2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country First Drive: Like An SUV, But Better
– Paradise Valley, Arizona
If you need proof the SUV is not the be-all-end-all of the hashtag-active-lifestyle set, look no further than Volvo and its Cross Country models. Kicked off 20 years ago with the V70 XC, the high-riding wagons offer a unique blend of capability and luxury, and Volvo has found success with this alternative to the traditional SUV. In fact, the Swedish automaker says it’s the Cross Country models, not its crossovers and SUVs, that find homes with its most affluent and adventurous customers. As far as I’m concerned, this new V90 Cross Country is the best Volvo all-rounder you can buy today.
It’s “not just a design thing,” says Volvo’s 90-series product planner, Stefan Sällqvist. The things that differentiate the Cross Country from a standard V90 are all functional. The chassis is retuned, and there’s an optional rear air suspension. The Cross Country has 210 millimetres (8.3 inches) of ground clearance, a 58 mm (2.3-inch) increase over the V90, though still about 25 mm less than an XC90. It’s wider, too, with an additional 38 mm (1.5 inches) of track width at the front and rear. Hell, the Cross Country even comes with model-specific 235/50R19 Pirelli tires designed specifically for Volvo – but don’t worry, company executives tell me you’ll be able to buy spares at a whole range of retailers, not just at dealerships.
The V90 Cross Country starts at $61,900, not including $1,395 for destination, and can run up well in excess of the $70,000 mark when fully optioned. The Cross Country’s biggest competition will perhaps be the Audi A4 Allroad which, despite having less power and less room inside, runs about $58,000 all loaded up.
No matter the spec, the Cross Country looks chic and svelte, a handsomely rugged take on the pretty design of Volvo’s 90-series cars. The Thor’s Hammer LED lights up front are standard, as are niceties like a panoramic sunroof, navigation, and Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist drive system, which can steer the car for short bursts of time when the adaptive cruise control is activated. Technology abounds; the Cross Country is as chocked full of safety and connectivity tech as every other S90, V90, and XC90 model.
The interior is just as pleasant and lovely as it is in any other new Volvo, with open-pore wood, gorgeous stitching on the leather, and polished aluminum accents used in tasteful restraint. Four adults can fit comfortably, with ample head-, shoulder-, and legroom. Fold the rear seats, and you’ve got 1,526 litres of space – some 850 litres less than an XC90, sure, but comparable to most compact crossovers. Driving on- and off-road through Arizona, I haven’t a single complaint about the Cross Country’s interior. Visibility is great, and it’s super quiet. So quiet, in fact, that my passenger and I remark how the sound of the leather-wrapped steering wheel sliding through my mitts is unusually audible inside this cabin.
Engine noise is practically nonexistent, the T6 powertrain operating in hush-hush mode while moving the V90 Cross Country along with ample shove. This turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre inline-four is fantastic under the hood of the Cross Country, with 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque providing enough oomph to get the V90 out of its own way with a quickness. Kick into the throttle and you’re rewarded with instant torque and a healthy boost from the twin-charged engine, the eight-speed automatic transmission smoothly swapping cogs. Volvo will only sell this car in T6 AWD guise here in Canada (and the U.S.), despite other markets getting T5 (single-turbo) and diesel-fed powertrains. The company says a T8 hybrid model is under consideration, but probably not in the cards for this car in any market.
Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-Road, and Individual drive modes are standard. Left to its own devices in Comfort, the Cross Country offers a smooth, stable ride quality. In fact, I’ll go so far to say this is Volvo’s best-balanced 90-series product. Body motions are minimal and predictable, with no huge amounts of roll or dive, even under hard acceleration and cornering. The overall ride quality is so incredibly smooth, and the smaller 19-inch wheels (20s are optional) and higher-sidewall tires ensure you don’t feel every single bump and blemish – a problem I’ve found with S90 and XC90 models fitted with their largest-diameter rolling stock.
Left to its own devices in Comfort, the Cross Country offers a smooth, stable ride quality. In fact, I’ll go so far to say this is Volvo’s best-balanced 90-series product.
Scroll the Drive Mode toggle down to Dynamic, and the transmission and throttle mapping changes to give you a bit more get-up with your go. It’s fine for more involving stretches of pavement, the steering providing relatively good feedback with progressive weight build-up while cornering, but truth be told, the Cross Country drives so beautifully in Comfort mode, I feel hard-pressed to ever disrupt that serenity.
After enjoying a short stretch of pristine pavement heading northwest outside of Phoenix, Arizona, I point the Cross Country’s long hood down some dusty trails for a couple hours’ worth of tricky-ish, rocky, dirty stuff (hence the grossness of the car in these photos – sorry, guys). Even while driving over rocky roads and through loosely packed gravel and sand, the V90 doesn’t disrupt its comfortable, capable demeanor. When enabled, Off-Road mode holds lower gears for longer amounts of time, and activates hill descent control at low speeds. Volvo execs sheepishly admit that the V90 Cross Country is just as capable as the XC90 off road – maybe even a little better.
But again, that’s because Volvo’s clientele looks to Cross Country models for go-anywhere prowess, not its XC60 and XC90 SUVs. Not only is it a handsome alternative to a more traditional crossover shape, it’s better to drive and every bit as capable should you actually venture off the beaten path. Unless you require seven seats or a huge cargo hold, the V90 Cross Country proves it isn’t always necessary to think SUV if you need a solid all-weather, all-rounder.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com; Volvo USA