Punches above its weight.
THE GOOD
  • Gorgeous, flexible and roomy cabin
  • Smooth and efficient engine
  • Distinctive looks
THE BAD
  • Central command system can be fussy
  • Could use more power / engine sound
  • Up-sized wheels hurt ride quality

North American shoppers, mostly, don’t buy station wagons – even if a few automakers offer a token unit, and sell about four per year. The crossover SUV has, after all, been the preferred family hauler in the premium scene for ages, leaving the once-glorious premium wagon scene, largely, dead on the table.

Like the S90 and V90, the V90 XC skips the use of gaudy chrome and shouty badges, so drivers look like a total boss, on the sly.

“CLEAR!!!!”

Volvo’s jammed a set of paddles into the lifeless, bloated corpse of the station wagon scene, cranked the juice to eleven, and let ’er rip.

Recently, your writer drove the 2017 Volvo V60 Polestar, a 367 hp station wagon plaything that’s at home at track day, on a highway cruise, or power-sliding up to the slopes through the sort of winter conditions that see the masses hide under a Snuggie with a cup of hot chocolate while binge-watching House of Cards. This was one example of a highly compelling wagon, from a brand once held as a world leader in wagons. Today, Volvo figures it’s time to return to those roots.

Two more Volvo wagons have recently become available, built upon the brand’s award-winning S90 luxury sedan. First, the V90 wagon, and then, the subject of this story, the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country (XC).

On one level, this is a weird review to write – since the tested V90 XC amounts to a V90 (which is an S90 wagon) with some extra body cladding and a 60 mm suspension lift for added capability during light-to-moderate trail work, or use in deep snow. Like the S90, it’s something fresh in a sea of luxury familiarity, and it runs the same engine, safety technologies, chassis componentry, and invisible AWD system. And, like the S90 and V90, the V90 XC skips the use of gaudy chrome and shouty badges, so drivers look like a total boss, on the sly.

Other than the slight increase in ride height, and the slightly more commanding driving position, riding in the V90 XC is just like riding in the S90 sedan. That’s a good thing – especially if you figure the highly acclaimed S90 is pretty swell, but wish it had a little more ground clearance and a bigger cargo hold. One family friend in the market for a new larger luxury crossover expressed surprise at the size of the tester’s cargo hold, having been convinced that he needed a larger crossover, and that a wagon wouldn’t be large enough.

End of the day, the V90 XC is an S90 that’s wearing a set of hiking boots and a backpack – but a few differences and notables are worth covering.

First up, entry and exit. The S90 eased both of these with its wide-opening doors, generous door openings, and ample seating space. To this, the V90 XC adds its slightly jacked-up ride height, meaning less of a plunk down into one’s seat when boarding, and less of a climb back to upright upon exiting. If you or a family member is mobility-challenged, or if you prefer something a little easier to board and exit, the V90 XC might be the answer. You still drop down into it, but only slightly: it’s an easier thing to board and exit than a large crossover SUV for some, and if you’ve got a large dog, he’ll be able to jump in and out of the rear cargo hold with ease. As that dog ages, walking in and out of the rear doors should be a cinch.

Second? It’s a camping superstar. Toss on a roof rack for some extra space to taste, and you can transport two couples to the cottage or campsite with space to spare. Rear seats offer room aplenty, even for a pair of larger adults. Headroom remained more than adequate, even with the tester’s panoramic sunroof installed (which, incidentally, is ideal for late-night star-gazing). Fold the rear seats down, nearly full flat, and there’s room to sleep in the back, if you’re so inclined. The cargo-area-mounted power outlet keeps your cooler or battery pack juiced up at all times, and Bluetooth streaming audio system enables remote control of campsite tunes from a distance.

Third? The uniqueness. Like the S90 on which it’s based, the V90 XC powerfully identifies itself as a Volvo, a wagon, and moreover, one of the very best-looking wagons anyone’s ever seen, all from a mere glance. If you think it looks great in photos, wait until you see it in real life: pictures don’t do this one justice.

