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First drive: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country [Review]

by Steve Siler

The V90 Cross Country is an SUV masquerading as a wagon.

Spokespeople from pretty much every automaker in the crossover/SUV business today—and few aren't, really—will tell you that one of the chief purchase motivations among buyers is neither functional nor mechanical in nature, or anything remotely utility-related for that matter, but rather image projection. They just want to drive something that makes them look strident and adventurous and a little bit badass. Off the record, however, most of these same spokespeople will admit that a majority of those buyers use them no differently than they would a station wagon and almost none of them ever venture off-road. What's the only difference, then, between SUVs and comparable wagons, especially now that most wagons come with all-wheel drive? Easy: Image projection.

For a company like Volvo, a company famous for its iconic station wagons and stodgy image, this might be a problem, right? But 20 years ago, it took the bull by the horns and added body cladding and some ground clearance to an all-wheel-drive V70 station wagon and the "Cross Country” model line was born. During the years since, Cross Country models have brought a lot of customers into the Volvo family. What's more, Volvo claims that its Cross Country wagon buyers actually do the things that crossover drivers are portrayed as doing in the glossy brochures. In other words, while most crossover drivers only use them like wagons, Cross Country buyers use their wagons like SUVs, Volvo says. And now, Volvo has launched its biggest and fanciest Cross Country model yet, the V90 Cross Country.

This V90 Cross Country, which just landed in Volvo showrooms nationwide, is based on Volvo's sensational new V90 wagon, which is also available now but only as a special order here in the States. As with its predecessors, the V90 Cross Country is more or less identical to the wagon on which it's based, except for the obvious suspension lift, which in this case amounts to a huge 2.6-inches, bringing ground clearance to a Jeep Wrangler-like 8.3 inches. Flared overfenders in black along with matching lower sills and bumpers give the car a rugged visual foundation, but customers seeking a dressier look and who aren't afraid of scratches and rock chips can have them rendered in body color as part of a Luxury package. Interestingly, to prevent the fender flares from imparting the V90 Cross Country with an elephant-in-ballerina-slippers look, engineers mounted huge, Cross Country-specific 19-inch wheels about an inch further out from the body, giving this lifted wagon a particularly stout countenance. Tokens to SUV machismo are gratefully limited to the grid of tiny rectangles that fills the Cross Country's concave grille (versus vertical bars on the standard V90) and window trim that goes from chrome to black.

Even fewer changes have been made inside, and that's a good thing, given that the S90 sedan and V90 wagon have established themselves as paragons of tasteful restraint among luxury vehicles. Unlike other V90 models, the Cross Country comes only in one, very well-equipped if rather pricey trim level that starts at $54,295 (including destination/delivery) and includes leather upholstery, unique black linear walnut trim, a panoramic moonroof, roof rails and cargo area scuff plate in aluminum, a power liftgate, a heated steering wheel, heated 10-way power front seats, and a raft of electronic safeguards that Volvo wouldn't let anything leaving its Torslanda, Sweden, assembly plant without. The aforementioned Luxury package brings adjustable sides and cushion extensions for the front seats, leather-wrapped dash and door uppers, heated rear seats, rear sun shades, a power cargo area cover, and four-zone climate control with an air-conditioned glovebox for $4,500. The only other option package is a $1,950 Convenience package with a compass, heated windshield wiper nozzles, a 360-degree surround view camera, parking assist system, Homelink garage door opener, and ambient lighting. Our test cars were loaded with those features, the $3,200 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins sound system, the $900 head-up display and a $1,200 load-leveling rear air suspension, ringing up a pre-accessory price of somewhat gasp-inducing $68,640.

That last option, the rear air springs, contributes a heavenly ride quality to compliment the Cross Country's zen-like cabin décor. This, in addition to generally flat cornering and highly boosted steering impart the car with the bona fide luxury car sensations with the drive mode selector in standard "Comfort” mode—a good thing if that's what you like. The slightly firmer Dynamic mode is a touch more engaging and adds decent weight to the steering, too, but precious little feel; performance-minded wagonistas seeking any semblance of excitement in a V90 are hereby directed to the lower, racier V90 R-Design. For Cross Country buyers, excitement will have to wait until the kayaks or mountain bikes come off the roof. And those very adventure-seekers were the folks Volvo had in mind as it turned this V90 model into a surprisingly competent off-roader. The Cross Country's extra-wide track and nearly 10-foot wheelbase render it a less-than-ideal boulder crawler, yet we summoned the courage to take our test car off the specified drive route and onto some relatively challenging, rocky dirt trails through the mountains of Northwest Arizona. The full-time Active-on-Demand all-wheel drive system that keeps the rear wheels engaged to varying degrees at all times, on-road or off, gets a low-speed "Off-road” drive mode for Cross Country models that, at speeds under 25 mph, directs additional torque to rear wheels, automatically engages Hill Descent control and utilizes remapped traction control settings.

It felt a little weird to negotiate paths so carefully in something that was, from seating position and line-of-sight standpoints, was clearly a car, not in an SUV, yet the V90 Cross County had no problem negotiating them. We also used the Cross Country to tug a moderately sized motorboat out of Lake Pleasant at a boat slip, and bound along some higher speed dirt roads and riverbeds in the adjoining Regional Park that were riddled with surprise dips prompting us to stab the brakes to bring speeds down sufficiently so as not to body-slam the suspension. Some credit goes to the strength of the brakes, replete with a linear and communicative pedal, as well as the ability of the Cross Country's bespoke Pirelli tires to find grip on such slippery, loose surfaces. A few shallow but flowing riverbeds that we're not sure we would attempt to cross in a standard-height car proved unchallenging for the Cross Country; other than that, however, we didn't see much water except for a puddle the size of a Winnebago inside a dirt parking lot in the park grounds, which of course we shot straight through at speed. And while we can't vouch for its winter-weather capabilities, basking as we were in 70-degree heat with the Arizona desert in full bloom, we imagine deep snow should be no problem. Volvo is based in Sweden, after all.

At a claimed 4,221 pounds—before adding any people, pets, cargo or gear—the V90 Cross Country is no dainty petunia, yet it is lighter than many premium SUVS that don't do any better at carrying people and/or things over hill and dale, which contributes to its respectable fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. And with 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque available from its "Twin Power” 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, aided and abetted by a supercharger and turbocharger, the car is rather swift: Volvo claims that the V90 Cross Country can sprint to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds. We have no reason to doubt that, but with its quiet and unremarkable engine sound and smooth-shifting eight-speed transmission, it doesn't feel terribly quick. Rather, it feels merely competent in comfort mode, and sluggish in Eco. Hence, we spent much of the time in dynamic mode just to feel the car's pulse a little bit.

MG's Bottom Line The 2017 V90 Cross Country is a not an exciting car to drive. Just a very, very comfortable way to get yourself, as well as your mountain bikes, kiteboards and snowshoes, to where the real excitement is found.

Photos by Steve Siler and courtesy of Volvo.

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