Review | The Volvo V90 Cross Country Is The Brown Wagon Hero We Deserve
The V90 XC feels very quick thanks to the wide torque band from its twincharged engine.
With the supple ride quality of an SUV and the handling of a luxury wagon, the V90 XC blends all the right characteristics for a good handling wagon.
The serine interior of the V90 XC is a delightful place to be and straddles the line between art and vicious simplicity.
The V90 XC is a special car to drive and feels better than just about anything else on the road. Among the hoards of ubiquitous luxury SUVs the V90 XC feels like you've found some sort of loupol perfectly blending SUV ride quality with pleasing dynamics.
The all digital interior of the V90 XC offers useful features and accommodates a simplistic design but requires driver focus to operate.
So What's It Like To Drive?
Coming home from work to a press car sitting in your driveway is always an exciting time. I knew I was set to test Volvo V90 Cross Country this week, a slightly taller version of Volvo’s full-sized luxury wagon; but my first glimpse of the wagon waiting in my driveway made my heart skip a beat.
A gorgeous brown station wagon sat there waiting to be driven. I had to rub my eyes to make sure it was real. In 2017, a brown luxury wagon is a rare sight, and here it was, just for me.
I grabbed the leather-wrapped key fob and approached the V90 XC. When I hit the unlock button, the wagon sprang into action. The side mirrors folded out, the air-conditioning compressor turn on to precool the car, and the interior lighting illuminated miles of leather and wood trim.
I opened the driver’s side door exposing a cavern of pure luxury and simple design. The air conditioning vents look like minimalist sculptures carved into a dashboard made of many layers of leather and raw ebony wood trim. In the center lies an iPad-sized screen that controls just about everything in the car.
When I turned the V90 XC on, the center screen slowly loaded up dozens of programs I need to control the wagon. The all-digital gauge cluster comes online much quicker than the center screen, which needed a minute to become fully operational. Once the center screen is ready, you can use its menus to configure the car’s driving habits, control the music, and access its camera systems.
After the V90 XC connected to its preset Satellite radio station of Symphony Hall, an incredible sound filled the cabin. The optional Bowers and Wilkens sound system changed my life in that moment. It may sound silly, but I have never enjoyed a car stereo system more than this. The highs were crisp, the bass moved me, and the entire system looks fantastic. The aluminum speaker grills, which are slightly transparent, allow you catch glimpses of those incredible speakers that bring so much joy. The sound system has a setting which mimics the acoustics of the Concert Hall in Gothenburg further adding to the mystique of this superb 19-speaker 1900-watt system.
With the music set, I explored the different menu screens full of useful features. Things like a high quality 360 camera system help with parking and off-roading this rather long wagon. There are charts to track fuel consumption and a button to lower the rear headrests to see out of the back. I even found a setting for replacing the windshield wipers—hit the button and the wipers rise to the perfect position for servicing. My favorite discover was the massage setting for the front seats which only added to the relaxing experience of sitting in this glorious wagon.
In the screen lies the V90 XC’s auto stop start control, a feature that turns the car’s engine off when the car stops for more than a few seconds. Whether you prefer to use it or not, the car will always turn it on even if you turn it off. This became quite annoying and a usual part of my start up routine was deceiving this feature.
Below the shifter there is a metallic cylinder that controls the driving mode. You can choose from comfort, off-road, dynamic, or individual modes. Each of these modes changes throttle response, suspension firmness, and configures the digital gauge cluster. For instance, choose dynamic mode and the engine idles 100 rpm higher, turns off auto stop start, and firms up the suspension. I chose comfort mode for daily driving, which better suits this plush wagon.
As I piloted the V90 XC on the first test drive, I was amazed how smooth the whole car was. The engine, road imperfections, and wind noise have a hard time entering the serene cabin. The active Four-C air suspension keep the ride comfortable at all times and made sure the wagon was level even with a full load of passengers.
The cavernous interior had enough room for four full sized adults with space to spare. Rear leg room is very impressive and passengers can spread out without disturbing fellow riders. There is no third row seating but this allows for a truly massive trunk. If the huge trunk isn't large enough you can fold down the rear seats by pushing buttons located in the trunk.
The twin-charged 2.0-liter inline-4-cylinder engine delivers power without a hint of turbo lag. This feat is thanks to the roots style supercharger, which provides power down low. The engine builds boost early with the supercharger and then switches over to the turbo as the revs rise. The transition is seamless and the available torque helps the V90 XC feel kind of fast. With 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, this engine easily moved this 4,222lb luxury wagon.
Volvo went through a great deal of effort to refine this setup. They went so far as to use a foam material for the engine cover to reduce vibrations and noise that enters the cabin. The engine delivers power like a well-tuned V8 and returned a respectable 29 miles per gallon during mixed highway commuting.
This strange but delightful little engine is mated to an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission. This wonderful torque converter proved time and time again that a well-tuned automatic transmission is a joy, especially in a luxury car such as this. It shifts smoothly during normal driving but isn’t afraid to downshift when you want to accelerate. During spirited driving, the transmission would hold gears during cornering and wasn’t afraid to kick down on corner exit.
During testing, I drove the V90 XC on my extensive highway commute and on the poor-quality back roads of Pennsylvania. All the while, the V90 XC exhibited the comfortable suspension travel of an SUV with the poise of a luxury wagon. This is the holy grail of ride quality. It can absorb any pothole Penn Dot can throw at it even while riding on massive 20” wheels. All this comfort while still is able to handle like a normal car, that’s a winning recipe we can all support.
The SUV like ride quality translated well to our off-road testing. We drove the V90 XC down a trail to access some of Pennsylvania’s game lands. With the drive mode in “Off-Road Mode” and the Bowers & Wilkins sound system filling the cabin with Brahms, it was the most fun comfortable I’ve been in the woods in a long time. The V90 XC easily handled this pothole ridden gravel trail and proved that you really don’t need an SUV, just a taller wagon with a comfortable suspension.
On the highway, I experienced Volvo’s semi autonomous driving system called Pilot Control. This system uses its radar cruise system and lane-keeping software to guide the car down well-marked roads. This system knows what it is though—it’s here to help you out, not to drive the car for you.
Pilot Control likes you to keep your hands on the wheel, and rightfully so. I respect Volvo for adding the system yet managing the expectations of the driver. This isn’t an autopilot system but an enhanced cruise control. Pilot Control proved to be very effective in stop and go traffic on the highway where it did drive the car all by itself save for a few checkup wheel inputs.
For all the V90 XC’s merits, there are of course a few drawbacks. My main gripe lies with the center screen I praised earlier for allowing a beautiful minimalist cabin. Although the screen is high quality and responds well to inputs, it controls everything in the cabin. So, when you turn the car on, it takes a while to load and set your music and even turn on your seat massagers. The screen also provides no tactile feedback. Adjusting the climate control temperature requires the screen and a dangerous amount of focus.
Then there are the brakes, which make it almost impossible to stop smoothly. They’re incredibly grabby when slowing down to a smooth halt. No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop smoothly and either rolled forward a little too far or stopped too short and upset my serene driving experience.
The Volvo V90 XC is unapologetically a Volvo and is easily the best luxury product the company makes. It's a car that just as comfortable on Manhattans 5th Avenue as it is driving down a crooked country trail. It combines some of the features from the XC90 and V90 wagon to create a special product all its own. The V90 XC manages to carve out a niche in Volvo's very competitive lineup and makes a case for the go anywhere wagon. This is a car only Volvo could build and proves there’s plenty of life left for the luxury wagon.