking and acceleration, in many cases. After about 10 seconds of hands-free driving, though, it wants your hands back on the steering wheel (which is heated). Pilot Assist works at speeds up to 80 mph but is best at reducing the stress of tedious stop-and-go commuting.
Unlike urbanites dressing in expensive technical outdoor clothing, the Cross County is no poser. I’ve confidently driven this Volvo on unimproved access roads at speeds that would scare most passengers (purely for research, mind you). The Cross Country glides over tree roots and dirt heaves on the way to remote trailheads. Hill descent control automatically applies the throttle and braking on extremely steep grades — drivers only have to steer. Will it challenge a Jeep Wrangler’s abilities? Nope. But few owners will challenge the Cross Country’s capabilities.
Modern Volvo interiors have a warm, rich Scandinavian ambience that sets them apart from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes. Hefty interior door releases are shaped so fingers slide inside them in a soul-satisfying manner. Poke fun at me now, but you’ll understand when you try them. Volvo seats are often held up as the best in the business and these don’t disappoint. A $4,500 package that was not on my tester adds seemingly infinite adjustments and a massage feature to the front seats.
Volvo has been turning out attractive designs lately. The svelte V90 may be the best-looking of the bunch. (But hey, the automotive journalist brain sees things that way.)
Chances are, station wagons aren’t going to become wildly popular again. But the stylish V90 Cross Country does nearly everything an SUV does, only in a sleeker package.