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2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country First Drive

Åre, Sweden sits about 600 km northwest of Stockholm, pretty much right smack in the middle of a country that’s as long as California. That also means we’re only about 650 km south of the Arctic Circle. 

As we drive through the snowy landscape, bathed in diffused light from a sun that rises but seems to never be fully risen, it’s hard to believe it’s ever anything but winter here. According to our Swedish hosts, however, the region’s big collection of lakes and mountain peaks—as well as quaint villages with names like Indalsäven, Undersaker, and Järpen—make for great summer visiting, too. I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it.  

Either way, the conditions were perfect to test drive the latest in a rather long-serving line of Volvo station wagons. Meet the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country.

20-year celebration
It was two decades ago that Volvo got the bright idea to take its already immensely popular V70 wagon—you know the one I’m talking about, all squared-off and two-box shaped—find a way to engineer some AWD into the chassis, throw in a few butch body additions, and create an alternative to the rapid popularization of the SUV. After all, it didn’t take long to see that SUVs were going to start poaching buyers who normally would have opted for a classic station wagon, especially in North America. It was a trend started by Subaru just a couple of years prior with the Japanese manufacturer’s Outback line, and darned if Volvo was going to let them have this emerging segment all to themselves.

Gradually, the Volvo Cross Country (CC) series became a little butchier and classier all at once, with a little more plastic cladding around the wheels and a few more gadgets inside. Fast-forward to the present, and the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country bucks the trend in some ways, but manages to stay true to it in others.

A sight for sore eyes
First, the trend-bucking part. I must say that the last thing I’d call this V90 Cross Country is “butch.” Yes, it has the plastic cladding around the wheels and rocker panels, underbody skid plates both front and rear, and a selection of dual-tone wheel designs that are fairly chunky in their effect. However, a better word to describe the exterior lines would be “sleek,” thanks to the narrow headlight lenses and “Thor’s Hammer” LED daytime running lights, as well as the pleasingly shaped 3D grille. Of course, there’s little you can do to smooth out the profile and rear fascia of a wagon, but Volvo has given it the scout’s try by adding a subtle roof spoiler, standard twin exhaust outlets, and an aggressive take on the classic taillights that climb the D-pillars all the way to the roofline. 

The flared and plasticized fenders, meanwhile, do well to hide the fact that the Volvo V90 Cross Country rides 60 mm taller than the regular V90. Of course, the snow (and studded) tires fitted to our tester didn’t do much for the overall effect, but they probably only stuck out like such sore thumbs because the rest of the car looks so good. Audi A4 allroad? Subaru Outback? Forget about it. In the looks department, no wagon comes close.

The Scandinavian touch
As you know, the Swedes have a certain flair when it comes to architecture and interior design. IKEA isn’t a Swedish company by a fluke; there’s a special care taken, here, to how things appear. The hotel rooms we stayed in, the Stockholm airport, even some powerline pylons are given a little extra stylistic touch.

The same goes for the interior of the V90 Cross Country, which is a coddling, luxurious, yet modern place to be. Even in base trim (starting at $61,900), you get gorgeous leather seating (heated up front), a panoramic sunroof, navigation, 10-speaker audio, aluminum trim, and an 8” Sensus infotainment screen. Then, upgrades in the form of a 12.3” digital gauge cluster, even softer Nappa leather, and a head-up display help drive the point home that as couched in off-road adventures as it is, the V90 Cross Country will do just as well around town and in other glitzier scenarios. The optional Bowers & Wilkins speakers are the cherry on top, their real aluminum construction both appealing to the touch and eye. Oh, and they sound incredible, too.

Sensus infotainment is especially appealing: The interface is smooth, it looks good, and everything is readily available once you learn to swipe left and right—and no, I’m not talking about Tinder. It’s just that since everything from your driver aids to music is services from the screen, Volvo had to find a way to make it all as easily accessible as possible. Even making use of Apple CarPlay doesn’t change the way things appear on screen as it does in other manufacturers’ offerings; you get all the features normally provided by the app, but you have to use Volvo’s commands to access them. 

As a full-size wagon, the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country offers plenty of room for passengers and cargo alike. Front legroom is rated at 1,071 mm, the rear at 911 mm, while headroom for all passengers hovers around the 960mm mark, even with that standard moonroof. The big attraction, obviously, is the storage space you get (723 litres) when you leave the fold-flat rear seats in the upright position, and because it sits lower than an SUV, it’s easier to get stuff back there, too. 

Driving in a winter wonderland
Yep, that’s be the best way to describe the “roads” we were on. A lot of these were more like ice rinks that happened to connect villages. They were really off the beaten track, and since so many drivers around here use studded tires, they simply don’t plow or salt them very often. 

Having said that, until I stepped out of my V90 Cross Country to snap a few shots and proceeded to slip and slide my way around the car, I never noticed just how slick these roads were. The studded tires, combined with Volvo’s very good AWD system (standard on the Cross Country model), made it so. 

That’s interesting because in other, less adverse situations, the Volvo V90 Cross Country doesn’t feel like that heavy of a car, which its supreme traction on the ice suggests it is. It feels properly agile, to be honest, mainly thanks to that wonderful 4-cylinder engine under the hood, which happens to be both supercharged and turbocharged.

With 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, this big wagon will have you up and at ‘em from rest in no time, and in perfect position to pass at speed as you continue on. Not once did I feel there would be a power issue, although I would be curious to find out how it handles itself on steeper mountain climbs. When I tested its S90 sedan cousin, these uphill runs did expose some kinks in the armour. 

When things get a little squirrely, Volvo’s Pilot Assist II safety package has plenty to offer. Lane keep assist, distance assist, and even road departure mitigation are all here, and they’re all standard fitment. They work rather well, although I’d like road-edge sensitivity to be reduced a little. Road quality may be partly to blame, but I did find that the system would step in a little too aggressively.  

Just in case our time on the open road wasn’t enough to prove the V90 Cross Country’s worth, we were also given the chance to put the car through its paces on an actual frozen lake. Big drifts were carried out, yes, but we also got the opportunity to really experience the different drive modes and how they affect the powertrain. AWD, for example, keeps the reigns on a little more; first, you feel as the brakes are applied to each individual wheel to help keep things under control. Failing that, power is cut so that throttle inputs don’t so easily spin the wheels. When you activate Performance mode, the nannies relax their grip, making for some easily controlled drifts (a long wheelbase will do that) and more intervention from the seatbelt pre-tensioners if you really get out of shape. 

That’s probably the best way to describe the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country. A fantastic chassis, great AWD and safety tech, good looks, and an interior that other manufacturers will be doing their darnedest to emulate make for a very compelling package. 

Unfortunately, the V90 Cross Country is going to have to deal with the same issue in North America as wagons have since the original CC. The base XC90 crossover costs over $5,000 less (although models equipped with the twincharger start at the same price as the V90 Cross Country), and for many that’s going to be a very hard pill to swallow. Get it down, however, and they’ll be treated to a fabulous motoring experience with the added practicality of a wagon to boot. 


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