Review: Volvo’s V90 Cross Country — Wagon Ho!
They are traditionally known as estate cars, estate wagons, shooting brakes or even sporting brakes.
But I call them station wagons, and I love them.
They don’t sell especially well, as American buyers continue to move from sedans to SUVs without stopping at the in-between. In 2016, according to one study, station wagons accounted for only 1.1% of all U.S. vehicle sales.
The situation is especially bleak in the luxury wagon niche. While sales of the mid-priced Subaru Outback wagon were robust last year — an estimated 182,000 were sold, up from about 155,000 in 2015 — the luxury wagons made by Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo trailed badly.
That’s too bad. Station wagons combine the best of sports car specifications and SUV storage capacity without sacrificing much in the process. And the higher-end haulers do it with superior comfort and sophisticated technology.
That’s why I gave a positive review to the BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon.
That’s why I’m giving one to the Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD. It’s a mid-range, all-around city car with enough engine to be entertaining, sufficient fuel economy to be sensible and cargo room to carry all the groceries, golf bags or gear a person could need.
The Cross Country version of the V90 wagon, now several years as part of the Volvo family, has more ground clearance than its street-bound sibling, plus a wider stance, rough-road-ready tires and an “off road” driving mode.
Stylistically, it lies somewhere between the Audi A3 and the Subaru Outback — but sleeker than the Audi and not as burly as the Subaru. From the nose and the tail, it looks like a sports car. From the side, it looks like a short-statured SUV.
Like the V90, it’s powered by a 2-liter, four-cylinder turbo-charged engine that makes 316 horsepower and 295 pound feet of torque, married to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Cross Country AWD features the Volvo Haldex system that sends traction where it’s needed most, with power available to all wheels, all the time.
Though it stands slightly taller than the standard V90, it’s still very much a sport wagon. The driver’s seat is an easy slide in, without any sports car climbing-down or SUV climbing-up required.
Around town, in normal driving mode, it took me a while to figure out how to make the most of the power band and how to get the least of the turbo lag.
In Dynamic mode, the turbo lag was lessened, as the car turned sportier, with the shift points sharpening, the steering stiffening and the brakes becoming more responsive.
In Off-Road mode, the opposite occurred: The throttle response slowed down, and the steering slacked up. There’s also a Hill Descent function that holds the speed limit to under 5 mph, if the throttle isn’t mashed, to allow the driver to negotiate tricky sections of steeper unpaved road.
On the highway, I found the adaptive cruise control — part of Volvo’s “semi-autonomous drive system” — fairly effective. Though it seemed a little overreactive at times in its braking and accelerating, I was able to let the car do all of the pedal work on the I-5 for a ride to a Basque dinner date in Bakersfield for almost a full hour of driving.
Most of the V90 drive functions are selected through a high-quality touch-screen in the dashboard. This gives the cabin a sleek, clean look and leaves the dash and console free of buttons and levers. The only “dial” is the one for volume control.
The car features an audio menu that allowed me to choose between multiple settings for speaker volume and tone. The one I liked best was “Concert Hall,” but my back-seat passengers preferred “Studio.”
In either, the mellow Bowers & Wilkins sound system had very little road, wind or tire noise to disturb it.
The Cross Country comes standard with a moon roof that stretches beyond the back seats, bracketed by roof rails, as well as a skid plate, special bumper and wheel arch treatments, and an effective head-up display.
Also standard are leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless entry and ignition, a hands-free tailgate function and a very good rear-view camera.
The model I drove included the $1,950 “convenience package,” which added heated washer nozzles, a grocery bag holder, a “surround view” camera, and a Park Assist program that proved too complicated for me — and maybe unnecessary in a car that, with such great visibility, seemed particularly easy to park.
But it had some features that confused or irritated me.
Why couldn’t I turn off the automatic engine shut-off, which saves fuel by going to sleep at red lights? (I found out later that one is required to go into a Vehicle Settings menu and disable it there.)
Why did I have to choose between keeping the car quiet and keeping the car cool? (The AC system is good but the fan is noisier than it should be.)
Why did I have to tap the screen multiple times to adjust temperature or fan settings instead of just turning a dial? (See above: No buttons or levers means all functions are inside menus on the touch-screen.)
Why did the parking brake set itself several times, automatically, when I was in the process of turning the car around on a hill? (There is a button, it turns out, that would allow me to disable this otherwise sensible auto braking function — the same button that I kept pushing to try and disable the automatic engine shut-off.)
Once, long ago, I bought a used Volvo. The first day I owned it, a guy stopped me in a parking garage and said, “All Volvo owners believe two things passionately: They’re the best cars on the road, and I’m the only one that got a lemon.”
A short time later, I threw a timing chain, and the car began a series of visits to the repair shop.
I’m still wounded by the experience, and I experience a twinge of post-traumatic stress disorder every time I think of Swedish automobiles.
This appealing wagon went a long way in easing my pain.
2017 Volvo Cross Country T6 AWD
Times’ take: A comfortable, capacious grocery getter
Highs: More affordable than comparable German vehicles
Lows: Less luxurious than comparable German vehicles
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger station wagon
Base price: $54,295
Price as tested: $64,640
Powertrain: 2-liter, 4-cylinder, turbo-charged engine
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Torque: 295 pound feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 22 miles per gallon city / 30 highway / 25 combined