GOTHENBURG, Sweden—How far can you push the station wagon, really? They’re box-shaped people-moving appliances designed to provide the practicality of an SUV – indeed, many have more cargo room than many crossovers and ’utes – without the gas-guzzling portliness, plus some offer better driving dynamics. That’s it, right? Not a whole lot of appeal.
Well, actually, whether or not wagons are appealing depends who you’re talking to. A North American family would probably agree SUVs are preferable: “Yes,” Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Mississauga, Ontario would say, “I like the safety. I like sitting higher and lording over the compacts around me. I like the room inside.”
But ask Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Plymouth in Devon County, UK, and their tone would likely be different: “Oh those foh-bah-fohs. They’re for fahmers and footbahllers. I’ll ’ave me Vauxhall Estate, phanks.” The Germans, French and much of the rest of Continental Europe would likely sing a similar song. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Ask Volvo, however, and it’ll come at you with something a little different. Something with a little more panache. A little more luxury. A little more, well, Swedish-ness, I suppose. It’ll come at you with this: the all-new 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country (CC). And I have a feeling you will be quite smitten. I was.
Twenty years ago, Volvo took its very popular station wagon, fitted it with four-wheel-drive, and presented it as an alternative to what I’m sure they felt was a real threat to the meatballs ’n’ cod of their company: the SUV. Of course, Volvo has since changed tack a bit and brought both a full-size SUV and crossover to market, but they haven’t forgotten their roots.
Spend some time in Sweden – where we were deployed for the CC’s launch – and you’ll see why. Volvo wagons are everywhere, and the domestic champion is second only to Volkswagen in Swedish car sales.
With the arrival of the new V90, I don’t see that trend changing. Simply looking at Volvo’s latest will have you understanding why.
While there may be limits of what can be done for a station wagon’s styling, Volvo has managed to create something truly special. Much of it comes down to the front fascia, which gets “Thor’s Hammer” LED DRLs as standard, as well as a “chrome-dot” grille that lends just a little space-aged feel.
You’d think the glitz would clash with the “CC” aspects of the V90 – the plastic wheelarch extensions, blocky wheels, and front and rear underbody skidplates – but it doesn’t. You almost subconsciously know this is a Volvo, so it wears its blocky brutishness well, and all this added stuff just feels like icing on the cake. No SUV looks like this – even Volvo’s own XC90 – and I’ll bet few ever will.
Look inside, and everything changes. As good as it looks from the outside, its interior is dripping with quality, class, and proper Swedish design. So much so that if you were sat in this or the V90 CC’s S90 luxury sedan sibling, you’d have no idea you were in a different car.
Since the V90 CC starts out as a higher model than its V90 wagon cousin, all CCs get leather seating, Volvo Sensus infotainment (which adds a 7-inch touchscreen), and a variety of panel inserts, including some that are crafted from rich open-pore wood.
Add the Bowers & Wilkins sound system in our tester, as well as the optional 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, heads-up display, and even higher-quality Nappa leather, and you’ve arrived in the premium luxury segment, make no bones about it. It’s just all so slick, so well fastened together and provides near-silent progress, another benefit of that streamlined front fascia.
Even without the fancy audio or leather, the V90 CC offers almost as much room inside as the XC90; has some of the best seats in the business, offering plenty of comfort and support over the long drive we undertook; and gets fold-flat rear seats for enough room for a whole Hemnes bedroom set.
As impressive as the infotainment is, the tech available in the V90 CC is better. Take Volvo’s Pilot Assist II safety tech, for example, so loaded with features it can safely be called a “semi-autonomous” drive system.
Sure, there’s lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise – stuff that’s getting more standard in the luxury car world these days – but it adds road run-off mitigation. That means it can sense where the road ends, and whether or not a distracted driver is about to end up in the hedgerow. It then applies the brake and steering as required. It’s a good feature, if one we found to be a little overly-sensitive during our drive. Blame the less-than-ideal road conditions, perhaps, but that steering wheel was a lively one.
Then there’s the powertrain. Yes, it’s a four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic, but your mother’s 1983 240 GL this definitely is not. Attached to said four-cylinder are both a turbocharger – okay, we’ve seen that – and a supercharger. Brilliant—the supercharger helps get you off to a brisk start, and the turbocharger takes over once the appropriate exhaust gasses build up.
The result? More of your 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque on-hand, all the time, no matter the revs. Highway passes, leaving a red light, entering a freeway—no problem. Then, as the goings get more slippery and you need both traction and power to get moving, the CC has you covered.
To put all this to the test, we got to test our – and the car’s – mettle on a frozen lake outside the Åre ski resort in central Sweden. There were a few cones to keep us in check, but really this was a no-holds-barred drive on the slickest of slick terrains. That meant the opportunity to execute long tail-out slides with the peace of mind knowing if we did get too far out of sorts, all we’d meet was more flat ice.
Thing is, the V90 CC doesn’t really get out of sorts. It just lets you have at it for a minute, then steps in—either by automatically applying the brakes, cutting the throttle, or tugging on the seatbelts to let you know that it’s time to input a little more steering lock.
Yes; we were on studded tires, so there was an added level of security many won’t have. Still, that doesn’t change the fact Volvo’s AWD system is an effective, able, and robust one that will give you the same security on Canadian roads as most SUVs; we tried XC90 SUVs on the same stuff – the track, and iced-over Swedish country roads – and it was impossible to choose which was the better car for the conditions. Some of the undulating snow-covered dirt roads would scrape the bottom of most non-SUVs; with the V90 CC, the ground clearance on offer – an extra 60 mm over the V90/S90 – made it so we wondered if the underbody skidplates were even necessary. That’s saying something.
Actually, the Volvo V90 Cross Country says more than “something”; it says a lot of things. For a start, it says wagons can still look fantastic, can be more than the breadboxes they once were. And you don’t even need exterior wood paneling!
It says Volvo has arrived as a genuine competitor in the luxury department – wagon or otherwise – thanks to the available tech, materials used, and the dynamics and ride quality on offer. Not to mention that at $61,900 base, the V90 CC is priced for the category, too.
Finally, it says there is a very real alternative for those who don’t want to play the CUV/SUV game. I guess the real question becomes, then, is what other luxury manufacturers are going to do to match what Volvo has to offer. Here, sitting in the beautiful and cosseting V90 CC cabin not 700 km south of the Arctic Circle, I have to say: They’re going to have to do a lot.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.