Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s spacious V90 Cross Country makes the case for luxury wagons
It is perhaps a testament to the power, stability and poise of the full-sized Volvo V90 Cross Country wagon that I managed to elude one very, very angry middle-aged dentist in his late-model Subaru Legacy. Like the guy set on randomly eliminating Navin Johnson in Steve Martin’s “The Jerk,” he had evidently decided that my overly futuristic, rooftop-box-clad, 20-inch-wheeled, New Jersey-plated Volvo represented the zenith of everything that was wrong with America — and his life. Of course, this was in rural Douglas County, about a month before the election, so it really did not come as a surprise.
Eventually, the guy relented and went home. But I immediately knew very thoroughly that the V90 — the wagon version of the biggest Volvo sedan, set up as the ultimate alternative to a gigantic SUV — was really what I wanted as my own car, minus maybe the Jersey plates.
The weekend had started well enough, as I decided to tool down to La Veta and the Cuchara area south of Pueblo to cruise roads I had never seen or driven before. The V90 is not a small vehicle, reminding you more of the scope of the full-sized sedans and wagons of the pre-SUV era. I had to be relatively careful while parking (though the whole pile of optional 360-degree cameras and sensors surely helps).
And when I took it off-road for some medium-duty gravel travel on Cordova Pass, which heads off Cuchara Pass and back down to Interstate 25, the 195.2-inch-long Volvo and its longish 115.8-inch wheelbase required a four-point turn to position the car for some great foliage photos.
Size matters, though, and on the freeway drives (and the pursuit mode adventure at the end), the width and stance of the Cross Country version of the V90 makes it an entirely comfortable, stable and pretty sportily responsive vehicle. An added air suspension system completes the package, helping to handle the not inconsiderable size, the slight lift in ride height and make light off-roading even more stable.
Surprisingly, all of this is then rocketed along with just a 2.0-liter engine, as Volvo really promised it was going to do a few years back before eventually dumping internal combustion engines entirely. The T6 configuration means a turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder, so that amounts to 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and up to 30 highway mpg — all in a very full-sized sedan/wagon.
While only Subaru Outback owners and car journalists continue to preach the gospel of station wagons in modern America, consider that the V90 Cross Country can still very comfortably seat five and offers substantial, relatively tall cargo space, especially with the second row dropped. A few days later, I managed (with the help of an actual engineer) to get a full metal futon and mattress into the back.
Mine was extra-heavily optioned out with the addition of a large, fitted, almost tub-like rubber floor mat for the seats-up rear cargo area, plus additional mud skirts as well as the gigantic Thule-styled, Volvo-branded two-way opening roof box, which was almost large enough for the futon mattress, and did not seem to aerodynamically impede the car’s speedy travels.
Which begs the question, do you really need an actual SUV? The Cross Country version of the V90 can still wade across almost a foot of water, and while these 20-inch wheels do give it a somewhat exaggerated Matchbox toy car look, you get much of the same presence as the actual XC90 SUV, just with more connected-to-the-earth driving appeal.
Despite a $54,900 base price, my V90 still came to $67,740, with options including the Nappa leather, sunroof and massage seats of the Lounge Package, a head-up display, big wheels and a $4,000 Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system, so it is certainly not an inexpensive SUV alternative. Roof box, mud flaps and rear mat were extra extras on top of that final price.
But as a serious alternative to domestic mediocrity and the scant wagon options from the German brands, the coolness factor here is certainly very high, as well. An advanced air cleaner system, ideal for our never-ending forest fire season, is designed to handle even Beijing-levels of air pollution, adding a new dimension to the wide range of safety equipment.
Volvo’s lane-keep system, one of the best in the business, very subtly keeps you in your lane during highway drives — I would not recommend deferring to it while being chased — and all the collision-avoidance, whiplash protection and even run-off-the-road or moose mitigation is still aboard and even further nuanced.
For 2021, the external tweaks include hidden tailpipes, a flashy light-up sequence on those gigantic vertical brake lamps when you approach the car, plus new grille, fascia and spoiler looks.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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