When all of your neighbours and co-workers drive a BMW X5, rolling in a V90 XC means you’ll stand out strongly from the crowd with a luxury utility ride you won’t see six of every time you park at the mall.

Since the V90 XC and the S90 are so closely related, their three most valuable attributes are shared. First? The cabin. Unknowing passengers will consistently guess the vehicle’s price $15,000 higher than actuality, thanks to the widespread deployment of top-line materials, immaculate build quality and craftsmanship, and use of some of the most comfortable seats you’ll occupy in the course of your day. These are lined with buttery-smooth leather that wouldn’t feel out of place in a $150,000 Range Rover, and the tester’s lightly coloured cabin helped bring out the details of numerous interior trim pieces, too. It seems like designers were instructed to break up anything more than four square inches of flat interior surface with some stitching or metal trim.

Second, the stereo system. Consider the $3,250 Bowers and Wilkins stereo system a must-have if you’ll use your V90 XC as a personal listening space. It adds 19 speakers driven by 1,400 watts – and for clarity, punch, imaging, and a bright, vivid and high-resolution listening experience, it remains tops among the stereo systems your writer has ever experienced in a car. There’s even an equalizer mode that replicates the acoustics of Sweden’s Gothenburg Concert Hall, which is a real conversation starter. You’ll run out of eardrum before this beast of a stereo runs out of firepower.

Third, the headlights. As I noted with the S90, these are top-three amongst the best headlights your writer has ever used on a late-night country highway drive, thanks to extremely potent illumination, perfect colour, and perfect spread and saturation of the lighting output over the road ahead. They improve safety, and comfort, too – hours and hours into the evening, drivers can expect their eyes to remain fresh and alert, not strained.

In summary, equipped like the sub-$70,000 tester, one of the best cabins on this side of a six-figure price tag, as well as the best stereo and headlights in the industry are yours for the taking.

Other notes? The 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine performs well however used, with generous low-end torque effortlessly oozing through city traffic. Passing power is robust, not excessive, and the engine impresses more for smoothness and mileage than for its power output and sound quality. Pushed hard, a dull, boring hum, occasionally accented with a whiff of supercharger whine, saturates the cabin. If you want your 315 hp wagon to sound like a hungry velociraptor about to munch some pesky schoolchildren when you open it up, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Low-speed maneuverability is excellent thanks to feather-light low-speed steering, a cheerfully small turning circle, and an excellent around-view camera system that packs a high-resolution display.

Brakes impress, too, thanks to good precision at the pedal, and stopping power to spare. Even from higher speeds, the V90 XC gets stationary with maximum urgency and minimal drama.

Gripes include a thick central tunnel that chews up much of the foot space for the middle rear-seat occupant, and a hefty learning curve before the slick but sometimes-fussy central command interface becomes second nature. Further, ride quality was a bit of a mixed bag: given its prowess for long-distance travels, I wanted the V90 XC to ride like it was floating along on an over-buttered stack of pancakes, but the 19-inch wheels and stiffer-than-you-think suspension mean that ride quality can occasionally border on harsh when rougher roads and trails pass beneath. Consider skipping the up-sized wheels if you’re after all-out comfort.

End of the day, V90 XC is another example of how Volvo’s applied their award-winning recipe to yet another ride: wrapping a slick cabin with a great-looking body, powering it with a silky and efficient engine, and creating an overall feel and driving environment that hits well above its price point.8

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $61,900
Peak Horsepower 316 hp @ 5,700 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 295 lb-ft @ 2,200–5,400 rpm   Destination Fee $1,395
Fuel Economy 10.7/7.9/9.4 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $69,370
Cargo Space 560 L/1,526 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$5,975 – Premium Package $1,500; Climate Package $1,350; Sport Seat Nappa Leather Package $1,800; Metallic Paint $900; Metal Mesh Inlays $425