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The wagon is back: I’m spending a month with the Volvo V90 Cross Country

The wagon is back: I’m spending a month with the Volvo V90 Cross Country


A brown Volvo is a hell of a thing

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When I was little, my father drove a gold-colored Volvo 245 Turbo wagon. It had a cavernous cargo area that was regularly used to haul arcade video games, and to my four-year-old ears, the turbo whine sounded like a police car siren. That wagon eventually bit the dust, most likely from mechanical issues with the turbo. After a dalliance with a Subaru, it was eventually replaced with a gold Volvo 850 wagon — and that was the car I drove most often after I got my driver’s license.

There’s a new Volvo wagon now, more luxurious than the old ones and aimed at a slightly different, more upscale audience. It’s called the Volvo V90 Cross Country and it’s the wagon version of the XC90 SUV and S90 sedan. And, if first impressions are to be trusted, this car looks like it will be just as excellent as those two.

But to find out for sure, I had to go deeper. I’ve borrowed a V90 Cross Country for an entire month, and will be documenting my experience every week. With that in mind, this week I went to Arizona where Volvo held a V90 Cross Country drive for journalists. I drove around the desert for a day, and then made the seven-hour journey back to my home in Durango, Colorado. Over the next few weeks, I’ll find out if the V90 can live up to the quixotic Volvo wagon memories from my childhood.

Of all the car companies right now, I think Volvo is one of the most interesting, and the V90 brings the company back to its wagon roots where it really differentiated itself in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Volvo’s boxy wagons, like the 200-series and 850 that my dad owned, were eminently practical, were instantly recognizable, as well as great sellers.

After it was acquired by Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely from Ford in 2010, Volvo needed to develop new platforms and engines — in effect, it needed to build a whole lineup of cars from scratch. And that made for a very interesting opportunity.

Thanks to a multi-billion dollar investment from Geely and the need to toss out most of the engineering from old vehicles, Volvo has reimagined how a car company should operate: it has a lineup of two-liter, four-cylinder engines that share a common block design, even between diesel and gasoline variants. It offers complicated but effective twin-charging engine setups that use both a supercharger and turbocharger to force air into the engine and increase power, while avoiding the downsides that come from using one or the other.

I think Volvo is one of the most interesting car companies right now

Volvo also revamped the “human-machine interface” — basically the way people interact with the car. It tossed out the old, complicated, button-heavy infotainment system in favor of an iPad-esque touchscreen that controls just about every system in the car. Though Volvo’s designers got rid of nearly every hard button save for the ones required by law, it seems that after a brief learning curve, the new screen is easier to use than the complicated knob and touchpad options favored by Volvo’s luxury competitors. Oh, and it supports both CarPlay and Android Auto.

Like every car built in 2017, it’ll remain to be seen how the system ages in an era where new smartphones are released every year and software updates are the norm. Volvo loves to promote its ultra-high mileage cars, but we wonder what folks will think in a decade or two after V90s start hitting 500,000-plus miles.

The result is a futuristic, fuel-efficient engine that delivers higher power at both high and low RPMs; easy-to-use screens and an infotainment system that is one of the best on the market; and, thanks to using many of the same parts in every car around the world, lower costs as well.

The V90 Cross Country is the latest to come out of Volvo’s factories, though it’s high-volume XC60 SUV, expected to hit US dealers later this year, is probably the more important car for the company’s bottom line. But the wagon is still what many people imagine when they think of Volvo, and I’m interested to see if the car lives up to Volvo’s (and my own) hype.

Photo: Volvo

The V90 Cross Country is a more capable version of the V90, with 8.3 inches of ground clearance versus 6 inches with the regular wagon. That puts it just 1.1 inches lower than the XC90 SUV, and, with plastic cladding around the wheel arches and door sills, Volvo says the Cross Country is designed to go places that its more road-going cars can’t. The standard V90 will be available through Volvo dealers in the US as a custom order option, but the company expects the vast majority of its 90-series wagons to bear the Cross Country name.

Volvo pitches the average V90 Cross Country buyer as an executive and management type between 35 and 60 with a high net income and outdoor hobbies — and, interestingly, the company says it’s someone who enjoys preparing for their outdoor activities (researching and buying all the necessary gear) as much as the actual adventure itself. I’m 34 and live in Colorado, so I’m not far off this target market, though most of my pre-purchase research consists of perusing The Wirecutter.

Naturally, Volvo sells a wide variety of accessories to help its outdoor-enthusiast customers, everything from bicycle and ski roof racks to secure dog cages to keep Fido from flying around in an accident.

The car can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which we know is the case because Volvo took the assembled journalists to a lake outside Phoenix and showed us how the car could haul this boat up and down a boat ramp, much to the chagrin of the many pickup truck-owning Arizonians at the lake who were surprised to see a brown Volvo hauling a boat.

V90 Cross Country pricing starts at $55,300 plus a $995 destination charge and, since the standard Cross Country is rather well-equipped, only a handful of options are available for buyers. Volvo expects a majority of Cross Country cars to come with the $1,950 convenience package, which includes a 360-degree surround view camera system, a hands-free autonomous parallel / perpendicular parking feature, and upgraded interior lighting, plus a few other features.

Then there’s a $4,500 luxury package that includes nicer leather, seat massagers and ventilation in the front seats, along with heated rear seats, an air-conditioned glovebox, and four-zone climate control. It also includes color-matched plastic around the wheel wells and bumpers, instead of the two-tone look in the non-luxury version. Standalone options for rear-air suspension ($1,200), a heads-up display ($900), an upgraded sound system ($3,200), and 20-inch wheels ($800), are also available.

The Swedish-built V90 Cross Country I took home has nearly every option box ticked, and its MSRP lands at $69,440 including destination charge.

Photo: Volvo

Tomorrow, I’m heading up the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton for a weekend getaway with my wife and I’ll report back on how the Cross Country and its two-liter, four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged engine fares over an 11,000-foot pass and some light off-roading.

If you have Volvo questions, please reach out in the comments or via email ( and let me know what you want to know about the V90 Cross Country. I’ve got a month with the car, so there’s plenty of time to find the car’s strengths and weaknesses — and to decide if it’s worth nearly $70,000.

Make sure to read part 2 of my V90 Cross Country review.

Photography by Jordan Golson / The Verge